Human Connection is the Sixth Vital Sign

From CN

US – While in nursing school, I was taught that there are five key vital signs to monitor: heart rate, respiratory rate, oxygen saturation, blood pressure and temperature. These key indicators are constantly monitored and watched for alarming trends. This real-time information gives medical providers an idea on how the patient is coping with whatever aliment placed them in the hospital. We spend years studying how different disease processes affect these five key vital signs, so when those alarming trends surface, we’re in a position to diagnose and act quickly.

What happens though when a patient needs more than just good assessment or diagnostic skills? What happens when a patient is almost completely and utterly cut off from the outside world?

That seems like a place where hope is all but lost. Good clinical skills are extremely important, but the patient also needs the abiding strength of true human connection: the sixth vital sign.

Human connection is wonderful, powerful and unique. It’s filled with love, trust, empathy and gives us incredible rejuvenation in dark times. It’s what is felt when strong effort to effectively communicate with another being has occurred. It’s what is felt when assumptions have been thrown out the window, when barriers and walls have been taken down and all preconceived perceptions have disappeared. It’s what happens when we realize that we’re all human and have an obligation to be there for each other. When that occurs beautiful things happen to the healing process.

I’ve been a nurse for 13 years and COVID-19 has rocked us all in the medical field. Restrictions on visitation from loved ones are more stringent than ever before for adult and pediatric patients. These are important infection control guidelines, yes, but are also emotionally and psychologically debilitating to the human spirit.

John Michael Schuetz, an R.N. takes the vital signs of Rusty Parham, 57, at Gulf Coast Medical Center on Thursday, July 23, 2020. Although Parham tested negative for COVID-19, the hospital is taking extra precautions due to the pandemic. Schuetz recently graduated from college and has been on the front lines of the pandemic since the beginning.

As health care providers, this is where our capacity to recognize the sixth vital sign can shine. The time is now, and it’s simple but not easy. Connection takes honesty, true listening, active engagement and an aptitude for emotional intelligence – self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship development. Things we ALL possess. Things that can be deliberately practiced every single day with all of those around us.

Technology, in this case, is our friend. The emergence of FaceTime and Zoom give us an opportunity to connect with people like never before. The only requirement is effort and a willingness to openly communicate, and it’s not limited to the health care setting.

The time is now. We’re all witnessing unprecedented circumstances across the globe. It’s a time filled with uncertainty and doubt. There’s so many questions that don’t have answers and that insecurity is frightening, but we can’t do this alone. Our ability to connect with one another on a deeper level gives us great power. A power that will help us overcome any obstacle and grant us the ability to realize what actually matters in this life: our relationships.

Developing positive relationships and keeping an open mind is applicable anywhere –whether it’s in an office setting, a meeting room or a patient’s room. Here are six keys to connection:

  • Make an effort
  • Look people in the eyes
  • Really listen
  • Slow down and pay attention
  • Tell the truth
  • Don’t quit and smile

The need to positively connect is there. Eradicate any preconceived notions or judgments and start building lasting connections with those around you today.