Adventures of Guide Dog Sienna – interacting with a “tired” health care system

Today our adventure included Sienna’s first visit to a hospital. We were there to support a colleague who asked for a little assistance.

The day started like any other. A windy trip to work and then Sienna relaxing in the office while I worked. Or in this case Sienna looking through the interior glass to the corridor on the other side and loosing her bone down the side of her bed!

This photo was through the glass of my office and of Sienna trying to figure out how to get her favourite bone that has fallen between the glass and her bed. The bone was a gift several weeks ago from her friend Gael.

I have been teaching nursing for over 11 years now. While I still have good friends working in ED, Ambulance and am responsible for students in these areas I am one step removed. At the conclusion of our meeting we went to liaise with appropriate staff about the outcome and I was struck by a change in vibe of the health care system in general.

One thing about being a Guide Dog Team (or handler in my case) is that people will interact more than they did prior. No one approached me to talk when I just used a cane but now I work with a Guide Dog people always ask questions and want to interact.

I noticed many of the staff just watching us. Some smiled others said hello. What struck me was the change in demeanour when they saw Sienna. As it transpired I had her sit and stay still and later let go of her harness so that staff could interact. It ended up being that staff came from other departments to see Sienna and we were told by multiple people that we had made their day by being there and allowing interaction on a tough day. The photo below is of three nurses from different departments crouching with Sienna (I have all of their verbal permission to post this photo).

Photo of Sienna with Puja, Tarn and Sarah at Waitakere ED/ADU.

One Charge Nurse asked us if we could go to the other end of the department and to paediatrics to make their staff’s day.

This got me thinking, just how easy it was to make the day of so many staff in the health care systems by having a service dog say hello during their shift. It made me reflect on my distance from the front line in education.

We hear in the media that the health staff are running on empty, short staffed and they just keep on going. I have friends who explain this often. For me I don’t have the lived experience in the current climate. The Keep Calm and Carry on mantra that is embedded in our workforce appears to have a different meaning and context now. It is hard to imagine being even more short staffed and tired we were over 10 years ago when I was part of the ED and Ambulance front line of healthcare workers.

This made me question what it would take for people to feel valued in their work in the current climate. I am not going to start a discussion on pay, hours, short staffing and workload or ratios. But would like to acknowledge the impact of these things have in the resilience and fatigue of healthcare workers.

To have such an impact on 10+ people just by having Sienna with me while I had a meeting at the hospital. The smiles, the interaction and being told just seeing her made their day, makes me realise just how empty the cup is for some workers on the front line and how little it takes to make a small difference.

While this is a Band-Aid and not an ultimate solution I challenge health employers to consider the impact of our health climate and devise small things to “fill the cup” of healthcare workers. If Sienna had that much impact imagine how much of a difference many small things like this could make.

In issuing this challenge I want to make it clear that small gestures like this are not a substitute for a solution and bigger changes to support our health workforce are also required.

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