I know you are busy. And with that said, if you are a medical professional, please take time to read this. It It is very personal, important, and applies to what you will do today.
As you know, the majority of my work is set in the medical world. Working with fantastic physicians, nurses, and healthcare administrators in a variety of settings to improve leadership, communication, team work. I spend a significant amount of time in clinic and hospital settings. Today I am again in that setting, but this time from the other side since my wife is going into surgery.
We were here at this hospital just a month ago for the preliminary MRI and ultrasound work, as well as biopsy. The staff that day could have been filmed and used as training for how to treat a patient. Solicitous, kind, and patiently answering a myriad of my questions regarding the procedure.
Gratefully, the results of all the tests were negative, but indicated a surgery did need to occur. Yesterday, as we arrived for the pre-op consultation, the surgeon explained in detail to us what the tests had shown and what we could expect. Even though his staff had indicated that it had been an extremely busy day, there was a feeling that we were the only family in the clinic. From the receptionist to the MA to the physician, there was complete attention to our concerns.
Today we were met at the reception desk and the necessary and tedious paperwork were done as quickly as possible and a volunteer took us back to the short stay waiting area. Kathy, the volunteer, was so pleasant and encouraging. Soon Cindy, the HUC, was taking my wife back to the room. My daughter and I were also invited back and were able to be with her. Cindy eased our way.
As soon as we were in the room, Lisa, the RN, started her work. Again, she could have been filmed for a “how to do it” demonstration. No procedure was done without a complete explanation. She was friendly, connected with our daughter over a mutual aquaintance. “How are you feeling” or “How are you doing” was seemingly asked about every few minutes. She soon had to go to another room, but kept checking on us to make sure all was OK as we waited for the surgery to happen. Robin, another nurse, came in to assist with the bathroom excursions.
The surgeon let us know yesterday that procedures could get backed up and they did. Running about an hour late. Hard to get impatient, however, when the anesthesiologist comes in, smiling widely, greets everyone with a handshake, introduces himself with a difficult last name and then adds “and you can call me Jim”. Even though some of the instructions are redundant, he made them pertinent. Completely thorough. Lets us know that he will be back soon. Then in comes Jesse, the circulator. Again, friendly. A gentle touch. Clarity. Confidence. “We will get you through this and I will be with you the entire time in the OR”. I know that nurses are advocates. I have heard this countless times. Hearing it apply to my wife puts it in a whole different light. Then in comes the surgeon. Confident. Calm. Direct questions. Pleasant. When my wife asks if he is ready, you can sense that he is.
Then in comes the anesthesiologist and makes sure that hugs and touches and kisses are in order. I think this is fifth time I have watched my wife wheeled through OR doors. Such situations don’t bode well for a person that has been described as a control freak.
This is where the small touches come in. This time watching her go away is made easier by the previous three hours of small considerations by highly trained professionals that didn’t do ANYTHING medically to make us feel better and did EVERYTHING personally to do so. However, did my wife’s anxiety drop because of a gentle touch by Jesse? YES!! Did Lisa’s friendly nature make all of her interventions seem more tenable? YES!! Did the solid confidence of both physicians help us feel that this delicate procedure was doable? Completely!
The idea that technical expertise, both actual and perceived, is heightened by the personal touch is not myth. Not in the research. Not by my experience overall. And certainly not today.
So the wait begins. Afternoon surgery means that the waiting area is nearly empty. The status board is agonizingly uninformative on a long surgery. Two hours drag by. Then a cheerful face! Amy, RN, comes out. After verifying through HIPPA requirements that we are family, she gives us the welcome news that the operation is going well, just long. Our next visitor should be the surgeon. We continue to wait. Another hour and then Lisa, our RN comes to give us news that the surgeon is closing. Again, the smile, the reassurance. As she walks away, I wonder. Does she know how her personna affects us? Does she know how her words make or break us during these waiting games? Can skills like hers be taught? Or are they native? As a coach I know they are teachable. As a husband, today, I am just grateful they are there! Are these seasoned professionals aware how the soft skills make all the difference for us on “the other side”?
The surgeon comes out. How he can look so relaxed after a full day of surgery is beyond me. Great eye contact. Firm handshake. And then the marvelous news. The facial nerve is intact. The tumor non-aggressive. She should be able to go home tonight.
How many hundreds of surgeries has he done? Countless. But for my daughter and I, tonight, there is just one. He thanks us for letting his surgical team take care of my wife. Not used to that level of care.
And finally we are able to go back to the room. Kim, the PACU nurse, talks about my wife all the way back – how she has amazing pain tolerance…how she just wants to go home and the last phrase she says to my wife: “you are one strong lady”. Even in the groggy post-anesthetic fog, those words come through. Supportive, encouraging…typical of what we have experienced today.
People ask me why I am so passionate about my work. It is because I want everyone to have the type of experience I had today. This hospital showed their best today and we were the beneficiaries.
I am an advocate of the phrase: praise in public and criticize in private. In the spirit of that phrase – a special thank-you to Cindy, who welcomed us. To Lisa, who was our pre-op and short-stay advocate. To “Dr. Jim” our calm and confident anesthesiologist. To Jesse, the OR nurse. To Amy, for all of the two minutes she took to keep us informed halfway through the surgery. To Dr. Alan Burningham, for amazing competence and care for a very important person in our family. And to Providence Newberg Hospital in Newberg, Oregon for living the Providence value of “Know me. Care for me. Ease my way.”