I want to share what I consider a treasured reminder of the humanity within the sometimes gruelling practice of medicine.
A few years ago, I was part of a team in Africa that developed an open-source system that notifies doctors of critical lab results within their hospitals. We developed this system to support bi-directional group based and closed loop communication. This work leapfrogs the system that we had been using in one of the best hospitals in the US. When I returned, I wondered why we still used the system we had. With some wonderful mentors, we studied this in our article - “Why do we still page each other?”.
In doing this work, I also ended up doing a word frequency analysis of the messages from all of the pages that had taken place in my hospital over a month, and was very surprised and touched when it showed this.
As one of the clinicians on the receiving end of these pages, I would never have guessed this. It showed me how human the communication was even when its main purpose is supposed to be critical results and action. It moved me so much that I have it printed on a canvas on my wall and inspired me to write the poem below. During this dark time of COVID, while society is suffering and healthcare workers are continually called on during crisis, this image and the resulting poem help to ground me in the deep humanity of what we do. I hope they are of some comfort to you too.
Poem inspired by the word frequency analysis:
(“In Hospital, On Page” - is how you indicate you are signed into your pager in the hospital in which I work.)
Tethered by this relic of technology, on my belt. And yet it matters. It is the essence of my role - making urgent clinical decisions. Being always reachable. "In hospital, on page." I do not remember it ever saying please. It is so limited and sometimes it crushes me with its urgent shriek, its death rattle. It calls me - from education, from eating, from sleep. And yet it matters. It cries with the same urgency. For colace or codes. All interleaved. I do not remember it ever saying thanks. It is always an interruption. Over time all I remember are codes, and labs and critical pages. And its lack of understanding - of my time and my life. And yet it matters. What matters Is that I am there - for my patients, for my team. Reliable. Connected. And surprisingly, It is full of humanity.