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  • Amy Maddison

Wrapped in Kindness

Today the Gathering of Kindness interviewed the wonderful Rachel Callander - one of the remarkable speakers at many of our Gathering of Kindness events next week. We asked her to tell us a little bit about herself and answer some questions about kindness in healthcare.

Rachel is a TEDx presenter, and the author of the internationally awarded photographic art book "Super Power Baby Project".

This exceptional book celebrates the lives and abilities of children with chromosomal or genetic conditions, and was inspired by Rachel's late daughter Evie, who was born with a very rare condition herself.  In the two and a half years of Evie's life, Rachel learnt a lot about the use of language in the health system, and has spent the subsequent years continuing to explore the impact and implications of how it is used by health professionals - To positive and negative effect.

This book is Evie's legacy, as is Rachel herself, and both have much to teach us about ourselves, and how we negotiate conflict, grief, hope, uniqueness, celebration, and a meaningful life.

Rachel is a highly sought-after speaker at conferences around Australia and NZ.  Her audiences are mostly made up of health professionals, and she speaks about the need to communicate using open hearted language, especially at diagnosis.  

She teaches how the first words used at diagnosis critically shape how a parent perceives their future:  The words can allow the parent to be their best, and find

meaning even in pain; or they can create anger, mistrust, frustration, and can break down the crucial relationship between the parent and the health professional.  It's a conversation about empowerment - For the patient, and for the health professional. 

Rachel also works with executives and leadership teams to facilitate positive culture change, and to build new systems to reflect new thinking.

Rachel is completely engaging and unassumingly unique, drawing her style from three distinct perspectives:

- Her motherhood to Evie, and the years of experience as a patient in the health system.

- Her perspective as an artist, applying right-brained emotional strength to a conversation often filled with left-brained statistics and facts.

- Her work with the Thought Leadership Business School (essentially, a commercial PhD), allowing her to build every concept into something strong, communicable, and effective, and then to tailor those ideas to specific audiences.

Connect further with Rachel at

Hi Rachel. I’d like to ask you to share your thoughts on the importance of kindness.

Can you define what kindness really means in healthcare? What values or attributes represent kindness to you?

Kindness, I think, is often found in small moments. It doesn't need to be grandiose to be felt deeply. The attitudes and values of kindness in healthcare can be seen in hugs, smiles, tone of voice, and when health professionals take a few moments to really listen. Kindness is seen, when a person is treated with respect.

Can you give an example of an experience as the mother of a child with a disability where you felt kindness made a real difference to you? What was it about that experience that mattered so much and why?

I am so happy to be able to share some beautiful examples of kindness in healthcare from my experiences as Mum to Evie, but this is my favourite. 

 Evie had been flown to Starship Hospital, the major children's hospital in NZ on an emergency life flight transport. We didn't know if we would bring her home again and her life was hanging by a thread. One of the PICU staff, Lindy (I'll never ever forget her) made us comfortable and spoke to us with compassion, understanding and unfussy clarity.

The environment was so alien, full of

metal, machines, buttons, alarms, flashing lights, equipment, bags full of fluid and a whole lot of numbers. Once Evie was stable, Lindy then spent some time on the computer, making Evie a pretty sign with her name on it, to attach to her scary hospital bed. She didn't rush this, she wanted to get it looking just right. She found a picture of fairies, and this piece of paper, made everything about PICU a whole lot nicer.

I still have that piece of paper. I remember as I watched her make this little bed sign, that she was one of the smartest, important people in the room, yet she thought it just as important to make this little piece of loveliness, as it was to administer Evie's medical treatment. To me it felt as if to her, both of those jobs were equal. I felt totally wrapped in kindness, and this act, gave me strength.

Do you have a quote or piece of music or art that inspires you  - that you think exemplifies an aspect of compassion/kindness? And do you think we could use the humanities more in healthcare to make environments and relationships kinder? How would this look? From your perspective as an artist and photographer what do you think is missing in the way we set up healthcare systems? 

What I have always been drawn to as an artist, is the idea of a meaningful life.  That the search for meaning is more important even than the search for happiness.  The humanities and the arts give us a wonderful foundation for this concept:  It's about belonging, having a purpose.  Transcending our culture's limited systems and beliefs around value, and what is valuable.  It's about stories. 

I believe the hospital, and the entire healthcare system, is all about this too.  Or, at least it could be, and when it gets there, it will look wonderful.

I think what is often missing in the healthcare system is a sense of true hospitality.  That humble welcoming environment, infused with care, generosity, kindness and humanity. 

Hospital and Hospitality come from the same Latin root word, hospes.  It means guest, or stranger, and carries with it the etymological story of mutual respect, for the guest and the host.  An expectation of both parties to exhibit care, trust, and kindness.  A hospital is a place where strangers who suffer, come to be cared for. 

So the etymology of the whole system is actually based on a beautifully kind, and compassionate foundation.

I don't think kindness is missing in healthcare - It is just often misunderstood, underestimated and undervalued.  By patient and carer alike.  When we can build a healthcare system that can look after everybody under the hospital roof, then we will have something pretty incredible.

The humanities are vital in all of this.  The way I see it, a hospital is a place where all the vicissitudes of life reside.  All the shifts and turns and highs and lows - All the seasons of life, each deserving respect.  And the best way to care for a person is to respect them.  To acknowledge their humanity.  

Art has a way of transcending language itself, instantly connecting us all as sensory beings - It reveals messages, meaning, and comfort in a colour palette, a chord, a poem, a photograph.  Art and music enhances an environment, and softens it.  It creates space, holds court, allows room to breathe and connect to the present.

The arts help us acknowledge our own humanity, and remind us that we are all in this together, all deserving of the kindness of the strangers.

If we could change one thing about healthcare through the Gathering of Kindness events - what would you wish that to be?

The acknowledgement and awareness that kindness is often at the top of the list of what a person needs most from healthcare and their professional, and that kindness and compassion isn't just fluff.  

The understanding that when a person enters a hospital, they are entering the unknown, there is fear, change, stress and a whole lot of people, going through a whole lot of things. The environment is incredibly volatile. 

Widespread acceptance, that any acknowledgment, whether through use of eye contact, a smile, human connection and respect, and really listening, makes a huge difference.

I think that if healthcare and health professionals could focus on what a patient values, cares about what they care about, then kindness will be a natural outcome and the ripples of that influence will be felt.

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