In the first of this two-part blog, Brian Boyle describes his personal experience of being a patient.
My name is Brian Boyle, I am 28 years old, and I live near Washington D.C. I’m a healthcare advocate, public speaker, National Volunteer Spokesman of the American Red Cross, grad school student, Ironman triathlete, and marathoner. However, ten years ago, things were very different because in that time I was in the intensive care unit fighting for my life.
One month after I graduated high school in 2004, I was coming home from swim practice and was involved in a near fatal car accident with a speeding dump truck. The impact of the crash violently ripped my heart across my chest; shattering my ribs, clavicle, pelvis, collapsing my lungs; damage to practically every major organ; kidney and liver failure; removal of the spleen and gallbladder; 60 percent blood loss; severe nerve damage to my left shoulder; concussion; and in a coma on life support for over two months where I had to be resuscitated eight times.
During my time in the hospital, I was coherent during a majority of my comatose state. I couldn’t talk, move, or communicate, but my senses were highly tuned into this environment because that is all I had to obtain information on my surroundings. Due to my concussion, I woke up in a hospital bed without any memory of what happened to me; my memory of everything before the day of the accident was perfectly intact. I depended on the people who came into to my room to understand what happened to me, what was going to happen to me, whether I would survive the next day, hour, or even minute. Time was absolutely precious, and each second was a gift that I never took for granted.
With a lot of support, I clawed my way back to the living. First blinking my eyelids, then squeezing a hand, I gradually emerged from my locked-in state and went on to make a full recovery three years later, which involved swimming on my college team and crossing the finish line in the 2007 Hawaii Ironman – the healing was finally complete.
My healthcare advocacy began as a way to say thank you to my care team that saved my life. As time went on, my story spread throughout the various levels and departments of the healthcare system.
When I share my story, I highlight the needs of the patient, the awareness and thought process, make recommendations, and offer input on communication strategies between the healthcare provider and patient, and also express my sincere gratitude for people who are in the healthcare field. With my background, it is so meaningful to have the opportunity to share my story and appreciation with caregivers because in my eyes these people are superheroes. I also know that the healthcare setting can affect the provider over time because they see a lot and experience so much with their patients, and it is always my goal to reignite that motivational flame that inspired them to pursue healthcare in the first place.
As a patient, life seems to go on standby when you enter this unfamiliar realm. You frequently come face to face with the strength of the human spirit and the perseverance of the mind and the body. Throughout this entire ordeal, my parents and I experienced how unforgiving life can be and how it can drastically change in the blink of an eye. There was no guidebook or support group to prepare us for what we were in for as a family.
What I learned throughout my time in the hospital is that while I may have been the patient lying in the hospital bed, I was not the only one in that room who was suffering. The observations that I made truly inspired me and helped me understand how important the role of communication is among the patient, family, and healthcare provider.
Every patient has a story and an experience, and I highly encourage healthcare providers to talk to their patients. As a patient, I was grateful for any interaction at all. I could sense the energy of the people who came into my room, by their tone, body language and movement. I could tell if they were having a good day or a bad day. I also liked when my medical team would explain what they were doing. I did not need to know all the advanced details, but just enough to know what was taking place and that they were taking care of me.
When I was able to learn how to talk again, I soon discovered that the power of the voice is amplified when the message is of gratitude, that a simple smile cannot be underestimated, and that body language and tone of voice are critical components within the hospital room.