The most important lessons I have learnt in my medical career have been from patients. The last few weeks, while adapting to the COVID-19 environment, have been no exception and for me quite surreal. This pandemic is clearly an unprecedented danger that we are facing as a community.
In particular I have been struck by how different the inpatient experience has been for those patients who are ill enough to warrant surgery in these difficult times. Normally when I do ward rounds or visit patients in hospital, family and friends will be visiting and providing their support. It is an opportunity for them to ask me questions and discuss the progress of their loved one after their spinal or neurosurgical procedure. In turn it also gives me an opportunity to get to know the family.
During this pandemic the recovery experience has been very different. Presently these patients are alone in their hospital beds for most of their stay. Fortunately, there are a variety of telecommunication options available to stay in contact with the rest of the world, however nothing is a substitute for human touch or the company of someone who you care for. It is hard for both sides, for the patient and for their family and friends.
This was so clearly brought home to be by a young man who had a protracted stay in hospital after brain surgery. He made a good recovery but this was a little slower than normal. His conversation to me on discharge was that he was excited to go home and be with his family. He recognised that he would have healed quicker if he had been able to have his family and friends visit him during his recovery.
There is at least some literature evidence that social support improves healing. The unfortunate and inevitable events of the last few weeks have made this even clearer to me personally. Surgery of any kind, including spine or neurosurgery, is an extraordinarily stressful event, and is made more challenging when you are alone. While we cannot change the restrictions asked of us in this current world, it is more important than ever to be aware and kind to your loved ones in hospital during this time.