In a clinical setting, considering what others might be thinking or feeling can directly influence how I might treat them. As the Cleveland Clinic video demonstrates, the experiences of different patients and families vary widely, and it is important to consider their feelings and strive to treat everyone with compassion (Frost, 1999). To this end, I observed three people at the hospital, and I tried to imagine what they were thinking and feeling.

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First, I observed a young man in his mid-20’s eating alone in the cafeteria His arm was in a cast and a sling, which suggested that he had recently received treatment for a broken bone. Many of the people around him were eating in groups, so he might have been thinking about how none of his friends or family members were able to get off work in the middle of the day to be with him at the hospital. The young man also seemed to be struggling to eat left-handed, so he might have been imagining how his broken bone would affect his ability to complete his daily activities. When he finished eating, he awkwardly held his empty tray with one hand and balanced the other side on his sling in order to carry it to the trash can, at which time he might have been worried about how embarrassed he would be if he dropped the tray. If my guess about this patient was right, another person might have smiled at him as they walked by instead of ignoring him, in order to show him that he was not alone in the world. As he cleared his tray, they may also have offered him assistance.

Next, I observed an older woman in her mid-60’s in a waiting room of the oncology unit, filling out forms with a preschool-age boy in the chair next to her. She was alternately filling out the forms, checking her phone, and hushing the boy, who was fidgeting in his chair and sometimes asking her when they could go see his mom. This woman might have been feeling worried about the health of her daughter (the boy’s mom), unsure about how to answer the questions on the forms, and concerned about how she would take care of her grandson while her daughter was receiving treatment for cancer. At the back of her mind, she might even have been wondering whether or not she would be up to the task of raising her grandson if his mother passed away. If my guess about this family member was right, others might react differently to her. Instead of silently judging her for being unable to fully control the behavior of the young boy in a public setting, they might have engaged with him so that she could focus on filling out the forms and ensure that her daughter’s health needs were being met.

Finally, I observed a 70-year-old male patient with type 2 diabetes and a pressure ulcer on his leg, who had been brought to the hospital after showing signs of low blood sugar. He was lying quietly in his hospital bed, staring blankly at the television with an uncomfortable look on his face. At the time, he might have been wondering when his wife would finish eating and return so that he would no longer have to half-watch cable news. He might also have been thinking about the days when did not suffer from the chronic pain of the pressure ulcer and wondering if it might be resolved before he died. In addition, he might have been worrying about what would have happened if his wife had not been home to recognize the signs of low blood sugar and call 911. If my guess about this patient is correct, someone might have talked to him as he waited for his wife. A nurse might also have tried to find a device that can relieve pressure ulcer pain for patients who are bedridden.

  • Frost, P.J. (1999). Why compassion counts! Journal of Management Inquiry, 8(2), 127-33.