“Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant.” – Henry David Thoreau
Mr. Thoreau’s quote set the tone for a new campaign by the Cleveland Clinic in their Youtube video, “Empathy: The Human Connection to Patient Care.” It was an eye-opening piece that has the ability to take you from the highest of human emotions to its very bottom depths. Would you change the way you approach some interactions knowing what someone was going through or how they felt?
Earlier this week I was at home waiting for rental furniture to be delivered by a local company. I was impressed that they were right on time, if not a few minutes early. My next interaction is where it got touch-and-go. I met one of the delivery guys out front and as he was walking with me to my door, he instantly said to me “the sleeper (couch) is not going to fit through the door.” Of all people that would have known that, it was going to be him. But this was no ordinary day. And this was not the first hurdle that I have dealt with in order to get my place rented. It was the final hurdle – the finish line was in reach – and here was this unsuspecting delivery guy who had no idea what he was walking into. I was carrying so much frustration, resentment and anger all associated from being unable to secure a renter in over 45 days. I initially approached one property management company to not only manage the property once I moved cities, but to also assist with marketing. Everyone I spoke with drove home the message that “you’re advertising at the right time” and “peak season for renters are right around July.” My ad was up and running right after July 4th and more than 30 people came through, but no applications were submitted. I knew something was wrong and that the company I retained was not holding their end of the contract. Plan G (at least it felt like we’ve come this far in terms of alternate solutions) was the decision to to rent furniture and consider short term rentals. So needless to say, when this unsuspecting delivery guy instantly said that the couch wouldn’t fit without trying…I flew off my handle. And this doesn’t really happen to me. I’m a laid-back guy from California – I’m patient to a fault sometimes. But this was no ordinary situation and after viewing that video from Cleveland Clinic, I’m curious if that situation could have been avoided, or at the very least, started off on a better note if we both knew where the other person was emotionally – if we could walk in each other’s shoes for just a minute.
I’m happy and relieved to report that I eventually calmed down and we actually had awesome conversations about football and the Washington Redskins situation and other fun topics about DC. And the couch did fit. Even if I had to smother that sucker with butter, it was coming through that door.
The day before the furniture was delivered, I attended a symposium hosted by DC Primary Care Association and DC Department of Health titled “Moving Upstream” mainly because I’m a huge public health geek and relish learning from other professionals. The agenda was sent out two days prior to the event and I nearly fainted from excitement. My idol (get over it, older people can have idols, too) Dr. Rishi Manchanda from the VA hospital system in Los Angeles was the keynote speaker. I first saw him while I was a first year in graduate school and he gave a talk on praxis; something which continues to resonate with me to this day. My perspective and “praxis” of my background and experiences is this blog. And I am forever grateful to Dr. M for that.
Dr. M is a kind and giving man though, and he gave me a couple more presents that morning. First, I had a chance to talk to him briefly before the day started and he gave me a couple pointers on a new project I’ve decided to undertake down in Durham, NC. Next, during his keynote address, he told the story of one of his patients, Veronica, who bounced around the healthcare system for 3 years unable to resolve her chronic headaches. Step-by-step, Dr. M described the process that he and his staff members took in his clinic. Each patient would have a detailed intake of what brought them to the clinic – standard procedures for every healthcare setting nationwide. The next set of questions, however, asked them about their living conditions, so by the time Dr. M came to see the patient, he knew a bit more of what to expect in their interaction. After their consultation, he diagnosed her with chronic allergies and then referred her to two “specialists” on his staff. One was a community health worker who would go with Veronica to her home to assess what may be detrimental to her health. The next “specialist”, a public interest lawyer, would take the results of the assessment and ensure that Veronica was treated to proper living conditions as mandated by law. Veronica came back a few months later and was feeling better. Dr. M even described that he went to their desks and grabbed his two “specialists” and all three celebrated with Veronica on the spot. A small win, but it reinforced the relationship and effort with all stakeholders.
I’m very optimistic about the future of medicine with stories like these and the leadership that both Cleveland Clinic, Dr. Manchanda and many others are leveraging to guide their work moving forward. New technologies in tracking an individual’s data as well as improving access through telemedicine are new frontiers that will be a reality for more and more people. My hope is that with this new technology, human connection and empathy will continue to be the foundation upon which all decisions are made.
“No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care” ― Theodore Roosevelt