Updated: May 24, 2020
Life during a pandemic is like driving in the fog too. A friend said it feels like we are wading through molasses. Any certainty I might have about the future has evaporated.
The whole world is immersed together in COVID-19-fuelled health care experience. I know in my heart that humanity in health care still matters – perhaps now more than ever - for we will all live with the physical, emotional and mental ramifications of this pandemic for the rest of our lives.
It is ironic that I published Bird’s Eye View, a book about compassion and the patient experience, four months before our collective health crisis struck. Like many people, my work life has changed dramatically since the pandemic began.
Naturally, my speaking engagements at health conferences were the first events to be cancelled. The last thing anybody is going to do now is fly hundreds of clinicians across the country to be crammed in a hotel ballroom. In these pandemic times, this concept sounds ludicrous. Health conferences, as we know them, are over.
Most of my book sales have been associated with my speaking engagements at those conferences. I’d deliver a talk and happily dole out hugs, chat with audience members and sell a few books at my book table afterwards. Even me, a classic introvert, truly enjoyed these interactions. I have accepted that this in-person model for book sales is finished. I have to stick a fork in it.
Bird’s Eye View had a good four month run. I was lucky enough to speak in Melbourne, Tasmania, Toronto and Vancouver. I feel for authors whose books were scheduled to be released this spring. At least Bird’s Eye View had a few months to shine before the Coronavirus turned the world upside-down.
The big question for me the past weeks has been: So What Now? I’ve been wandering around, as E. L. Doctorow says, in a fog. When I’ve felt confused at other points in my life, I always go back the concept of why. If I am able to identify why I wrote the book, maybe I can figure out the what and the how of what I need to do.
Bird’s Eye View’s ‘why’ is this: I wrote it with one audience in mind - health faculty students. The book’s chapters are deliberately short and to the point. As I was writing, I imagined what I would say to nursing or medical students about the experiences I’ve had in the health system as the mom of a kid with Down syndrome and a recent breast cancer patient. It is the book that I wanted to read when I was a nursing student so long ago. Students – and anyone open to learning more about the patient experience and how it feels to be a patient or caregiver – are my why.
There’s much chatter online about the need to pivot. I don’t want to automatically pivot and merely transfer my talks to an online version (I myself am tired of Zoom meetings already, or as my son Aaron calls screen time, ‘scream time’).
Instead, what do people need when the future is foggy? This is a crucial question. We must be thoughtful and not reactionary in our response. The past few weeks have offered me the opportunity to stop and be still, hard as it may be.
I can only see my next step in the fog after taking the time to mourn my plummeting book sales, slow down and listen to what others who are wise have told me. Any crumb of clarity that I have goes back to my why.
The Bird’s Eye View chapters lend themselves to student learning, for students are the reason why I wrote the book.
Universities, colleges and professional continuing education have had to shift to deliver content online. I personally know this can be a challenge, as I spend much of my days supporting my own 17 year old son with his online Grade 11 classes. My friends who work in health care tell me that students of all stripes need engaging content to supplement online lectures.
I’ve decided to take the chapters of Bird’s Eye View and create practical course content. My first module is about Compassion. In each module there will be a number of lesson plans, written especially for those who teach health faculty students, or who are involved with continuing education in health care settings. I’ll release a new lesson plan every few weeks.
This course content will be offered at no cost. The book is really a vehicle to get my message across about the importance of humanity in health care. This is just another way to do it. Most of the lesson plans will not require students to read the entire book. Instead, I’ll use audio, video and written excerpts from book chapters. I’ll lean on the humanities like poetry and art to teach about my patient experience.
Of course, it will be a bonus if educators end up buying my book or assign the book as required reading to their students. But that isn’t my why. My why is to get my message into the hands (and hearts) of learners.
The outline for the Bird's Eye View Course Content is here. In it is a link to the first lesson plan about compassion. It is based on the story told in one of my favourite chapters called About Dr. Darwish. In it, I recount the experience of our first appointment with my son's beloved pediatrician:
Dr. Darwish was the first clinician to see Aaron as a baby first. She didn’t immediately zero in on what was wrong with him. She first saw, and expressed, what was right.
Basically, I’m chopping up my book into practical bits. I'm grateful if you are interested in sharing this work with your own health faculty students, colleagues who are educators and social media networks. It is my hope that my stories can help jump-start the healing that we still desperately need in our new, strange pandemic world.