The power on the non-verbal communication. Story of an autistic boy with an esophageal perforation.
I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. - Maya Angelou
It was 8.30am on the 1st of January 2015, when my phone rang. It was my best friend on Planet Earth.
“Happy New Year Irineu !”. As expected, he was excited for the brand new 365 days ahead of us.
Little did it strike me that he was going to literally drop - not just a bombshell, but the bomb itself. I was going to need more than his good wishes, to diffuse it.
My dear friend informed me that his brother-in-law had just called him. His 13 year old son was critical and sinking in the super-speciality institute in the neighbourhood. He was in sepsis after an oesophageal perforation and a massive empyema thoracis.
The unfortunate fact was that the boy was ‘autistic’ with severe accompanying mental retardation. And the lack of proper communication had given the swallowed bone from the ‘Chicken Biryani’, an opportunity to cause serious damage before the parents could take medical opinion.
But that was just one part of the problem. Added insult had been caused by an endoscopist who had ‘missed’ the diagnosis, and restarted the boy with normal feeds.
It was two weeks after the episode that the parents took to highly febrile and breathless boy to the super-speciality institute. The situation continued to deteriorate and the family had been informed about the poor prognosis.
It was then that they decided to inform the boy’s uncle – a professor of surgery, my former colleague and my best friend.
He wanted me to take over the case and save the boy.
I always have held the view that personal and professional lives and relationships cannot lived in isolated ‘boxes’. Both of them have to collaborate – and not compete, with each other for a successful life. However, having a professional role in a long-standing personal relationship, can be a very ‘tricky and touchy’ affair.
I agreed to take over the care of the boy on one condition : it would be not effect our 25 year old personal relationship.
And so began what was going to be a three week journey to Romario’s recovery.
We had our set of intermittent good, bad and at times very bad days.
I was tested clinically, technically and mentally. More importantly, it tested my non-verbal communication skills with Romario – who barely spoke or understood my talk. It was sign language and role play all the way. I was saying everything, by saying nothing.
It reinforced my belief in the magic of non-verbal communication. And I was happy to develop a strong connection with the boy.
Romario needed a couple of surgeries and made it despite all odds.
A month later, I received a memorable birthday gift. A beautiful Birthday Card- designed and presented to me by Romario.
In return, I presented him with a chicken bone - cleansed polished and enclosed in a wooden gift box. It was the chicken bone which I had removed from his right pleural cavity.
Communication is a two-way and two-part process. Verbal and Non-Verbal. And sometimes, the silence and the silent pauses, convey more than the spoken words. The tango of both verbal and non-verbal communication is essential to develop a connection of mutual trust and respect between a patient and a doctor.
Communication is a two-way and two-part process. Verbal and Non-Verbal. And sometimes, the silence and the silent pauses, convey more than the spoken words.
The tango of both verbal and non-verbal communication is essential to develop a connection of mutual trust and respect between a patient and a doctor.
It's one of the core ingredients to develop a ‘connection’ that transforms your patients into your brand-loyalists, brand-advocates and brand-ambassadors.
Practice the silence, the pauses, and the verbal and non-verbal communications. It’s an art that is essential but not taught in medical schools.
And trust me, you will connect better with your patients.
Originally published 09th October 2021