The unit staff had a great deal of trouble remaining objective, of course, as they w4ere the ones in the thick of it. But even those of us with more distance seethed, not so much for the sneering and insulting attitude, but the interfering with others' treatment.
Yet we are also trained to recognise that things are not always as they appear on the surface, and to be alert for what our own feelings tell us about the patient and the world he likely inhabits. The idea of countertransference is never supposed to be far from our thoughts. As one of the psychiatrists mentioned in the discussion "When I start blaming everything on the patient, it's time to take a vacation. Or get out of this field." Very true.
He did very little to find himself any housing, despite my supplying him with lists and offering to pay the first month's rent. The nurses became increasingly rude in demanding that I find him a place and get him out. They kept making suggestions of what I should be doing, rather obvious suggestions which I had long since tried. They wanted him gone because they didn't like him, and the fact that he was homeless because everyone else didn't like him - well, they didn't want to hear that.
They were quite happy to send him out without shelter, but I am not allowed to do that. Or rather, it happens all the time because the patient is discharged, but I am regarded as having failed because they don't have housing. It's unpleasant, and it still bothers me after all these years to work with people who regard me as a failure. But that's what the job is.
I batted cleanup in the Schwartz presentation, and highlighted the enormous conflict we feel in not wanting to blame the patient for things that they have little control over, but also want them to have natural consequences for their actions, as that is often the last teacher when all others have failed. I talked about volition, and recent research, and some of the issues we have discussed in my May We Believe Our Thoughts series.
I was nearly brilliant. I suspected it, but it was confirmed by those who came up to discuss for the rest of the day. Many comments were simply the polite affirmations of nice people, very nice to hear but not to be taken too seriously, but others were complimentary in a deeper way, referencing exact quotes, which they had even copied down. That sort of thing.
Here's the problem, which I am reminded is the great discouragement of all preachers and teachers who look for insight: everyone seemed to hear the part they already agreed with, while being completely unaffected by consideration of the competing value. Those who felt that irritating patients were being pampered altogether too much by the hospital, and we had to recognise the limits of compassion and take a firm hand yada yada yada... thought I expressed very clearly the need to move these people on and take the consequences of their behavior, and glad that administration had heard me say it so bluntly. Others felt enormously vindicated that I had spoken out about how much countertransference was allowed in current hospital culture and how wrong that was, and our need for...well, whatever. Something that will fix bad staff attitudes.
And a third group felt gratified that I had highlighted the recent research on volition and how indeterminate agency and self-control can be. They wanted references.
All that in eight minutes of presentation, plus about three thirty-second answers to questions. I was brilliant, I tell you. So why do I weep?
I posted the song because of the "Still a man hears..." line, but it's appropriate for the later verse as well:
After changes, we are more or less the same.