Mind/ Patient Advocacy. No one is an island, nor is any swan. A new perspective on discovering that we all need help sometimes.

On April 23rd, 8 days before the cygnets hatched, I made my daily visit to the mute swans who live near me. Mama was on the nest and Papa was swimming in deep water, the morning routine I knew. While I was there, she rearranged the eggs before settling again. Then something happened that I had never seen. He swam to the nest and they switched places.

She left and swam to the quieter water behind the front part of the lake. I saw her puttering and eating. When I walked back the footpath about 20 minutes later, she was still there and he was on the nest.

Why is this remarkable? I checked two references on mute swans, and neither indicated males typically tend eggs. One said females only tend them, while the other said male tending is rare.

Here are some general reflections, first from my disability niche, then from a broader medical/health spot.

When someone tells you something authoritatively, if your instincts or experiences say otherwise, ask how they arrived at their conclusions. This isn’t oppositional, it is a learning and communications exercise.

It is possible a doctor (or birding book) is based on a much broader, more regional, or older set of facts than you have, and that explains the difference.

In medicine, ‘facts’ may have been come from data that were predominantly drawn from men, adults only, or people of one race or nationality, and those people don’t match you. That CAN make a significant difference, although certainly not always.

It is not rude to ask on what basis a conclusion was reached. It is not wrong to want to understand WHY something is apparently true, or if a conclusion is probably true but waiting for more time (more observations, more time to watch for change) or getting the second opinion of someone with a different perspective in training or experience might add more to the development of a better reasoned conclusion and a plan.

The key, as in every effective communication, is to get your thoughts together and present them as clearly as you can— with as much fact and as little emotion as possible.

Listen for understanding, not just for your turn to talk again, and ask someone to repeat what you said if you don’t think they heard it in the way you said it. If they ask you to repeat something, try to understand what they are asking of you.

If it becomes clear you need help, ask for a pause and figure out what to do next in a way that burns as little of a relationship (with a single provider or institution) as possible.

Many institutions have customer representatives, ombudsmen, or patient advocates who listen to both sides when things fall apart (or before they fall apart) and who can help remove the emotion to arrive at a plan that helps everyone.

Never be afraid to ask for assistance. Personally, I’m afraid of people who are sure they never need assistance.

The photo is of Mama and Papa in their delicate dance around the eggs as they switched places without squishing anybody.

Elizabeth Coolidge-Stolz, MD/ (c) HealingWoman

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