The recent bomb explosions that took place in Seaside Park, New Jersey, and the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, New York, immediately provided many people with reason for pause and feelings of great concern. The next day, Rebekah Gregory was scheduled to fly to Orlando to speak at the Healthcare Facilities Symposium Conference early that Monday morning. Although these bombings conjured up difficult memories for her, she pulled herself together and boarded a plane to Orlando.
The conference started as most do with check-in, review of event guides, schedules, catching up with colleagues at the networking breakfast, and heading to hear the keynote presentation. As I sat in the audience reviewing the agenda and thinking through my day, I quickly realized the keynote speaker was one I would not soon forget. Rebekah Gregory was introduced along with her address titled, “Through the Eyes of a Patient.” Rebekah began by depicting her remarkable patient journey following the Boston Marathon bombing. She delivered a very powerful message by describing the riveting story of her decisions that day, the life-changing moment when the bomb went off, obstacles she’s overcome, choosing not to be a victim, and that she would not only survive the bombing but she would thrive and live her life to its’ fullest. I think it’s safe to say she captivated the audience with her inspirational story, and there were a few tear-saturated tissues scattered about the room.
As I listened to her describe the unfathomable aftermath of the bombing, her profound injuries, extensive surgeries, and protracted recovery efforts, I realized how much I could learn from her positive perspective, resilience and what really matters in life. Rebekah recalled that her decision to have her 5-year-old son sit on her feet to play just moments before the bomb went off three feet behind her, was likely the decision that saved her son’s life and minimized his injuries. He was taken to a nearby hospital and released within the week. Rebekah, however, was not so fortunate. She was transported to a nearby hospital in record time and placed in a medically induced coma for weeks following the bombing. When she finally awoke she was told the nearness of the specialty hospitals, immediate response of rescuers, and hospital readiness led to her survival; a 2-minute delay in her arrival and she would not have been as fortunate. The local hospitals were prepared. They had planned and conducted emergency preparedness drills earlier in the year, which enhanced their readiness, rapid response, and recovery efforts significantly.
Since the bombing, Rebekah has had more than sixty surgeries due to her initial injuries and subsequent complications. She has since made the decision to amputate one of her lower limbs and may have to amputate again in the near future. She wears a prosthesis that she admittedly has a “love/hate” relationship with, but the way in which she describes her life story is not one that invokes pity. While she continues to face challenges in her life, however different they may be from mine or yours, her perspective on life is uplifting. Rebekah’s emotionally charged story of the importance of feeling safe, secure, being in a hospital that she felt cared for and could get the care she needed, especially when her world was turned upside down, was a powerful reminder why I do the work that I do.
As a registered nurse turned hospital operational and transition planner, I help hospital teams develop new workflows and processes that improve efficiency, safety, utilize best practices, and focus on patient- and family-centered care. I’ve always felt “called” to do this work. I can’t imagine anything more important or fulfilling than to work side-by-side with a hospital team to truly improve their processes, eliminate unnecessary redundancies, focus on value-added steps, and streamline their workflows. Ultimately, these new workflows give clinicians more time at the bedside to focus on patient care needs and do the work they were actually meant to do. I returned home from the conference full of renewed energy, commitment, and passion for the work that I love.
And it was just then, in an unexpected turn of events, I found my twenty-one year old daughter urgently hospitalized with a cardiac arrhythmia. It’s a funny thing, no matter how old your child is they are always your baby and when they’re sick and scared your suddenly “mommy” again. As a nurse, I’ve spent many years providing patient care in hospitals. Suddenly I’m humbled to find myself seeing care through the eyes of a patient and family. The worry and stress of having a loved one hospitalized, the lack of control, and fear of the unknown, makes you appreciate even the smallest measure of kindness and compassion. I’m reminded immediately of Rebekah’s remarkable story, her determination to make something positive from her circumstances and how important it is to feel secure and cared for in the hospital.
Rebekah’s journey and the recent experience with my own daughter rekindled my long-held belief about the importance of this work and what really matters, the patient. Rebekah said she hoped to make a difference with her story and life lessons. I want her to know that I heard her that day. She’s inspired my renewed commitment to the importance of improving operational processes and reducing inefficiencies to give clinicians more time at the bedside. She reminded me that every touch, every kindness, and every extra moment a clinician has to give to their patient is significant to their healing, and that’s what matters most of all.