Professor Gabbe: The care that people receive and the support services that they receive become really very, very important once they leave the hospital.
We set up a beautiful trauma system to pick the patient up from wherever they've been injured and bring them to the right hospital to be treated. So we built a great trauma system to the point of hospital discharge.
It's the coordination of their care after they leave the hospital that becomes challenging in that environment too because [of] the different funders of all of those services.
Professor Gabbe's colleague, Dr Braaf, has interviewed many major trauma patients over the last three years. She offers insider advice to those currently recovering from major trauma, often in environments that are complex and overladen with technical language and jargon.
Her recommendation is to ensure you get information that you can understand, so you can use it to maximise your recovery.
Dr Sandy Braaf: Sometimes taking in and connecting information can be hard when a lot of different health professionals are involved in your care. However, certain actions can make it easier.
Be sure that you understand the information that you are given to manage your health. If it is not clear, ask for it to be said in a different way. Don’t stop asking until you are clear; get all the information you want to receive. Ensure that you know what you need to do to progress your recovery.
You can always ask health professionals to draw pictures, show you photographs, or just write notes in plain language to help you understand information. Ask for information to be written down the way it relates to you and your recovery.
Remember, everyone's story is different. And no-one’s version will be simpler or easier.
No doubt, it won't be easy to ask medical staff questions either. Whether that's because of cultural reasons, trepidation, shyness, unable to muster enough strength and energy, or simply unable to take anything else on board.
Hospitals are already high-stress busy places, and coupled with your own stress you may feel too overwhelmed to ask questions. What's going on? Who is that doctor? What are they doing now? What does that mean? What will my future look like? What is the plan?
At the Royal Melbourne hospital
Over at the Royal Melbourne hospital, where they receive numerous major trauma patients a year, the trauma manager Kellie Gumm knows first-hand what could make a difference to patients and family members.
Apart from the comforting role, it is knowledge – helping patients and family understand as much as possible.
Kellie Gumm: Patients feedback all the time that they are confused and don’t know what’s going on.
Often in that acute period they are really unwell, there's a lot going on, they're on a lot of medications, they’re having a lot of tests. Family members are equally distressed. And I do believe they are told a lot of this information…but from my perspective of looking after these patients for 25 years, they just can't take it in.
On the other hand, people often don't ask enough questions. They just have blind faith. You should know that it's totally okay to ask questions. It's your body and it's your life. And if the patient can't ask those questions, the family can.
Write down all of the questions you may have. And make sure to get answers..
Kellie Gumm suggests trying to step back and work out what is missing from your knowledge of the situation. Prepare to ask questions so you can fill in those gaps.
Kellie Gumm: Get a notebook. Family or friends should sit with a patient and write down all of the questions you may have. And make sure to get answers. Don't skimp now.
She says with such a busy environment it's often difficult for staff to stop and give additional information.
Kellie Gumm: But if a nurse is too busy at the time, she will make time to visit again later to answer questions.
Find out what the care plan is. Find out who your next contact is for any questions.
Of course, many of us may already feel empowered enough to ask questions. But we may not always be at our best – either from frustration or because of medical reasons.
Phillip's wife Sharon has some regret about the way she may have asked some questions.
Sharon: I was fiercely protective… My tone wasn’t great… My family was embarrassed….
Because I'm a nurse I was able to challenge medical decisions. Or at least make enquiries. My tone wasn't great. I was fiercely protective.
One time a nurse came in, she said, oh, good morning Mrs Tonkin, we’re just going to start Phillip on his Clexane. 'I said, no you're not.' Because I had visions of his head full of blood, and they're going to thin it even further.
But the staff didn't miss a beat, clearly explaining the rationale, and that he'd be quite safe.
They didn’t get cranky with me at any stage. In fact, my family got embarrassed. I was just being fiercely protective.
For some, the experience is so numbing they may not even be contemplating questions - only enduring the expected mental anguish. This is when social workers can help.