The future of health
In 2012, I shook hands with a man whose words I was reminded of on my birthday.
His handshake was warm, firm, and momentary. He looked me in the eye during that moment through a crowd, and gave me a slight nod.
His face was creased from smiling—genuinely so. And he moved on.
His name is former President Bill Clinton.
The words from his keynote speech during a visit to North Dakota replayed in my ears, hearing how he summarized a three-point alternative of voters’ choices paraphrased below:
Dream big, not small
Learn from yesterday; create tomorrow
Recover from setbacks; renew rural America
Former President Clinton’s words about the importance of health for every individual, locally and globally, echoed in my head over recent years, especially his actions to address the health needs in developing countries that spoke louder than his words.
“Learn from yesterday; create tomorrow” was remembered on my birthday, which was celebrated in joy with my four children, despite a “cloud” of uncertainty about my own health.
This birthday, the “shoe was on the other foot” as they say. The previous week, I’d had surgery for bladder cancer. The “path” report confirmed invasive cancer. Next week, I have three medical appointments, including an oncologist.
As a career health care provider, my professional experience as a child and family therapist was on my mind on my birthday, reflecting on years of working with children and teenagers dealing with pediatric cancer. The challenge then was to deal with one’s own feelings, while focusing on the child’s need, the parents and siblings, and the medical staff.
But this birthday weekend, I was celebrating yesterday’s years of good health, spending present time with my four children, and shaping the future of the next stage of my life with extended family, friends, and professionals to guide me.
In teaching hospitals thirty to fifty years ago, patient care was often scheduled for the needs of staff—waking patients up very early in order to prepare for “doctor rounds” at 8:00 a.m., and so on. Medical plans were often prescribed by specialists, with little input from patients. Staffs were guided by directives and procedures.
The roots of today’s patient-centered care, in my view, originate from small rural hospitals, often without many amenities, yet traditionally providing care by people who know each other well, understand the natural spectrum of birth and death, and respect personal choice regarding care.
My father, as a Lutheran Pastor, was one of the early founders of a rural hospital in a Norwegian-American community, who lived into his hundredth year and died in that same hospital. Now named Heart of America Medical Center, the hospital is located in a town of 3,000 residents and provides care for a wide rural area.
My dad often preached in Norwegian in two of his four congregations and ministered to pioneer hospitalized patients in Norwegian. Serving the broad community for 45 years, he received the optimum of health care, as did others. I’m counting on having his genes, but realizing that diet, exercise, environmental influences, and stress have influence.
My hospital experience last week at Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara was, I believe, the future of health care in present time. It’s today’s optimum patient-centered health care. Hospital amenities are stylish rooms with art and design and windows facing an atrium of plants and flowers where staff and visitors interact during breaks and lunch. Each room has accommodations for a family member. This environment of wellness was made possible by namesake philanthropists who invested in an ultimate design of health care.
Nursing staff care for only a few patients, spending a lot of time getting to know them and their families. The doctor visited once a day, often later in the day when the patient was well rested, and listened as much as he talked—like a thoughtful, empathetic conversation.
The key element from the experience was a sense of “health,” as opposed to illness. In this positive context, staff provided optimum care, with the patient and family as participating members of health planning.
President Clinton’s words—dream big, create one’s tomorrow, and recover from setbacks—seemed reflected in my hospital experience.
So, on my birthday, I celebrated my milestone in time, and reflected on being a part of present time in shaping my future as a recovering healthy person.
Gathering from what I’ve learned over the years, it seems to me that birthdays should supersede New Year’s Eve as a time for personal resolution, as a marker of time for new beginnings, and a time for celebration with those you care about and those who care about you.
This article originally appeared in the March 13, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.