Taking time for good communication can save a knee – or more

For football enthusiasts, this season had some great moments and standout players. Russell Wilson of the Seahawks, and, of course, Robert Griffin III of the Redskins, who revived the franchise with his athletic abilities and leadership. But late in the season, after he had already hurt his knee, RGIII played in the playoff game against the Seahawks. It was likely during this game that he tore his ACL and LCL. Many people are again pointing to the violence of the game and bodily damage suffered by NFL players. They blame the culture in which players are encouraged to play through pain so they don’t appear weak. They blame the NFL for not informing players of the risk or mandating better protection. But I would argue that poor communication at many levels contributed to this problem. RGIII’s coach, Mike Shanahan, commented that Dr. James Andrews gave the go ahead for RGIII to play. Dr. Andrews said that he was surprised and worried that Griffin was allowed to play and that he simply waved his hand. The coach also stated that the player himself said that he was “hurt” but not “injured” and “that was good enough for me.” Clearly, no one took the time or effort to make sure that accurate communication was also at play.

How often do we accept poor communication in our own lives?

Incomplete, vague, or complete lack of communication abound. How many times do we enthusiastically tell an acquaintance that “we should get together,” knowing that this will never happen? Or perhaps we stand by, offended yet silent, as we hear a racial or ethnic slur. At other times we allow someone to believe that we agree, when we don’t, because we “don’t want to get into it.” Recently, I was told that someone was angry with me, yet I was cautioned not to discuss it with the person because my informer didn’t want the individual to know he had told me. Communication lapses can even be life threatening. In medicine, there is a well known tendency to be silent about errors-in-the-making by superiors. During residency, I watched a frustrated cardiology fellow accidentally drop a guide wire on the floor during a Swan-Ganz catheter insertion. Without hesitation, he picked it up and inserted it into the patient’s blood vessel. Knowing my “place” in the hierarchy and this person’s infamous wrath, I started the patient on antibiotics but never objected or reported the incident.

Don Miguel Ruiz encourages us to “Be Impeccable with your Word” as the first and most important principle in The Four Agreements. As he states, “It sounds very simple, but it is very, very powerful.” What would our life be like if we were truly “impeccable” with our word – if what we said was exactly what we believed, and if we did not hold back from expressing our beliefs clearly and completely when it was appropriate to do so? For the next day, be aware of your word – does it accurately reflect what you believe? Is it the truth as you understand it? By carefully considering what we say and making sure that our words represent our honest feelings, we can shed a great deal of worry, open up clear channels of communication to effect change and bolster the common good, and – who knows? We might even protect a knee or save a life at the same time.

About Helane Fronek

Over the past 28 years I have had a fascinating and fulfilling career in medicine, initially practicing as a general internist and then as a procedural specialist, caring for patients with vein disorders. As Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine at UC- San Diego School of Medicine, I’m thrilled to be teaching medical students crucial communication skills along with many other aspects involved in the practice of medicine.
This entry was posted in building relationship with patients, effective communication in healthcare, honesty in medical care, physician coaching, physician communication, physician fulfillment and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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