The Art of Subtlety


I was at a ward round last week. I don’t go every week but sometimes when I have some information that needs to be disseminated or gathered, I will and as often as not, I may sit in on discussions relating to patients that I do not know personally.

I tend to find them useful for my general learning experience. I understand how the medical and ward side work a little better. So it was that the daughter of a woman on the ward presented herself. Her mother has dementia and so does her father – both are known to my team but I didn’t know of either.

When she was discussing her difficulties in managing at home, one of the attendees commented that although her mother and her father had similar presentations, the difference between them was, and I quote, ‘that your father is pleasant’.

I think my jaw dropped with the implication by comparison that her mother, who was on the ward after displaying some disturbed and aggressive behaviours, was not at all pleasant.

The younger woman said ‘But this isn’t how my mother was, she was always very helpful, couldn’t do enough for people, very gentle’. I tell you, I just felt for  that woman as she battled with the idea that professionals might have an opinion that somehow her mother was less than ‘pleasant’.

Of course, not knowing either of the people involved, I could barely jump in but the Consultant did – unsurprisingly – and mopped up the pieces by explaining the personality changes that can take place when someone a further progressed dementia and smoothing over some of the gaps with a stern glance to his left every now and then.

I think all was well. It was far from an intentional slight but sometimes language can be very judgemental and can lead to thoughts and assumptions that really are very far from helpful in already difficult situations.

2 thoughts on “The Art of Subtlety

  1. I can’t believe a professional could be so, i don’t think I have the words.

    Then again I have sat enough meetings and thought how can you possibly say that about another, there’s more gentle language that can be used that would convey just as well, without it getting personal.

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