Dear Inova Family,
Have you ever been stuck on a plane or car ride beside someone who is intent on talking to you about something you really aren’t interested in? It happened to me on a recent plane ride down to Haiti. The person beside me was on his way there to work on repairing the damage done to the roads, bridges and other infrastructure from the recent earthquake. Our plane left at 6:00 a.m., and because I had gotten up extra early to catch the flight, I was seriously sleepy. To top it off, I was seated next to this fellow who, having discovered that he was seated beside a fellow traveler to Haiti, was intent on talking and talking and talking! He was an inexhaustible source of plans for road repairs, broken ports and shipping terminals, damaged sewer systems, and schools and universities.
I enjoy following political campaigns, and one of my favorite slogans came from Bill Clinton’s election campaign that said, “It’s the economy, stupid!” I bring this up because I have been to Haiti several times since the earthquake and the image that never fully leaves my mind is the sight of hundreds of families — many with infants and young children – living either on the streets or under flimsy, open-sided blue tarpaulins, their homes having been demolished in the earthquake. As I listened to my seatmate go on and on about the various inanimate structures he was worried about, I felt like shouting, “It’s the people, stupid!” – not the buildings – that matter. Now don’t get me wrong – I know roads and schools and ports and sewers are important to life and health, but I confess that it is the daily suffering of the 1 million homeless people, where this time of year it rains every day, that breaks my heart.
This past summer I wrote to you about the lesson I learned from little Santino, the “last chance cat,” and that lesson is that we only have a single opportunity to live each day and make a difference. Sometimes there’s a valuable lesson buried in these uncomfortable moments and the talkative seatmate reminded me of an important one for Inova that President Bill Clinton might have said, “It’s always about the patient, stupid!!”
Now I don’t think I’m stupid (that may not be a universal opinion of all of you!), but I do believe I can sometimes get distracted or drift off and forget about the “main things” in my life or my work. Stephen Covey, one of my leadership heroes, reminds us to pay attention to what he calls “third quadrant” activities – things that are important but not urgent. These are the things that – precisely because they aren’t urgent – can be either taken for granted, given little attention or forgotten altogether. One of the things that we need to remind ourselves of every day when we have issues to wrestle with or problems to solve is simply — “What’s best for our patients?” In truth, our patients’ welfare is more important than our budgets, our personal schedules, our commitments to co-workers, and just about everything else. And yet, sometimes we don’t act that way and we forget that “the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” And our main thing is “what’s best for this patient?”
The other valuable lesson for Inova I was reminded of on this trip surprisingly came from the same overly talkative seatmate who told me a story about a recent visit to a shelter for children orphaned in the earthquake. There was a young boy whose home had collapsed and the propane tank on the first floor exploded, leaving his face and head with terrible second and third degree burns. He had been rushed to a hospital where his life was saved but he was left with horrible, disfiguring scars. He had been living on the streets alone and no children or adults would come near him because of his frightful appearance. One of the relief workers took the little boy to a shelter, but those in charge said he could only stay if the other children would accept him. The children were called together and as the little boy climbed out of the van, a murmur went up and the children shrank back and shifted nervously as the little boy stood before them. The staff spoke to the children and explained that the little boy had no where to live and asked if they were willing to take him into their collective home. A silence fell over the group as no one said anything or even moved a muscle. Finally, a little girl about four years old walked over to the little boy, took him by the hand and said, “You can come and live with us.” With that, the other children moved closer and began to lead the little boy to the place they had their bedrooms. Soon they were treating him just like any other member of their family.
Hearing that story, I was reminded how so many of our patients come to us with scars, frequently hidden, but just as real, suffering from loss of function, loved ones, or fearing for such losses to come. Like the little girl at the shelter shows us, it’s always an individual decision to reach out to someone who needs us. At Inova, we are one big team, but just as important, each of us is an individual who must choose every day to be an instrument of love for people who may not always be the most lovable. This may apply to impatient internal customers, to fearful or demanding families, or to members of our work group who are not having a great day or with problems at home. Just don’t ever forget one common ground on which we all stand – “It’s all about the patient.” The action of that brave little girl reminds us there’s always room in our daily lives to choose that act of human connection and kindness – there’s always room for love!
God bless you all,