Caring: Perspectives on Health Care

by Jamie K. Reaser, Ph.D.

On Friday, November 5th, I came upon a scene in a metro station that was to teach me a profound lesson in the (he)art and science of health care. The entire experience took place in only a few minutes. It was about 8:15 am and one of the few gray, chilly mornings of the DC fall thus far in ’99. I passed my ticket through the metro gate and joined the time-pressed masses heading for the 23rd Street escalator. Then I stopped.

A crowd of people was gathered around a bloody-faced young woman, collapsed on the ground at the base of the incoming escalator. At first glance the young woman seemed to be attended to by so many passersby that I concluded anyone else would merely get in the way. And, surely, I surmised, all the local commuters knew that a hospital was just across the street. I took a few more steps on my journey to work.

Looking back over my shoulder, I doubted my quick evaluation; the crowd was largely curious spectators, most stood and some sat around the young woman. No one was actually in one-to-one contact with her, at least not in way I knew to be possible. I decided to see what, if anything, I could do to help.

Upon reaching the woman it was apparent she was more unconscious than conscious. Although her eyes were open, she could not see. And, if she could hear, she was not responsive to questions. Her breathing was shallow and very rapid. According to the observers, she had been this way for 10 minutes already.

Two other women on the scene were medical professionals: a resident and an emergency room nurse. They had also been on their way to work.

The ER nurse had “taken charge” of the situation and when I approached she was repeatedly telling everyone that “There is nothing we can do. We just have to wait for the hospital staff.” The resident stood by, watching.

Concerned that the young woman might be processing, “There is nothing we can do.” I started to reframe the nurse’s statements to “She is being cared for.” “Everyone here is caring for her.” “We all care about her.” “She is a person deserving care.”

As this was happening, I was doing my best to send warm, caring energy to the young woman and to connect with her on an unconscious level.

Since she wasn’t responding to auditory or visual cues, I decided to try to change her breathing quickly by pacing and leading kinesthetically. I took her arm and rubbed it for short, shallow strokes, which eventually (over merely a period of seconds) become long, deep strokes. At the same time, I gave her verbal encouragement and reinforcing feedback just in case she could hear me. Her breathing followed and she began to relax.

Next I looked at the position in which her eyes seemed to be stuck (straight forward and slightly to each side) and did my best to step into her shoes to get an idea of what might be happening internally for her. I got the impression that she was stuck–overwhelmed–in an auditory channel and that I might be able to get her “unstuck” if I could “switch” her to a kinesthetic channel.

I took her hands and squeezed down on them in a caring way, yet quite firmly. Immediately the eye lock was released and she could both hear and see.

The nurse launched a string of statements: “You are sick.” “You’ve had a seizure.” “You can’t move.” And then to follow the questions she’d been bombarding the woman with when she was unresponsive, “You don’t know who you are or where you are.”

The young woman said, “I’m scared” and the nurse replied with “I know you must be very scared–terrified.”

The young woman asked, “Where are my friends?” and the nurse said “You are all alone.”

I tried to reframe as many statements as I could, as quickly as I could. I encouraged the young woman to notice that she recognized the clues indicating where she was, who she was, what had happened, and that she was safe and surrounded by friends who were caring for her.

Meanwhile, I continued to hold her hands, make eye contact, and send her supportive energy.

She turned to me and, looking straight into my eyes, said, “I want you to stay with me until the doctors come…you care about me…you are helping me…I’m safe with you.”

And when the doctors did come in a matter of seconds, they started talking to the ER nurse (not the young woman) and whisked the nurse and young woman off into an elevator only a few feet away with a quick, curt “thank you” to the crowd.

The young woman looked out at me as she was being wheeled away and I said “You know you will be OK, don’t you?” and she gave a slight nod.

Had I had a few minutes more with her, and gotten her permission, I probably would have started the trauma process and asked someone else to gently massage her “brain buttons.”

I don’t think the ER nurse, resident, or anyone else even noticed my interventions. And, while I certainly could have been explaining everything I was doing, it seemed more important to give my full attention to the young woman than to teach NLP at that time.

The major lesson I took away from the experience was that health care to these medical professionals seemed to be limited to care of the “body,” while from an NLP perspective, I perceive health care as support for the “body, mind, and spirit.”

When choosing what NLP tools to share with medical professionals, let’s place rapport and the supportive use of language patterns at the top of the box.

Jamie K. Reaser, Ph.D. is a Conservation Ecologist and Certified NLP Master Practitioner, Health Practitioner, and Trainer.


Originally Published in AnchorPoint Magazine; reprinted with permission.

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