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In their shoes
Post date: 3 Jul 2015

Talking with service users and their carers about weight can be tricky. Is that because we are so worried about causing offence and burning bridges before we even get started? Or, as in my own case, is it a personal anxiety, linked to our own historic battles with weight? I’m Val Levens, lead for the adult learning disability team, and my brilliant colleague, Dawn, suggested we get an empathy suit (also known as a bariatric suit) to help us experience the world in a body that is extremely overweight. Medway Cares granted the money to purchase the suit after hearing how we could treat the rising number of obese patients with more care and compassion if we truly understood their challenges.Val

When the suit arrived I think we were a bit shy about trying it on. I volunteered to get us started; the good news is that you don't have to take your clothes off to put it on. The kindness of the two colleagues who helped me try it on was very touching and a colleague who observed the process said she felt hopeless just watching someone wear it - it is a really powerful tool.

For those of us who think we are already fabulous about being empathetic with patients, maybe we aren’t as great as we thought. The suit made me realise I could definitely do better.

For example, I was shocked at how hard it was to sit on regular seats, to bend to get something out of the fridge and it would have been really difficult to hold a baby or have a small child on my lap how cut off I’d feel from my family.

The suit comes with clothes that look huge when you unpack it, yet they are so hard to get on that I gave up on fastening the trousers.

How would I manage feeling so frustrated and desperate? Maybe I'd develop a jokey 'hard' exterior to manage my hurt.

So has the suit changed me? I hope so. I stepped out the suit with greater respect and admiration for the bravery of our bariatric patients. I now notice the lady in the cinema who brings her grandchild but has to sit 'side saddle' in the cinema seat. I also feel differently about what might seem an aggressive manner in some bigger people who might just be protecting themselves and 'getting their defence in first'.

I want us at MCH to use the suit to help us build our compassion or empathy at least and to help us all realise that if we don't change something, in a few years, many of us could be in that situation too.

Fancy renting the suit for your group? Contact us to talk it over, it will change you too.

For more information and to watch Val put the suit on visit: www.medwaycommunityhealthcare.nhs.uk/empathy
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