Clinical placements

Nurse’s sign language lessons lift mood of stroke patient

When nursing student Mike Wallis taught basic sign language to a patient recovering from a stroke, he realised how the smallest actions can have the greatest impact on patients.
sign

When nursing student Mike Wallis taught basic sign language to a patient recovering from a stroke, he realised how the smallest actions can have the greatest impact on patients.

On placement on a neurological rehabilitation ward, I helped care for a patient receiving rehabilitation following a stroke.

The patient, who I will call Jim, had been in various hospitals since the stroke, 16 months earlier, due to complications including pneumonia. This was the first time he had been medically fit enough to transfer to the rehab unit.

Jim had a tracheostomy in situ, severely reduced mobility and left-sided weakness, but could use his right hand and arm. He was aphasic and communicated non-verbally by pointing, gestures and using an alphabet board.

This made it difficult for him

...

When nursing student Mike Wallis taught basic sign language to a patient recovering from a stroke, he realised how the smallest actions can have the greatest impact on patients. 

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Teaching basic sign language to a stoke patient helped lift his mood.
Picture: Neil O’Connor

On placement on a neurological rehabilitation ward, I helped care for a patient receiving rehabilitation following a stroke. 

The patient, who I will call Jim, had been in various hospitals since the stroke, 16 months earlier, due to complications including pneumonia. This was the first time he had been medically fit enough to transfer to the rehab unit. 

Jim had a tracheostomy in situ, severely reduced mobility and left-sided weakness, but could use his right hand and arm. He was aphasic and communicated non-verbally by pointing, gestures and using an alphabet board. 

This made it difficult for him to communicate his needs, and staff often used a series of closed questions to which he could gesture yes or no. This could be time-consuming and frustrating for Jim and the staff. 

Thumbs up

At university I have studied communication techniques. Following a lecture on non-verbal communication, including the use of sign language, I sought some basic training in British Sign Language so I could sign simple questions and answers if I ever cared for a deaf patient. 

Jim was already communicating using gestures with one hand, by putting his thumb up or down, so I asked him if he would like to learn some basic signs to aid communication, and he agreed. 

Over the course of a month I taught Jim about ten interchangeable, one-handed signs, including good, bad, morning, evening and pain. By combining these signs, Jim was able to greet people or express simple wishes. Instead of just waving he could sign a ‘good morning’, and let staff know if he was in pain or needed to go to the toilet. 

Empowering

It was amazing to see how enabling Jim to converse in a relatively simple way had such a positive impact on his mood, even though he was still asked closed questions and made extensive use of the alphabet board.

Empowering Jim to make his needs known in this way resulted in better pain management and a reduction in faecal incontinence, improving his well-being. This was a short-term solution – the ultimate goal being to enable Jim to communicate vocally again – but I felt proud to have made a positive difference, even a small one. 

Educating Jim helped to educate me. Now, I never go into similar interactions with patients with a series of closed questions, and always take the time to ask the patient what they want and find an effective way to communicate with them. 

This experience made me realise how the smallest action can have the greatest impact on a patient. Everybody has a voice, which is an important part our sense of self and identity. Jim just needed to learn a new way to express his.


Mike Wallis is a third-year nursing student at the University of York 

 

 

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