Updated: Dec 1, 2019
My book, Bird’s Eye View, brought us to Australia on the tip of its wings. I’m writing this on the plane coming home to Canada. Mike, Aaron and I are returning from a three week trip to Oz. Here is my great Australian round up.
Now Bird’s Eye View is independently published. This trip down under to launch the book was entirely self-funded. There’s no publisher paying my way. Instead, this adventure was built wholly on relationships. I do get by with a little help from my friends.
My editor Michelle Phillips is in Melbourne. She lives there with her husband and baby son Deakin, who was born while she was editing this book. Ben Phillips provided the publishing consulting to help the book come to life. It was wonderful to meet them in person, to give them a big hug, to take them out for dinner to celebrate our collective achievement.
Catherine Crock was the driver behind why I ended up in Australia for my book launch. She is a physician working at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, founder of the HUSH Foundation and she is a force to be reckoned with. I first met her a decade ago when I was introduced to her by the fine folks at the Institute for Patient and Family Centered Care in Maryland. Cath and I Skyped and she encouraged me to submit an abstract for an upcoming Australian conference. I did, it was accepted and I went to Melbourne for the first time 8 years ago. Cath generously billeted me in her home with her big family. I promised I’d return with my husband and son and that I did.
Cath has been encouraging me to finish my book. I began it three years ago, but stalled when I got cancer. After my treatment was done, Cath emailed me to say: How’s that book going along? She offered to host a book launch at the Gathering of Kindness events that are held every November.
Our Australian trip was epic. We worked – me presenting at seven events at various health care venues as my husband Mike and son Aaron manned my book booth. We also played, with a spell at the Whitsunday Islands, time on the Great Ocean Road and down on the southern Victoria coast. We unexpectedly added a four day leg to Tasmania, spontaneously responding to an invitation from Sam Beattie, a Clinical Nurse Specialist at Launceston General Hospital.
I met so many other health care revolutionaries: Rosie Keely, Sharee Johnson, Lorraine Dickey, Vivian Foulke, Amy Maddison, Belinda Morrish, Alan Hopgood (and his troupe of talented actors), Jacinta Parsons, Arnagretta Hunter, Jane Munro, Eric Levi, Maria Berry, Linda Barclay, Susan Biggar, Lucy Mayes and Sonia Henry. Look these folks up. They are all working hard to ensure that health care is a kinder place for everybody. The book and my family even had tea with the Honourable Linda Dessau, the Governor of Victoria.
At the Gathering of Kindness, I spoke on panels with other writers and clinicians who deeply believe in narrative medicine and dignity in health care. I hosted my own interactive workshops about kindness and did pop-up book readings in two hospital cafeterias. I also was unexpectedly invited to speak at Grand Rounds in Tasmania, and what an honour that was.
I’m still processing the whole trip and promise to write more about it later. I want to share our experiences travelling with Aaron, who was a super awesome travelling companion. How I wish I had a crystal ball 16 years into the future when he was born.
For now, I want to ponder two things. When Michelle Phillips was editing my book, she’d ask me two questions: What did this experience mean to you and what do you want your audience to know?
What Australia meant to me was my realization that Bird’s Eye View is part of a grassroots movement. It will grow organically, one bird at a time, as one person tells another person about the book and its messages about the harm of unkind care and the healing power of care delivered with love. It is part of a slow and steady revolution to infuse the humanity into health care. The book will not be an overnight success – I will have to be patient for this growth.
I want you to know that health care is troubled on a global level, no matter what country you are in or how the health system is funded. The problems are the same in Australia as they are in Canada – and as far as I can tell, in the UK and the US too. The main trouble is this: Efficiency has trumped empathy. The pressure to push patients through the system as quickly as possible is literally killing both patients and clinicians. Health care has become a car factory, but the problem is that patients are not car parts and clinicians are not factory workers. Both patients and staff are harmed by this model. Morale is at an all-time low. Patient safety is in jeopardy.
The other news flash for me is that we are all in this health care mess together. It is patients, families, staff and clinicians who can band together to demand that we put the care back into health care. We should not be looking at physician well-being and patient well-being in silos. We are all intertwined.
The key is to reignite passion in health care, to help the professionals find meaning in their work again. If we teach our health faculty students and new staff well, to honour storytelling, to embrace the humanities to understand different perspectives, I think there is hope to turn this ship around.
For visionaries like Cath Crock and Sam Beattie, it is lonely to be a leader of a movement. They join authors like Rana Awdish, Brian Goldman and Victor Montori who call for compassion, kindness and a revolution in care. Let’s add patient voices to this chorus too. We need to support this pioneering work in our own ways so our leaders don’t burn out. The way I can support it is by telling my own patient and family stories through Bird’s Eye View.
The longer I was in Australia, the more I realized that this movement of kindness (or compassion or empathy or humanity, or whatever you want to call it) is actually a social movement that is rooted in love.
One of my favourite memories of the trip was at a hospital cafeteria. I presented at a pop-up book talk at lunch time, when the cafeteria was packed with patients, families and staff. It was a bit disconcerting to speak to people while they were busy eating their meals, but I had a rapt crowd of about a dozen people listening to me as I read two chapters from my book. At the end, I asked: Do you have any examples of kindness you’ve experienced that you’d like to share?
An elderly gentleman got up and walked over to the podium. I handed him my microphone. “I want to thank all the staff who have been so kind to us and who helped my wife since she’s been sick,” he said, tears welling up in his eyes. He paused, unable to go on. I asked him if I could give him a hug and he said yes so I did. Afterwards I sat and chatted with him and his wife. It was a profound and moving experience. It reminded me of the power of allowing patients and families spaces to share their stories and how crucial it is for us to listen – to deeply listen to understand.
Here’s what I preached in Australia: More warm blankets. More gentle touch. More smiles in the hospital corridors. More healing environments. More chit-chat. More hugs. More reverence for stories and the lived experience. More art. More music. More book clubs. More eye contact. More TED Talk discussions. More reflective practice. More rewards for kindness. More pausing before knocking on patient doors. More reaching out to the people (all the people, not just people like you). More love for yourself so that you can love and care for others.
Australia gifted me clarity. We must focus on the good stuff to stamp out the bad stuff. We must also be honest about our experiences. We can do that through telling our authentic stories and finding champions who will listen. As Audre Lorde said, ‘your silence will not protect you.’ If we want a kinder health care system, we must speak up about kind and unkind care when we can.
I’m speaking up through the stories in my book. Join me to bang on this drum. I have been booking speaking engagements in the new year. I’ll be co-facilitating a workshop on patient storytelling in Vancouver and speaking at a public health care forum in Toronto. Watch this website for details. Are you interested in hosting a book reading to facilitate a conversation about practical ways to infuse humanity back into health care? Email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’ve been emboldened by my mates in Australia. I’ve collected new friends down under and I’m deeply grateful to them all. Let’s keep going. Don’t stop now.