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Try a Little Tenderness

Updated: Feb 16, 2020

When I found out that I was going to Toronto on a week-long speaking tour in early February Aaron said to me:

Can you look for Drake Mom?

My hotel was near where the Toronto Raptors played, so I did look for Drake around the hotel to no avail. A number of cab drivers told me that Drake has a house in the tony neighbourhood of Bridal Path. I was close to Drake's house when I visited Sunnybrook Health Centre and Holland Bloorview Kids Rehab, but I didn't see him. As a long shot, I went to the Drake Hotel for a pleasant but hipster lunch before my speaking gigs at CAMH, but I didn't spot Drake there either.

I reported back to Aaron that I didn't manage to catch a glimpse of Drake in Toronto. However, I was able to convince the staff at Drake's OVO Store in Eaton's Centre to take my $50 for a purple t-shirt for Aaron. That's as close as I got.

Drake spotting aside, I've been mulling over what I learned in Toronto from my five speaking gigs and two workshops. Since I encourage audiences to act on what they hear from speakers, I figure I should participate in my own reflection too. Here are my top three lessons:

1. There is at least one champion for compassion inside every hospital or health care organization. These are the people who went to bat for me: they pitched the idea of a conversation about kindness or storytelling workshop to their leadership, found the budget for me and led the marketing of the event. They worked with me to prep beforehand and introduced me at the podium.

I am extremely grateful to Kate Robson, Tracey DasGupta, Beth Dangerfield, Courtney Gingrich, Yona Lunsky and Bob Maunder who are those champions for compassion. A shout out to a young man named Ben who worked my book table for the CAMH Evolving Stories event at Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre.

Look for those champions, just as Mr. Rogers says to look for the helpers. These are the people who are dancing on the hill. Find these people and join them. These are the risk-takers, the innovators, the change-makers, the creatives in health care.

2. Everybody is hurting in health care. I found this out when people came up and spoke to me afterwards. There is a lot of pain out there and nowhere to put it, so people end up carrying it around. This pain is damn heavy.

Patients are hurting, families are hurting, staff are hurting, clinicians are hurting. Staff well-being is suffering. Bad staff culture eats patient centred care for breakfast. This is a poorly-kept secret in health care. Because of that...

3. It is important that we respond to this pain with tenderness. One response to a staff talk in Toronto was this: Lots of appreciation for your tone – folks were not feeling defensive or misunderstood as sometimes happens. Another staff member said at the end of a talk: You see me. We all need to be seen by each other. To me, being seen is the base of what Johny Van Aerde taught me is called relationship-based care.

Here are some tangible actions we talked about at the staff events. These seem simple, but they are big deals that have benefits for both staff and patients:

  • Take a deep breath before you knock on a patient's door to help yourself stay in the moment

  • Go outside and look at the sky on your break

  • Stop eating lunch at your desk

  • Consider the healing power of touch

  • Help patients who are lost in the hallway get to their destinations

  • Walk more slowly through the hallways, with your head up - to mimic the slower pace of patients

  • Smile and say hello. Smile more. It makes you feel good too

If you read my book, you know I'm no Pollyanna or cheerleader for hospital PR departments. I'm still outraged at injustices. But these past few years have taught me to not lead with anger, but instead to pause to understand, to gather up all the love I can, because love is actually the answer. It is both as complex and as simple as that.

There is both good and bad in health care and we must talk about both in an honest way. But if I want folks to lead with tenderness, then I must do so too.

In the end, we are all in this together. I'm grateful for every single person who came to one of my events in Toronto. I hope you left feeling uplifted and with a renewed recognition of the power of your own story. Now let us all go forth and try a little tenderness - for ourselves and for others - in our own way. Drake, I'll have to catch you on the rebound.

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