The following is not a post about marketing, but since a lot of you have picked up on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook that something is going on in my family now, I share this post with you.
Two weeks ago, my young son suddenly developed a serious brain condition that affected his speech and made him confused about where he was and what he was doing. After rushing him to the emergency room that night, we were thrust into the medical world literally head first, enduring CT scans and MRIs, spinal taps and endless blood tests. What followed were days in the pediatric ICU, wondering what caused it, what treatment he could receive, and most of all, if whatever Sam experienced was over.
During that week, I got a firsthand look at the running of a major medical department at a world-famous hospital in the Bay Area. While these lessons aren’t necessarily marketing lessons (though there are some familiar marketing themes tucked in here), I wanted to share a few thoughts on how to cope if you are ever in the same situation:
Be your Own Advocate
Nobody knows what you need more than you do. If you, or your child, is a patient in a hospital, get vocal. The temptation is just to accept what the medical professionals say –- after all, you are playing on their field. You don’t understand their language. You don’t know what all their equipment does. You are stressed. You need to summon the fortitude to ask questions like “why is this necessary?” and “What could happen if we don’t do this?” If all else fails, contact the hospital’s ombudsman to help you get some answers. Be sure to take notes on every conversation you have, including the time, the person’s name and what they told you.
Find Conversations About You and Listen
Much of what I learned about my son’s condition, I learned from doctors and nurses during shift change. Why then? It’s the time when they have to explain to their replacement what is going on with the patient, what changes have occurred and what the working diagnosis is. As a parent, I had to continually ask for this information. As an eavesdropper, I could hear them explain it to one another, correct them if they were inaccurate in handing off some data, and generally trying to make myself a useful part of the team.
Trust, but Verify
Don’t accept what someone says on you blind faith. Even if they are wearing a white lab coat and sporting a shiny stethoscope, you can’t count on their interests being completely aligned with yours. Most doctors take into account what’s best for the patient as a whole person, but there are others who look at medical issues as problems to be solved, and forget that there’s an individual involved. Trust that the professional caring for you or your child has your best interests at heart, but still ask questions until you are comfortable with the answers.
Find the Person in Charge
I was terrible at this. The first night we came in through the ER, I was only focused on my son, but quickly I discovered that in a teaching hospital, there is a hierarchy of command, not unlike the military. By the fourth day, after we saw dozens of MDs, I began asking for the one person in charge of my son’s medical care. The staff seemed surprised that a parent would ask this -– apparently, it’s not a common question. After I told them I wasn’t going to be allowing any more tests until I spoke to the person in charge, a doctor materialized (whom we had never met).
In a hospital, there’s always another case waiting for attention. While we were there, we saw some very sick children, many of them quite young. I knew that the medical staff were paying attention to whatever was urgent, whatever was life threatening, and if that case happened to come after my son’s, there was a chance that follow up on some medication or procedure wouldn’t come quickly, or at all. Kindly reminding everyone involved in your case can help you get the kind of care you need. And after you leave the hospital, make sure to call and email the doctors involved to remind them of your case and continue to stay in their minds.
Being in a hospital for any length of time, you’ll encounter hundreds of people. Many of the staff will demonstrate brilliant flashes of kindness to you, from the maintenance person who holds an elevator for you while you are carrying cups of coffee, to the nurse who chases down a senior doctor to answer your question, even though he’s not responding to her pages. Be sure to say “thank you” and realize that the amplifying effect of these kind gestures while you are in need is a true gift.
Sam is home now, back to school, and apparently doing much better. We saw a total over 26 doctors over the past three weeks, and many more have been consulted. While we don’t know what caused it, how it should best be treated, and if the problem is resolved for good, we are staying on top of his care and continue to be his best advocates. Thanks for your thoughts and well wishes.