Home » Preventative Medicine » MAKING A DIFFERENCE WITH A WORD CLOUD


Well, It’s February and that means Valentine’s Day  is around the corner. Hopefully you are not expecting “that column” The one where I say how important sex is to men and how easy it is to make us happy. Before the cat calls of chauvinism start I am only echoing the sentiment of Dr. Ruth, Dr. Laura, and the girl from friends.

RFH_WordCloud2No, love is an easy subject which you will be saturated with on the radio, TV , newspapers etc. Writing about love and sex ..two different but important topics …that’s the low hanging fruit…too easy for me. Been there done that. Well perhaps just one suggestion….use oil…use lube ..it works on the feet, it works on the neck and it works on the tender bits. It can really make a difference.

Speaking of making a difference I am writing this week to bring to your attention the idea of a WORD CLOUD for someone who is sick and or dying. OK, pay attention , this is important for a change. Most of you will turn from this. I don’t blame you ..its a tough and touchy subject .Perhaps just one amongst you will follow the advice in this column and that would be worth it .That would make a difference. I know it’s not an easy subject but it’s an important one.elderly-hospital-patient-1437289

I write today about word clouds.  Specifically, word clouds for people who are very ill. Let me explain….this is not an original idea on my part. This comes from an article printed in the Annals of Internal Medicine last year. Listen, serious illness, death and dying are tough to write, read and talk about but it’s important and can make a big difference. The full article involved transitioning the patient from the medication and procedure centric focus to focusing more on the wishes of the ill patient. Basically you have a frank conversation with the patient…The last chapter of your life is being written….you can tell us what’s important to you and what you want to accomplish before the last page is turned.  “I want to see my nieces again”  “I want to reconcile with my ex sister in law” “I want to get in the garden again and surround myself with the sights and smells  of the flowers” “I want to have this music play at my funeral etc”. This is difficult stuff and many people shy from it..both health care professionals and patients and family alike.
words-639306A word cloud is basically a message board.  It’s a framed collage of words as a keepsake for the patient AND family and friends. You bring a board you can write on….Put the patient’s name prominently in the middle and have staff, friends and family mark it up as they see fit. People can add special expressions or pet sayings or phrases ..something that connected them to the patient. The word cloud prompts recollection and reflection.  Family sees and contributes …Friends see and contribute.  This connects everyone to everyone else. This gives people a focus point for conversation when they come in the room. It gives you something else to focus on other than the hospitalization and illness itself. Visiting patients in the hospital ..especially seriously ill patients can be very uncomfortable for people. This is a way to focus the conversation away from illness and towards the patient and their shared memories. It doesn’t have to be just “how’s the food” and long awkward silences.  Instead you can focus on the Cloud Board ..“I wonder who wrote that !”  “I wonder what this means?”  When the hospital staff see such a visual  expression it acts to remind them that it’s not just another body in the bed…it’s a “touchstone to appreciate the footprint of the patient’s life and to learn what mattered most to the patient.”Doctor_consults_with_patient_(4)

Let’s say the patient improves and goes home…they have a great memento of the experience with real comments from real people about themselves. Not just an inexplicable hospital bill. Let’s say the patient succumbs from their illness….the family has a one of a kind memento of the patient which can be brought to any service they might have …and can serve as a visual remembrance for years to come. Flowers fade. Notes get put in some drawer.This word cloud will long serve as a reminder of the patient and who they touched in their lives.  I sent an example along with this article that hopefully they can reproduce to give you a better idea of what I am talking about…a picture is worth a thousand words they say .

As a doctor I struggle with the idea of making a difference in someone’s life. I struggle too with making a difference in someone’s death or serious illness. With this word cloud idea I think I can make a real impact in how people deal with the process.  You can too. This doesnt have to come from the doctor.In fact I dont ever see this coming from the doctor or staff so its up to you ! You CAN make a contribution during this difficult time…a contribution that will stand the test of time.  Go, make a real difference. I’ll be here when you get back.

Dr. Barry