April 7, 2011
Dear HIT Professional:
While we admire those who've blazed trails we someday hope to follow, we truly revere those whose accomplishments lay forever outside our scope of talent or inclination.
This is why I revere people who administer to the sick - because my nature has placed their work beyond my grasp. I am uncomfortable around hospitals, illness and the indignities that often attend a diminution in health. In short, I don't want to "be there" if I don't have to. So choosing a career "being there" wouldn't make much sense. I'd never be as effective as someone who didn't mind, or actually liked, being there.
My wife liked, and likes, being there, having spent 10 years as a hospital nurse in an ICU step-down unit where the sickest of the sick often languished on ventilators. Rather than adopting my selfish stance which first considers how being around illness makes me feel, she - like the majority of healthcare workers - thinks about how much better she can make them feel.
But for those who can handle the environment, the day-to-day work of healthcare is extremely rewarding, because, by its very nature, the healthcare environment sits on the fringes of normal human experience. It is one in which workers can experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows almost daily. To the rest of us, these highs and lows come once a year, if not less frequently. According to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, it is only on these fringes where life can be lived to the fullest.
"A man can stand anything except a succession of ordinary days," he wrote.
I saw those fringes first hand this week when, within the span of 48 hours, my second son was born and my father suffer a minor stroke. In fact, it was at the end of his visit with us at the hospital that my father mentioned "feeling a little strange earlier in the day." A few questions from me, followed by a brief interview with my wife (still recovering in her hospital bed), saw my father and I walking from the women's and children's hospital across the parking lot to the main hospital emergency room. For the next 24-hours (until my wife and son were discharged), I split my time between the two hospitals.
While wife and baby are doing great, my father continues to sit in the hospital, largely because of information-flow problems endemic to our healthcare system. His neurologist will not consider discharge until an MRI is performed, but that cannot be done until his stent (from a bypass operation) and his sheath (from a AAA repair) are both cleared. This seems to have taken far, far longer than should be necessary. Part of the problem lay with my father not having, at the very least, accurate and easily accessible paper records of his past medical procedures or, at best, a PHR which can be toted around on a thumbnail dive or accessed from any computer.
But part of the problem also lies with a lack of electronic communication between physicians. Unfortunately, we're still largely stuck in a world where getting two physicians on the phone is the most expeditious way to facilitate the necessary information exchange. Of course, trying to get a cardiologist and neurologist on the phone together could put someone in the hospital.
So the mini lesson here is that if you've got medical issues, have your papers handy and accessible, or enter all that information into a PHR. But the major message is to appreciate the healthcare workers who are exposed, for example, to both the wonders of birth and the sadness of prolonged and insurmountable illness every day.
At one point during the hospital stay, I was waiting for the elevator that would take me up to my wife and child. Coming up behind me was a family of five or six carrying "Get Well" balloons. They were all crying, but the tears were not of joy. I quietly backed away from the elevator so they could go up alone, but for each other and their grief. I felt terrible for them, while reflecting on how lucky I was.
It all happens in the hospital each and every day. How fortunate we are to work in, and with, such an industry.
Have a tremendous week!
Anthony J. Guerra
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