Tuesday, April 13, 2010

When words fail you.

Years ago,  I was rushed to the hospital with severe abdominal pain. My children were 3 and 5 years old.  I was not able to communicate with the Ambulance drivers, so they had only visual cues and whatever my husband could tell them to work from.  

When I arrived at the hospital, I remember a haze of questions and people yelling - "Who hit you?! Were you punched in the stomach? Who kicked you?"

Were it not for my friends and family, and a good doctor, I likely would not have survived.  I was suffering with pancreatitis - brought about by a gallstone attack.  That day changed my life.  I spent over 4 weeks in the hospital.  Lost over 35 pounds. It took me more than a year to heal, and to this day, I have not had a Big Mac or a piece of cheesecake. 

Here 's why this matters.  This happens to people every day.  The need to communicate succintly, correctly and without delay can be a life and death situation.  Recently I learned of a communication system called "pictograms" that make this possible. 

Pictograms are all around us.  The most familar would be wheelchair accessibility, handicapped parking, stop, go, yield, information and of course, the ever so important restroom signs.  In a health emergency, pictograms can help the patient communicate by picture. There are pictures that denote the part of the body that is hurt or whether it was an assault or an accident. 

Besides life and death, being able to communicate is about human dignity.  As human beings, we are equipped to think, and communicate concepts.  We want to be heard. We want to tell our story. We depend so much on  communication.  But what happens when you can't? Imagine yourself speechless, but not without thought.

If you have ever travelled to another country, and are alone in your own language, you know that feeling. Pictures can help you get what you need.  In fact pictures are the method by which we learn to communciate as children before we learn words and sentences. 

A pictogram is a symbol that communicates information in a milisecond.  Imagine yourself in a hospital setting, or someone you care for. If you haven't been here, you likely will be someday. 

Today I had the opportunity to visit a booth at the SAHO conference that is launching new system using pictograms in health care facilities.  The system is homegrown in Yorkton, Saskatchewan.  The creators have a passion for helping the healthcare system help their patients - otherwise known as you and me.

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