Talking can help

I normally like to work with a solutions focus. At the beginning of a new process I often ask: “Assuming that this process is successful for you, how will you notice that and what will have changed?”

I love this question, and the idea that the solution to a problem is often independent of its causes also makes a lot of sense for me.

In the past three months I have been working quite differently:

I am working for the Vivantes Clinics in Berlin, where I am available for conversations with staff on the wards that are associated with Covid – testing, intensive care and emergency.

Once a week I take my place in a room in each hospital and I wait to see who will come. Staff can come with or without prior appointments. In the meantime I have conducted around forty conversations, with nurses, doctors, physio-therapists, and other staff.

Mostly people begin by talking about the burdens the present situation entails. That they have to keep on putting on and taking off protective clothing, and that that takes up so much time. That they enter the wards dressed like astronauts and that it is so hard to be seen as real living people by the patients. They talk about their own fear of becoming infected, the fact that there are not enough tests, and about the many dead, whose bodies are packed up in plastic as a precaution against infection. Some people say that they are being expected to accomplish inhuman tasks under inhuman conditions. I often hear their desperation and fear.

All of this worries people so much.

Then I hear very moving stories, about all the dignity, even under the greatest stress, in how they deal with dead in the wards. Some stroke the cheeks of those who have died, say a short prayer, open the window. This touches me and it comforts me. That under these so difficult conditions, which are particularly evident in the hospitals, there is still space for so much humanity.

Sometimes, after a while, people talk about other and often very personal matters. They tell me about deaths in their families and what that meant to them. They talk about difficulties at home. They talk about what they are missing in lockdown. Or they talk about work, about the team spirit or the lack of it.

To open up, people need to be brave and want to talk to a stranger. This is not so easy. And the fact that we have to wear masks does not make it any easier.

I do not offer any solutions, and I do not ask any questions about solutions. I just listen. And I am very surprised by the healing power of just listening. Listening without evaluating, listening with an open heart, and being willing to be touched. Listening just because someone wants to talk

In this way people can really meet and get in touch with each other. I understand the other person’s concerns, I feel them, I take them in.

In these Corona times I am experiencing how good it can be to talk and to be heard. We can give this gift to each other, again and again.

A week after one such conversation, the staff member came back and said that he had felt so good afterwards for three whole days, better than in the whole last ten years. That won’t happen in every case, of course, but if just one person feels this way then my work in the clinics has been worth it.