Jenny Harris   Community Healthcare Support Worker. Shropshire, shares her thoughts on having a voice and using it

It was 2014 when I  had surgery on my vocal cords to remove a lesion.  A scary prospect I can tell you.  Before surgery talks with the surgeon about what will happen the routine before and after along with copious amounts of reassurance.

More upsetting afterwards very little sound came from my mouth at all, I could scream but no-one would hear me.
I didn't sound like mom anymore, the children were upset, overnight I dropped out of conversations, I became an even better listener but as a listener I was used to speaking afterwards. Resting your voice is a challenge because we use it so much, to explain, to care, to support, pass on the pleasantries of the day, moan, tell bad jokes, laugh, ask for directions ask for help, say we're sorry. When you suddenly can't speak conversations change to a series of closed questions.
Eventually I was able to access speech therapy, my first appointment was very emotional and I cried here was the person who was going to get my voice back. (No pressure there!) I started weeks of therapy vocal and breathing exercises and slowly we got there - a voice returned.

In 2020 we have a global pandemic; the world undertakes a seismic shift, behaviour and routines change. Dining rooms become offices and Microsoft, zoom and other video platforms enable access to friends and colleagues, patients and service users.

In America George Floyd is killed by the police, the video of the police behaviour goes viral and millions of people around the world watch a Black man taking his last breath.... I don't even like watching 18 certificate films.....but I watched it and I worried for my children.
Riots ensue and black lives matter comes to the fore raising the topic of equality for black people.
In the UK there are protests, social distancing is challenged and people are not happy black or white.
I decide spontaneously to raise the question in a team huddle (it is some years later now my vocal cords are working)

I speak into the void…"following the recent killing of George Floyd what does anyone think?" 

Maybe not the best constructed invitation to share thoughts.

Maybe my voice is not working. 

I was asked if I wanted to talk about it outside of the huddle. No. In the huddle is where it needs to be.

There is silence,

for what seems,

like a,

long,

long time.

It's deafening; it’s awkward; it’s uncomfortable.

Of course it's a difficult topic to talk about.

These are my friends and colleagues....I can't tell their expressions as I would in a face to face meeting because I'm just looking at a sea of 40 plus initial dots on MS Teams.

Are they thinking? Are they surprised? Are they fearful of sharing a point of view? Have they gone for coffee? 

How do we talk about race in the NHS, in the workplace?

When a complete change of topic was mentioned I felt like my voice hadn't been heard.

Tumbleweed just rolling through the virtual office space......

The mixed-race elephant standing clearly in the room.

Where’s my speech therapist my vocal cords aren't working!

The conversation was brought back on track by my manager and slowly individuals started to speak and we started to have some good conversations thinking of the effects on our service users and other colleagues in care homes that we might interact with.  How many assumptions might we make when completing ethnicity forms for example?

Following the meeting I had some supportive emails sent to me and further conversations which was encouraging.
But, how do we talk about race in a thoughtful, useful, safe effective way for all in the NHS?

MS teams conversations in team situations are often big affairs and it often feels like you are putting your head above the parapet. And we know what can possibly happen next!


My voice is precious and valid.

To make change your voice, opinions and behaviour are required to ensure it has an equal place in any situation, let's be open to share experiences and learn no matter how uncomfortable this might be.


Let’s find our voice!

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Midlands Partnership NHS Foundation Trust

Trust Headquarters, St. George's Hospital, Corporation Street, Stafford ST16 3SR

E-mail: enquiries@mpft.nhs.uk 

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