My recent contact with a renal social worker has given me a new respect for my own profession, totally blowing me away with how useful and significant the social work role can be in the renal setting.
Because it doesn’t run in my family, unlike most people who develop polycystic kidney disease, I had no idea of what to expect or how to adjust my future planning; career, finances, provision for my children, retirement ideas.
The nephrologist strikes me as a good scientist but is distant, not a personal style I find easy to work with. It also irritated me that on his first note to my GP he referred to me as a ‘divorcee’. As a sole parentof 15 years, and professional social worker and academic this isn’t the first adjective I would choose to describe my marital or social status! He is a good scientist though and a good man.
I also was able to meet with a clinical nurse consultant, so you’d have to say an effort has been made service wise to meet people’s needs. He carefully explained all the things I’d read online, carefully avoiding answering anything that might be considered a medical opinion. Nice man, didn’t get me far.
Online I tended to find either introductory material for patients like myself, or material from nephrology journals which was way too complex and specific for my needs.
Then, when my renal function dropped quite suddenly and I was prompted to return from my day to day life to attend to how I might plan for dialysis and perhaps beyond, I contacted the renal social worker.
The nephrologist had suggested I let my family know that I would be needing a live donor. That seemed so simple as said but when it came to doing it was anything but. How do you ask/tell a family member that you need an organ. It sounds like you are asking for one and that to me is just too impertinent. My attempt to speak with a family member by phone was horrid and clumsy for my part (can’t answer for him) so my second attempt was a group text simply stating my situation and what the nephrologist had suggested. I can’t say this felt much better. Perhaps it would be easier if I had family nearby I could speak to personally. I had no idea how to deal with this, so off to the social worker.
I’m so lucky that she agreed to let me record our meeting on my phone – you know all those medical conversations you have where you can’t remember anything after?
Listening back I was struck by a few things: first how much I talked. I had no idea I was holding in so much. I talked and talked and she allowed that, answering and commenting as I went. Looking back, yes I was aware of an unmet need to have someone to talk with who knew what I was talking about. Here was the first tule of social work practice in full experiential surround sound, and it was so much of a relief I cannot say it.
She noticed that I was actually feeling quite vulnerable, and this led to a discussion of typical scenarios people have in this situation to build my understanding of what the future might look like. Crucial to this was making an arrangement for a future date, to meet a woman on dialysis who was very relaxed and comfortable about it.
She was able, in two meetings, to make me feel heard, identify and address a main vulnerability, give me some ideas for communicating with family and fill in some gaps in my understanding about likely future scenarios. She did all this without venturing into any medical territory and whilst maintaining a warm but very professional and respectful demeanour.
From this experience I learned that hospital social work can contribute hugely to patient wellbeing by communicating between professions, and by talking with people about their health and personal needs beyond the hospital walls but directly related to the progress and specifics of their medical condition.
All respect to the renal social worker.