Giving Thanks

Posted by Narath Carlile on December 02, 2020 · 3 mins read

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.

Word Cloud of paging analysis - the most frequent word is thanks

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.

Credit for background image: NordWood Themes on Unsplash

Poem inspired by the word frequency analysis:

In Hospital, On Page

(“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.