by Larry Johnson
While President Obama and the congress debate healthcare reform, not much has been said about the dedicated people who work in healthcare and the incredible differences they can make in the lives of their customers.
During a bicycling vacation through Napa Valley in 2003, CJ, my wife of 34 years was involved in an accident that changed our world. Despite wearing a helmet, she sustained a traumatic brain injury that put her into an eight weeklong coma. This was followed by a persistent vegetative state in which she was almost completely unresponsive (think Terri Schiavo). She could not move the right side of her body, she could not talk or respond to
questions, and she was completely incontinent. She was unable to swallow any solid food or liquids, and had to be fed through a stomach tube. Essentially, she was like a living corpse.
Little by little, however, she started to respond.
About two months after the accident, while visiting her at the first of three nursing homes in which she would reside, I kissed her goodnight and for the first time since the accident, she actually kissed me back. A few weeks later, against doctor’s orders (that were written for fear she might choke,) I fed her a Popsicle that I’d snuck into the nursing home and she ate it without a problem. It dawned on me that if she could eat a Popsicle, she could probably handle ice cream, so I smuggled in some Häagen-Dazs® the next night. It wasn’t long before I was sneaking in full meals from Boston Market® that I would mash up and feed her when the staff wasn’t looking.
About the same time, she also started making grunting noises that sounded like she was trying to talk and one night while an aide and I were putting a brace on her arm that she hated and always resisted, she blurted out, “Take that damn thing off!”
Today, CJ lives at home with me. The right side of her body is still paralyzed, and she still requires 24 hour care, but with the help of Connie Gunderson and Lucia Holmes, two wonderfully dedicated home-health care professionals, we live a happy, and close to normal life. CJ can converse with anyone, can feed herself with assistance, and she can engage in her life long passion of playing bridge (on a computer now with me moving the
In looking back at CJ’s journey from emergency trauma care on the day of the accident, through intensive-care hospitalization, through nursing home residency and finally to home-health care there were many SNAFUS and failures of the system.
There was the neurologist who told us she would have a full recovery, and the neurosurgeon who later that same day told us that her recovery was hopeless and that she would be a vegetable for the rest of her life. Both were wrong.
There was the Ear Nose & Throat specialist (hired by one of the nursing homes) who didn’t bother to bring his instruments when he came to assess whether her tracheotomy tube could be removed to make it easier for her to speak. He told the nurse to not bother
scheduling another visit because, given her “mental state, it wouldn’t make any difference.” In other words, “she’s just a vegetable, so why bother doing a real evaluation?” Another ENT later did a thorough exam and removed the tube, which in turn, contributed greatly to CJ regaining the ability to talk.
There was the nursing home aide who prepared her to go out todinner with me by putting CJ’s hair up in pigtails and placing a child’s doll under her paralyzed arm. I was appalled. CJ was a 56 year old successful business woman who had maintained 4.0 GPA in college; had been a brilliant mortgage banker who managed a team of 10 loan officers; who had achieved Life Master status as a tournament bridge player; who was an active contributor to various political causes; and was the mother of a successful adult daughter – and this aide saw her as only as a little girl.
There was the night shift nurse who refused to call the on-call doctor to get a prescription for CJ’s yeast infection because she didn’t want bother him for such a minor matter. I angrily asked her if she’d ever experienced the kind of itch that accompanies a yeast infection and would she be willing to wait until the next day to treat her own discomfort. She ignored me but, thankfully, she was fired later that week after complaints from other residents and their families.
And the list goes on. Let’s face it, the healthcare system, like any other system, is not perfect – in fact it’s highly flawed. On the other hand, we had many more positive experiences than negative, and its those we remember most.
There was Sister Rose, a nun at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital. CJ’s mother and several of her sisters flew in from Phoenix to stand vigil with our daughter Meagan and me in the intensive care unit until she came out of the coma. Sister Rose went out of her way to find us a small home to rent so we wouldn’t have to pay hotel bills for a month.
There was Richard, the night shift nurse in intensive care who, after passing his meds and doing his charting would come into the room and sit with us for hours, reassuring us that CJ’s brain was healing and that she would get better. He never gave us false hope, but he sure made us feel better.
There was Dr. Christina Kwasnica, who has treated CJ from the beginning and was the only doctor to express realistic optimism that CJ would improve.
There was Pam, the evening nurse at one of the nursing homes who noticed that two of CJ’s medicines were stimulants and wondered why she was receiving them at 8:00PM. It turns out that a doctor contracted by the nursing home had prescribed them to be given twice per day and in a nursing home that translates into 8:00AM and 8:00PM. No wonder CJ wasn’t sleeping well at the time.
And there was the kindness of Mavis, a nursing home aide who took a special interest in CJ. She would talk to her like she would to a sister or a best friend, kidding CJ about small matters, and telling CJ all the latest gossip in the nursing home: who was getting in trouble and why; who was fighting with whom; and whowas sleeping with whom – stuff I’m sure the nursing home administrator would not have wanted Mavis to discuss with her – but given that most people treated CJ like a child or like she just wasn’t there, Mavis’ sisterly banter was a blessing.
Most of all, there are Connie and Lucia, the two home health professionals who, for the past five years have helped me take care of CJ at home. They work extra hours without hesitation, they bring presents to CJ, and they call in on their days off to inquire about CJ’s health or to tell me about something CJ had said: “Did she have a bowel movement? Is her stomach still upset? Did I tell you that CJ asked about the healthcare debate she was watching on TV?”
The point is that the flaws of the healthcare system are numerous but can be outweighed by those in the system who perform with professionalism and care. Our hats go off to the Sister Roses, the Richards, the Dr. Kwasnicas, the Pams, the Mavises, the Connies and the Lucias. My hope is that they go home every night with the satisfaction of knowing they’ve made a difference in someone’s life, for that can be very rewarding.
Question: Regardless of your field of business, do you make a positive difference in the lives of your customers? Your friends? Your family? The strangers you meet as you pass through this life?
To view a video demo of the presentation CJ and I do about our experiences, go to: http://thereisnothey.net/index.php
To purchase the full presentation on DVD, go to:
Larry Johnson, Author & Certified Professional Speaker Tel:
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Meagan Johnson, Author & Certified Professional Speaker Tel:
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