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Lessons from The Loss of a Patient
Sooner or later, it happens to every patient advocate or navigator who works with patients on the medical aspects of their care (as opposed to other forms of advocacy, like billing or legal advocates). One of “our” patients – someone whose hand we have held, who we have protected from problems in the hospital, who depended on our advocacy expertise as a way to make the rough road through disease and debilitation smoother… A patient we had built a comfortable and friendly relationship with, a patient we invested ourselves and our work in… That patient dies. And we feel like we have failed. It’s the nature of advocacy work that patients don’t come looking for us until they have been diagnosed with something that will, perhaps, eventually end their lives. That’s why they seek our help. They are fearful, they don’t understand the overwhelming amount of information they are expected to immediately comprehend. They have decisions to make and feel incapable of making them. They, or the caregiver who better understands their predicament, searches for, and finds, that one person who can help smooth the road… the advocate. And it’s our nature, as advocates, to want to rescue our patients from their fears and frustrations, and to save them from all that grief. But as one of my wise patient advocates friend reminded me, “It’s not an advocate’s job to save a patient’s life.” For some of you veteran patient advocates, and for those who come to advocacy from a health career like nursing, that statement will likely make you nod your head. This is not news to you. It does serve as a good reminder that you can only do what you can do – and your objective is to do it as well as possible. You already understand that road smoothing and life saving are two different things. But for others who are new to the career of patient advocacy, or who come from different backgrounds, my advocate friend’s statement may be jarring. If you are among this group of advocates, it will either be the statement you…