Giving Thanks

thanksI’m thankful for my superpower that I shared with my mother, Ruth, and son, Mike – accepting what is.

I’m thankful that I was born a  white straight male to a closeted gay dad, Ruben, and a Holocaust survivor, Ruth – I appreciate that I have first world problems and learned from them that I must act to better the world.

I’m thankful that my best friend is my life partner and care partner – I strive to be equal to her love.

I’m thankful for my extended family, characters all.

I’m thankful for a 40+ year career as a nurse – privileged to serving during people’s most vulnerable moments.

I’m thankful that I was invited to join my grandmother, mother, and son during their end-of-life journeys.

I’m thankful that my grown sons love the strong women they married, revel in fatherhood, and contribute to community well-being – they keep me honest.

I’m thankful for my grandsons – OMG, what can I say?! Continue reading “Giving Thanks”

Superpower: Opening our hearts

I’m scared but not shocked. The level of disappointment so many people feel about their lives profoundly saddens me. I should have more. I would have more if it weren’t for others – all sorts of others. Feelings of injustice can power so much. I don’t pretend to understand all the righteousness, anger, and meanness that erupt when disappointment builds. But it feels as familiar as the human condition throughout the planet and over the ages. It’s like earthquakes from fracking.  I’m thankful that my mother, a Holocaust survivor, is no longer alive. She would be apoplectic and inconsolable.  What’s going to happen now? How should I act? As when grieving, I will mindfully minimize controllable stress – exercise, rest, listen to and play more music, spend more time with friends and family. I will continue to give thanks for all I have in my first world life. I will continue to pursue my passion for maximizing the experience of people at the center of care. I pray for the physical and spiritual strength to speak up, stand up, and act when the moments seems right. I’ll need strength to take the high road in this low road time. More than anything I’ll pray for unexpected open hearts. The community needs it. Our grandchildren need it.  The unborn need it. Onward.

Belonging – a matter of perception

During the inevitable ups and downs of life, I feel better when I belong. The pointy end of illness, loss, unintended change, stress, can be softened by belonging. Belonging to a family, team, community. What is this feeling of belonging? Being with family, comrades, teammates, cronies, neighbors. My wife and I are visiting old friends.  Old friends know the good, the bad,and the ugly and still like you and want to be with you. They have been with you through it all. Hence, old friends. Our neighbors look out for us, they have our back, literally. We belong. Belonging fuels a positive narrative that empowers me. I can take risks, I can survive mistakes, I can recover, I can feel better, I can find some peace when I belong.
Belonging feeds itself. To belong, I need to be a family member, a teammate, a neighbor. It’s an investment with some risk and some return. Belonging has an open heart. Paradoxically, an open heart is risky with the possibility of huge return and huge hurt. Yet a better risk than Powerball.  Turning a negative narrative into a positive narrative increases belonging – it’s a superpower. It’s a matter of perception. It’s a magic lever of best health.

Giving Thanks

My super power is accepting what is. Doesn’t mean I settle for what is. After all I’m a catalyst for change. Accepting and appreciating what is makes for a solid foundation and a realistic start. I can’t get from here to there if I don’t know – and value – where here is. I give thanks for my super power. I didn’t do anything to get this super power. No degree for it, no lightening strike – I was born with it – lucky genes and family history, felt safe growing up. I give thanks for (value) clean drinkable tap water, regular garbage pick-up, laden grocery shelves, the sun shining as often as it does. I give thanks for my sons, their wives, my grandkids, my extended family, my home life, my inspiring co-workers, my health and especially, my honey. I give thanks for the health problems our system has – I don’t live in a refugee camp outside Syria.

I give thanks, for you, my loyal readers.  I look forward to this virtual community every week that welcomes my musing on the magic levers of best health. Happy Thanksgiving!

Book review: Far from the Tree

Andrew Solomon’s Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity covers stories of diverse caregiver experience; parents with exceptional children: children with deafness, dwarfism, Downs syndrome, autism, schizophrenia, or disability. Others are caring for children who are prodigies, transgender, conceived from rape, or committing crimes. It is a rich and exhausting tome (962 pages) — profoundly sad, exhilarating, and inspiring. Solomon interviews more than 300 families navigating a journey they didn’t choose, caring for their children, facing unexpected challenges. What can those of us committed to participatory medicine learn from their experience?

More? See the full review here in the Journal for Participatory Medicine
van Leeuwen D. Book review: Far From the Tree. J Participat Med. 2013 Feb 18; 5:e8.

A new threshold – laid off

As you were recently informed, due to the need to reduce operating costs, the Hospital is required to eliminate positions. Unfortunately, your position is one of those affected by this difficult decision.

A definite threshold in a health journey. Going through the stages of grief exiting one space and excited by new prospects as I enter the next. This is where some earlier posts on my blog come in: ResiliencySuperpowersRest, Improvisation.
What have I learned these past few weeks about the industry? Frantic rush to merge, expand, and cut expenses – dynamic tension between these simultaneous imperatives. A few organizations are well poised to consider, now what – many are not. The challenges of creating systemness and alignment from diverse cultures and entities, always endemic in health care, are now more pressing. Rapid, intense change causes teams within organizations to constrict, contract, protect. Leaders can leverage this stressful opportunity to create alignment by focusing on the patient, providers, and staff experience. Who can disagree with this beacon? Focusing on patient experience across the continuum of care is intrinsically rewarding – spiritually healing – and makes business sense because positive experience prevents leakage and increases loyalty. Clinicians are critical – they understand healing. Leaders need their help applying their craft to organizational health. Their jobs are harder, they need superpowers more than ever. They know where the system is weak and wasteful, just look at their workarounds – pearls  for change. Patients want their journey to be simpler and kinder – it’s far cheaper and more effective to anticipate their needs rather react to their dissatisfaction. Everywhere we find relationships requiring information and communication – patients, caregivers, providers, staff, leaders. Automate that sharing of information – bidirectional where possible.
I need to rest and heal to prepare for the intensely exciting new vistas ahead. I have worked my whole career to be ready for this moment. Be still my heart.

Magic lever – resilience

Tragedy is the common unifying force of life and organizations. The more seasoned you are, the more likely you are to have experienced personal and organizational tragedy – a death, diagnosis of serious illness, job loss, legal difficulties, downsizing, loss of a contract, loss of key staff, loss, loss, loss.


My daughter-in-law texted me, May the force be with you, as I was in the midst of a personal tragedy.  What is this force, this superpower? How does a person or an organization survive a loss, a tragedy and regain best health? Resiliency. According to SAMHSA resilience is the ability to:
  • Bounce back
  • Take on difficult challenges and still find meaning in life
  • Respond positively to difficult situations
  • Rise above adversity
  • Cope when things look bleak
  • Tap into hope
  • Transform unfavorable situations into wisdom, insight, and compassion
  • Endure
The American Psychological Association reports the following attributes about resilience:
  • The capacity to make and carry out realistic plans
  • Communication and problem-solving skills
  • A positive or optimistic view of life
  • Confidence in personal strengths and abilities
  • The capacity to manage strong feelings, emotions, and impulses
Can resilience be learned? How can we increase the resilience capacity for ourselves, our families, our organizations, and our communities? What tools can help increase our resilience capacity?

Magic lever – changing habits

One of the magic levers impacting best health is automatically using widely accepted, well tested practices (evidence-based practice). For example hand washing. Seems like a no brainer – washing hands between patients for professionals, before caring for your loved one, after going to the bathroom for everyone. Another is limiting antibiotic use to treat viruses. Also preventing or reversing obesity. I’m fascinated how hard it is for professionals to change practice informed by widely accepted research or even common sense. Is it similar to maintaining good life habits? I suspect that inertia plays a major role. It’s hard to change gears in a busy productive life. Heck, its hard to change gears in an unproductive life. How do we get the stars in alignment to do the right thing when we definitely know what the right thing is? How do you effect change in your professional and personal life? What are key factors that others can replicate? We spend so much money and human capital on trying to change behavior – consultants, training, how-to-manuals. What works? Being able to change habits is a superpower.

Releasing the Inner Improviser

Best health includes improvisation in the relationship between health professionals and those in their care. One picture of improvisation is discretion to customize response and interaction and go off script and track with each individual’s or families journey. Yet the capacity of health professionals to remain up-to-date in their knowledge, compliant with practice and regulation, and productive while still able to be kind and improvise approaches possessing a superpower. As Kate commented yesterday, other knowledge workers – teachers – have the same challenges.

What conditions release the inner improviser?  Let’s consider a few: clarity of purpose; trust and team dynamics; predictability and responsiveness of  systems; and ability to learn from the improv: fix what seems broken.

Clarity of purpose can be mission, focus on the task at hand, or even clear boundaries. Every organization I’ve worked for had a mission statement. St. Peter’s Health Care Services (SPHCS) in Albany, NY, was committed to being a transforming healing presence in the communities we serve. Like the golden rule, easy to say, tough to do. Difficult decisions at SPHCS often included explicit consideration of the mission.  Focusing on the task at hand is mindfulness. As in right now the task at hand is pain relief, teaching, mobility, whatever. Not my co-worker, not the next person who needs me, not Dancing with the Stars. Concentration. Zen. Finally, improvisation occurs within boundaries – knowing the tune. For health workers the tune is policies and procedures, regulations, standards of practice.

Trust and team dynamics. Sustaining kindness and improvisation without feeling trust in yourself and your team truly IS superpower. Good team dynamics are healthy relationships – role clarity, communication that greases the constant shifting and movement of the day’s flow, re-prioritization, and mutual helpfulness.

Predictability and responsiveness of  systems used by your team –  workflow, supply chain, information systems. Knowledge workers create work arounds when systems don’t work quite right. They ingeniously seek a state where they can accomplish their daily tasks productively. Disruption of these systems draws valuable energy away from kindness and improvisation.

If all the stars are in alignment and staff feels able and empowered to improvise, we are idiots if we don’t learn and fix. Some proportion of improv is kindness and some is in response to something that is broken. Often both. Lord, I feel another post coming on.

I contend that the most important job of leaders – the people who supervise those who touch the public – is to nurture the environment of kindness and improvisation. Nurture the environment and model the behavior.