Letter of Thanks to Medstar Union Memorial Hospital Staff
©Robert J. Harris, PhD
September 20, 2021
©Robert Joseph Harris PhD
On August 18 I left my 12th floor apartment on Bolton Hill and sauntered out of my building at about 6:30 pm, full of optimism after a productive day of writing about “Reality.” My work day had ended in a brainstorming phone session with Steve, a brilliant free-spirit IT expert living in North Carolina. I just needed to get a quart of milk from Walgreens across the street for breakfast the next morning. As I left my building’s entrance, mental alarm bells quickly replaced my optimistic mood; a homeless man was walking briskly toward me, not really looking at me, among other apartment residents milling close by on this lazy sunny afternoon. Why was he looking down and walking toward me?
The closer he got the louder my alarms rang. At the last moment as he almost ran into me, he suddenly lurched down toward my feet. I quickly pivoted back on my right leg to see what he was doing as he picked up a still-lit cigarette on the pavement near my foot and took one last draw, exhaling casually as he stood up, and asked: “Got any change Buddy?” At the same moment, I began to fall down as I muttered, “Sorry, no cash.” My right leg crumbled dropping me to the pavement.
Two kind neighbors next to me (a man and a woman) reached down to help me up on my left leg. But when I put any weight on my right foot a sharp pain shot up my leg to my hip. One of these folks called 911 and I was whisked away to the Medstar Union Memorable Hospital in minutes. X-rays showed that my hip socket ball had snapped off from my right leg bone (femur) and would have to be replaced. I would soon meet Dr. Mark Richardson, the attending Orthopedic Surgeon who would repair my hip with his team, and Dr. Jim Parshall, with Medstar’s Geriatrics Center for Successful Aging (I turned 80 in 2021).
The main purpose of this letter is to acknowledge and personally thank each person who cared for me in the Hospital. Although each of you had different skills and roles, collectively, YOU ALL felt “connected” as an intangible web of coordinated caring. Each person patiently answered my many questions with empathy, concern, and knowledge as you all focused on the job at hand, knowing that: “I was not your only patient that day.”
(Last minute thought: I drafted most of this letter during the first week after I was released from the hospital about three months ago when my feelings and experience were most vivid. In retrospect, as I look back three months ago, I believe I may have been in some kind of “shock” based on how I talked to close friends by phone during my hospital stay, as well to hospital staff. For what it is worth, my close friends who know me well volunteered that “I was unusually chatty and more far-ranging than usual.“)
At any rate, during my last 3 days in the hospital after I recovered from “surgery La-La Land,” I decided to ask each person to sign their first name and role in taking care of me on a piece of paper so I could thank them personally and collectively in a kick-ass “thank you” letter. This is that letter. Each person agreed with a smile, without hesitation, and told me something about themselves when I asked. Here is the list in the order signed, including one I forgot to ask late one night:
- Gabby – Occupational Therapist (“learn baby steps”)
- Connie – EVS-House Keeping (“It’s natural to be nice to people.”)
- Kelly – Saturday Nurse (“Technology Multitasker – cleaned up my IV drip”)
- Karen – Physical Therapy (“I had to pass fake car test.”)
- Stacey – Certified Nurse Assistant (Doing what needed to be done without being asked.”)
- Cascara – Nephrology (“Asked about, and knew, my Kaiser Kidney Doctor, Dr. Mishra.”)
- Kristen – Charge Nurse (“Lots of experience with emergencies, back up nurse.”)
- Katie – Ortho Resident (“Drip bell going off, checked ok.”)
- Mark – Attending Ortho Surgeon (“Patiently answered all of my questions; loaned me his eye glasses.”)
- Jim – Geriatrics Advisor (We explored all aspects of staying healthy and happy with age; use your mind!)
- Amy – Nurse (“Double-blind confirmation of my blood specs with Kelly before 1st transfusion.”)
- Abena – Nurse (“She simultaneously raises boy 4 and girl 1 with 12 hour shifts and husband.”)
- Cardella – Tech (“Happy working there since 2021.”)
- Catherine – Tech (“4 years on job; likes it.”)
- Nawras – MD Internist (“Crisp to the point. Worried about low white cells. Treated me in 2017, two stints.”)
- Tylia – Housekeeping (“Recreated order from disorder daily and nightly with a smile.”)
- Carli – Physical Therapist (“All PTs are Super Ft, super nice; Must pass fake car test to leave hospital.”)
- Daaiyah – CNA Orthopedics (“Quietly efficient, partnered with Tywanda.”)
- Tywanda Tyson – Phlebotomist (“Double blind-check my blood specs with Daaiyah for 2nd blood trans.”)
- Mizceru – Food Supply (“Lots of delicious fresh fruit and salads!”)
- Stephanie – Occupational Therapy (“Baby steps, no quick movements, patience.”)
- ED and Natali – Nurses (“Trainer and Trainee.”)
- Laura H. – Pharmacist (“Detailed med documentation booklet + briefing, including replacements.”)
- Felicia – Primary Nurse (“Prepping me for discharge; getting ready to go home.”)
- Nina – CNA (“Ditto above.”)
- Jessica – Housekeeping (“Eight-point check list card completed 8-20-21.”)
- Connie – Housekeeping (“Eight-point check list card completed 8-21-21 and 8-23-21.”)
- Mystery Needle Magician: Senior Nurse (She left before I asked her to sign the list. She was called in during the middle of the night to find a vein on my hand two others couldn’t find for a new drip after multiple attempts. She said a prayer and found a vein on her first prick. I asked how she did it and she said, “It’s a gift from practicing over and over until I get really good at it, like my hobbies: hiking, skiing, motorbiking, etc. But I always say a prayer just to be safe.”)
Laying virtually helpless in bed reminded me how much it took to heal me: At least 28 people working 24/7, an eight-story building stuffed with the latest technology and medical knowledge, and a coordinated team all to repair a particular broken part of my 80-year-old human body. (If I accidently left someone off the list I apologize and ask you to send your name and role to me at email@example.com to add to the final letter to be posted on my “Life as it is Becoming” blog, https://slicesoflifeblog.com/ .
The existence of such an amazing state-of-the-art medical process took a couple of centuries to perfect and I am its grateful recipient. In truth, however, this process represents a crude version of what each human body silently does automatically every nanosecond in every cell of human life, and has done so for millions of years during which average life expectancy has increased from 20 to 100+ years. We humans may be the smartest creatures on earth so far, but we have only existed for a very short time in earth’s 13.8-billion-year history. We are just getting started!
I sincerely thank each and every one of you for caring for me with your particular skills, but especially for the invisible net of collective human concern you all provided which put me at ease, allowing me to trust my mind, body, and life in your hands. Conceptually, your care felt to me like a warm, safe, smart, competent blanket wrapped around a damaged and vulnerable “me” 24/7. Thanks also goes to Kaiser Permanente, who has been my excellent personal health provider for decades, as well as for my company employees before I retired. Kaiser promptly picked up my post-hospital in-home rehab services and hospital costs.
While in the hospital I was reminded of an early experience as a college freshman of this warm and safe feeling while I was so vulnerable. I shared this story with a nurse one night as the first time as an adult on my own I ever felt this feeling when I was an 18-year-old full-scholarship-basketballer at the College of William and Mary. Our young coach, 30-year-old Bill Chambers, created a web of belief in me and our team that W&M, a little-known college in sports (although the second oldest university in America founded to in 1693 after Harvard in 1650), could beat any team. The best team in my freshman year 1960 (West VA University) just happened to be in W&M’s conference, and just happened to be the best team in America. WVA also just happened to have the best player in America, destined to become a super star with the LA Lakers. His shooting profile has long been the NBA logo of Jerry West. He was a senior in college, 6’ 3” 175 pounds, when I was a freshman at 6’ 4” 200 pounds. My vertical leap was 30 inches and his was 46 inches. I could barely dunk and he had to avoid hitting his head on the rim.
Couch Chamber’s approach to beating any team, including the WVA powerhouse, was simple: Shared mind-work (“playing together as one mind”) of good players can win over individual stars. Especially in basketball since the ball is moving in air much of the time! Coach designed a mind-share strategy to make Jerry West have to pass the ball to teammates. We were in a special dream state and played a perfect game defensively and offensively spreading the ball around with balanced scoring; We led by over 20 points at halftime, and we beat them soundly, as summarized in my blog. My unranked W&M team beat #4 nationally ranked West Virginia 94 to 86 on January 30, 1960, ending WVA’s 56-game winning streak. I was a wide-eyed freshman and scored 6 points as a fierce defender. We collectively believed in a dream, executed a strategy selflessly, and played as one mind for 3 hours.
My joke line is that “I held Jerry West to 42 points, while scoring 6 myself.” In both cases (basketball game and hospital emergency game) integrated human intangibles can win the day if everyone is “engaged on the same page each and every moment when it counts most.”
I was asked by several people caring for me at the hospital what I did for a living; I just mentioned that I am retired and write about my experiences with “Reality”. Asked if I have published anything I replied, “Not publicly, except blogs and twitter, because most of my writing has been done privately for clients creating original concepts and strategies for them to succeed. I have been extremely curious all my life. I would most probably would have been clinically diagnosed with the disparaging words “attention deficit disorder” and “hyperactivity disorder,” implying that something was broken in me, and must be repaired. Fortunately for me, ADHD was not a mainstream idea when I was a child. I am fortunate that my loving and supportive mother allowed my imagination to soar with my only constraints coming if danger seemed imminent. I never stopped learning and growing, even now
I ended up getting a PhD in elementary particle physics at 26 with a wife and three kids while in college, joined a California tech startup in 1970, and left after 8 years with SAIC becoming my first client (and for a lifetime until the founder, Dr. J. Robert Beyster, passed in 2014 at 94). I formed my own 3 companies to provide Strategy, Training, and Communications advice to CEOs of all kinds and sizes of companies during the next 35 years. This period included a two-year sabbatical at George Mason University in 2001 -2003 to teach entrepreneurship, work with Nobel Prize winners, win research grants on the power of Intangibles with emergence of the Internet, and be an executive assistant to the Dean of the Business School, a world class psychologist.
I retired after replacing both knees, a year apart, and moved from the DC area to settle in Baltimore in 2012 to be near my Jazz-musician Son, Michael Joseph Harris, and to write about my life experiences. Essays can be found in my Three Viewshift Blogs – Essays on Life, Work, and Meaning – plus my related twitter account: @viewshift (Robert Harris PhD).
I am now 80 and “new stuff” still just keep happening as a constant reminder that life is a forever-changing flow of possibilities and uncertainties. The more we know the less we know of the “whole” because each new piece of fundamental knowledge opens vast new vistas of new possibilities we can’t yet understand.” [For example, quantum mechanics is century-old physics Einstein help birth, and has never failed an experimental test, yet violates every common-sense experience of Reality.] I personally believe this is why humanity is at an inflection point in which everyone seems open to having their own facts. We are all trying to figure out the next great leap. Humanity will never be bored if it keeps an open mind! Here is the working title of the book(s) I am writing.
In Search of Reality: From the Possibility-of-Certainty to the Certainty-of-Impossibility™.