Wednesday, May 13, 2015

What Barbara Turnbull said about rehab and grief

By Louise Kinross

In 1983 Barbara Turnbull was shot during a robbery at a convenience store where she was working a night-shift as a Grade 13 student. Last Sunday, The Toronto Star, where she worked as a reporter, wrote that she had died at age 50 as a result of complications from pneumonia.

Barbara gave a fabulous talk at Holland Bloorview in 2002 about her 18 months in rehab and how she learned to navigate the world with quadriplegia and a lot of technology. I wrote about it in our staff newsletter at the time.

What jumps out at me as relevant today was a comment she made about professionals not allowing her to express her grief. "At one time, when I was going through the worst depression, a nurse said 'If you're not careful, people aren't going to want to be around you,'" she recalled. "It had such a devastating impact on me, because I felt I had to be upbeat for people or else I'd end up alone."

Holland Bloorview scientist Barbara Gibson spoke to BLOOM recently about how therapeutic environments may send the message that negative emotions are to be repressed. "Sometimes patients are made to feel that they can only express positive emotions with professionals," she said. "You know, 'we're all cheerleaders here.'"

I thought that was an important message to keep in mind.
What Barbara Turnbull told us she found most helpful during her rehab was talking to people with acquired disability who were further along in the journey and could encourage her and offer practical advice.

Photo by Toronto Star photographer Lucas Oleniuk


Thanks Louise for honouring Barbara Turnbull and her work.
When thinking about creating space for negative emotion, its also important to remember that many professionals will feel that they are expected to act as so-called 'cheerleaders'. They too may feel they have no space to express emotions, whether positive or negative. Its thus important for all of us to reflect on how we got here, is it working, and, if not, what can be done to change things?

That is such a great point Barb. Professionals also need to be able to process the emotions they experience working with people in life-changing circumstances. This is one of the goals of the narrative group we ran for inpatient nurses, and of course, The Schwartz Center Rounds.