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It’s Our Story – Secondary Trauma & Human Rights

IN our last article we discussed the importance of advocating for survivors of sexual violence. Over the last few years, we have discussed the importance of advocating and standing up for survivors. While our articles have generally been centered around survivors of sexual violence, we have and will continue to acknowledge that we are all surviving or have survived one kind of trauma or another. To live in this world means that invariably, at some point, something will happen that will shock the world as you knew it. This week we thought it was important to discuss advocating for rights of patients, clients and their families. We are aware that many in the health field have had a lot more thrown their way over the past few months, and while we are grateful and thankful for everything they have done for us and continue to do, we can’t let that sentiment make us feel guilty for calling them out when they have dropped the ball.

Before we continue, I would like to ask that as you read, please pay attention to what your body and mind are telling you. Should you feel triggered by the contents of our article, please take a moment, stop, focus on how your body is reacting and then decide if you are able to continue reading. The contents of the article will always be around – there is no rush to push to finish the article in this sitting. What is more important is listening to what your body is telling you. Learning to listen to what your body needs is important; it is part of the healing journey and it is part of the journey of re-learning yourself. As we continue this week, we will explore the fact that communication in our healthcare system and with our healthcare providers is our human right.

In the past week there was a story that was brought to our attention by the members of a family seeking medical attention for their sick father. The story the family shared I imagine may leave many both enraged and terrified. Enraged that something like this could happen in our hospitals in such a short span of time and terrified of what that means should any member of your family fall ill. While we are aware of the challenges within the medical field locally, there is no excuse for the psychological torment the family endured. As a country we have in many ways dropped the ball when it comes to ensuring that our citizens are well cared for. We have prioritized many things over the wellbeing of the people of this country which has resulted in stories like this one being shared too often. It has also resulted in the over-extension of the medical staff resulting in burnout. In the story shared by the daughter, she explains how her father was misplaced, how actions were taken without their knowledge or consent. The lack of communication with the family and the patient created an environment of fear and dread. The lack of follow through on the part of the various staff at the hospitals only further amplified their feelings of anger and helplessness. We should be aware, as professionals in any field that if we are responsible for a client, for a family member, for a patient who has no choice but to depend on us that is our duty to do our utmost to care for them. It is our job to be empathetic, to be understanding and to try to help the family through a difficult period. People come to us because they need our help – that goes for all medical & psychological professionals, and part of our job is to ensure that communication with the interested parties is paramount and that consent is given at every stage of every process because while I may come to you because I need your help, I did not give up my right to say yes or no to what happens to me.

The story shared explained how no one contacted the family to let them know what was happening with their father, it explained that their father was unsure of what was happening at every step of the way. PROSAF spends a great deal of time explaining the concept of consent. The consent concept applies in all situations. When we think about being in a medical setting as a patient, having your body moved and poked and prodded without consent is traumatizing. No one should have to have their body invaded by a medical professional without consent and education on why it is happening. There is secondary trauma when the family comes looking for their family members only to find that so much has transpired without their knowledge. Consent doesn’t only apply when it comes to sexual intercourse (although even then society seems to find a way to not have it matter). Consent should be accompanying every conversation and every decision at every step of the way. As professionals, it is our job to ensure that the people we serve are not being further victimized and traumatized. As professionals, we should never lose sight of what our jobs entail and what our clients expect from us.

That being said, we also recognize that our medical professionals have been pushed past their breaking points in many ways and for quite an extended period of time. Those working in the medical field have been under more stress and pressure in the past few months with little support for their needs. It is important to also recognize that when we are burnt-out, we are not working at full capacity and while we may mean well, we may cause further harm to those we are caring for because we have reached our proverbial limits. It is important that we recognize that those working in the medical field also need an outlet to talk and vent about what they are dealing with and how they feel they are being treated. Our medical professionals have been faced with so much and while Covid has created more pressure, our medical professionals need an outlet, they need to be able to verbalize what they are feeling in a safe and empathic environment. We fail to fully acknowledge the benefits of therapy for professionals. They like many of us have issues that arise at home, issues arising on the job and they are walking around carrying it all. It is important that as we continue on, we work to put in place a space for our medical staff to feel safe venting. It is also important that as medical professionals we recognize the signs of burnout and take it upon ourselves to take a step back so that we don’t cause ourselves or our patients further pain.

To our audience, we are all survivors of trauma. We are all experiencing some level of burn out, and we need to work on listening to our bodies and deciding how we proceed. It is important as a medical professional that we continue to do what we started out doing, taking care of our clients, ensuring their well-being and helping them through the tough times. We are all surviving something – let us learn to be kind to each other, to practice behaving how we want others to behave with us, with our families and friends. None of us is exempt from experiencing what the family experienced. We are calling for better care and aid for our medical professionals. We are calling for better bedside care for our clients. We are calling for better communication between medical staff, patients and their families. We are calling for compassion as we do our jobs, and we are asking that we all implement self-care as we proceed.

As always, PROSAF is here to help, to listen, and to guide. We are alone on this journey together regardless of the path we are taking. Please feel free to reach out should you need someone to talk to.

Yours Sincerely,
Souyenne Dathorne, Velika Lawrence, Miguelle James & Jayde Jean
Webpage: http://www.prosaf.org

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