I recently re-read the words of broadcast journalist Walter Cronkite, “America’s healthcare system is neither healthy, caring, nor a system.”
This sad and yet truthful reflection, combined with the reality that our founding partner, mentor, friend, student of the classics, and therefore a natural etymologist – Tim Sullivan – had me thinking about the origination of the words we use in healthcare.
Two words in particular; hospital and patient.
A quick scan of history reveals that in the middle ages hospitals were in fact almshouses for the poor, or hostels for pilgrims. The word ‘hospital’ comes from the Latin word hospes, meaning an entertainer, host, a visitor, a guest, a friend bound by the ties of hospitality.
Another noun derived from this is hospitum which came to mean hospitality, or the relationship between guest and shelterer. Hospes is also the root of the English word host.
In my travels, I have witnessed many hospital leaders who have lost sight of the fact that our roots go back to providing shelter for the poor, a resting place for those on pilgrimage, and completely lost sight of the tenets of welcoming patients as guest or friend.
The English noun ‘patient’ comes from the Latin word patiens, the present participle of the verb, patior, meaning ‘I am suffering’.
The hospital should be a place of respite for the friend that is suffering.
I think it is fair to say that if you’re leading in a hospital (regardless of size) you’re contributing to the running of one of the oldest aspects of the “service industry”. Yet at many hospitals, we seem to have left the consistent delivery of this ‘service’ completely up to chance or in the care of those without the training and skills necessary to deliver upon the promise.
Service – from the old English meaning religious devotion or a form of liturgy, from old French servise or Latin servitium ‘slavery,’ from servus ‘slave.’ The early sense of the verb (mid-19th century) was ‘be of service to’, or ‘to provide with a service.’
What service is your institution providing those who are suffering that come to your hospital for care and cure?
Do you insist on telling your patients and communities why they should be satisfied with your ‘service’ because of how safe you are, what good ratings you get, or how qualified your staff are?
Or are you listening to those you are called to serve in order that you might better deliver the service(s) they need?
Your patients want to feel welcome, be treated kindly, understood, healed, cured, communicated with (not to), and they don’t want their time to be wasted.
The rest (the safety, the expertise and the qualifications) are a prerequisite – foundational and non-negotiable.
Are you listening to those you serve?
My wife and I recently watched as our eldest child headed off to college for the first time, as he read this letter the night before he left he commented that these were good “life” reminders, I agreed, and so share the letter here:
August 28, 2015
My dear sweet Harrison,
I’ve noticed that the mornings stay darker a little later and that the evenings are drawing in, and I am reminded that this is nature’s nod to the fact that everything has a season, and that everything must end and begin again. Just as I know that the seasons change, I’ve known since the day we brought you home from the hospital, that this season of you being a daily constant in our home and our lives would end and that your new beginning, in college, would start.
The time has come my love – the freedom that has excited you and that you are so ready for is here, and yet this same freedom is one that I have very mixed emotions about.
I have both dreaded this moment and been incredibly excited for it.
I think I’ve privately dreaded this day since I first held you almost nineteen years ago. As a parent you learn the difficult lesson that raising children is in fact to embrace a love that is built on the reality of constantly having to let go of things, of constantly having to let go of you. Letting go of you as your learned to crawl, saying goodbye to your little clothes, dropping you off at pre-school, waving the bus goodbye, watching you go out with your friends, and watching you drive away from the house with your brand new license.
Your mom and I have also learned that the deep love that we have for you has changed us as people. You have added an indescribable richness to who we are as you have grown, challenged, tried, failed, argued, agreed, laughed, cried and blossomed as our “beautiful boy”
And so here we are, on the verge of this next chapter of your life, and as the page turns we are as excited to watch you embrace it, as you are likely to go grab it.
And yet I have this mix of stuff going on… I know you won’t be very far away, but emotionally I’m going to miss having my “little man” around. It’s going to hurt because I know we have to say goodbye to a chapter of our lives that is closing; leaving us with the memories, the mementos, the pictures and the stories; but it is over, it is done, it is closed, it is time.
While I will work hard not to cry tomorrow Harrison, you know me as well as anyone and you know that I’m proud of my emotions and share them unconditionally with you. I will work hard not to cry because this is an exciting happy time (the mix of stuff…) and yet as I write this I have become overwhelmed with tears and the desire to hold you so tightly, to remember all that we did together, the adventures we had, the plans we made and even the things that we never quite got to…
I remember you in the hospital in Beverly, hiding in the dryer in Manchester, building walls in Rockport, sailing up to Maine, treehouses in Amherst, snakes in the kitchen, tongues on lamp-posts, your bravery leaving Amherst, a wooden boat project in the backyard, running in Chicago, and fishing in Ipswich, and I remember laughing, crying, running, playing, learning and living with you as you grew up to be the college bound adult that stands before us, and I miss you Harrison. I miss you so very much.
Watching you learn and grow continues to be one of the greatest blessings and experiences of my life, so as I reflect back on all that you have given us, the lessons you have taught us and the example you will continue to be for all those blessed to be a part of your life, I wanted to share with you some guidance as you navigate this next chapter, some choices and some reminders…
Some choices – remember they’re exactly that, choices:
- Smiling OVER scowling
- Working for it OVER wishing for it
- Optimism OVER pessimism
- Owning it OVER making excuses, blaming others, complaining or gossiping
- Being kind OVER being unkind or rude
- Believing in your abilities OVER believing in your insecurities
- Hugs OVER handshakes
- Loving yourself OVER beating yourself up
- Being your own hero OVER waiting for a hero
- Doing what’s necessary OVER doing what’s easy
- Living for today OVER living for someday
- Being vulnerable OVER being perfect
- Living with purpose OVER sleepwalking through life
- Talking to people OVER talking about people
- Being happy OVER being right
- Have goals and review them
- Use logic and reason AND listen to your gut and your heart
- Admit when you’re wrong
- Praise others – privately and publicly
- Be appreciative – say “thank you”, even better, write “thank you”
- Ask for help, remember that you are a work in progress
- Love life and let it show – be honest with your emotions and bring them with you
- There are no limits to what you can do – remember: “if it is to be it is up to me”
- You are empowered – take a risk, speak up, be brave. It’s OK if your hands shake and your voice quivers. Be brave, speak your heart.
- Take time for you – rest, relax, restore, and exercise
- People and relationships are everything – stay in touch, reach out, lift others up, help people succeed, pick people up
- Be mindful and take action – if you see something, say or do something.
- Strive for purpose, find your passion. Do what you do with love, energy, audacity and proof
- Remember that the small things are the big things
- Above all, remember that you are a work in progress, you are blessed and you are forgiven.
Harrison – you will find your own guides, reflect on your own words of wisdom, and learn your own lessons (you already have many of them under your belt…) and I know you’ll be searching for your own answers along the way at Emmanuel, but please also know that if you ever need help, advice, a shoulder to cry on, or an ear to listen, that I am always, always, always here for you.
What I have shared with you is what guides me. I work hard to live up to it every day, and every day I fall short, but that’s OK. Reaching out for advice, help and inspiration is not a sign of weakness my love, it is a sign of strength.
Time will slip by, the next chapter will end I suspect more quickly than the last.
This time is yours, you’ve earned it, give it as much as it will give you. And remember, as a wiser person than me once shared, “There is no grand prize at the end of your life, no all-expense paid trip to utopia. This is your final destination, this is your life. The prize is here, now, in every breath you take, every new friend you make, every kiss, every hug, every challenge, and every exciting piece of information you discover.”
Godspeed little man! Breathe it in, savor every sip, enjoy every moment! Oh the places you’ll go!
I love you,