I recently had an opportunity to participate in the Surgical Patient Experience Project, which is being coordinated by the Provincial Surgical Kaizen Operations Team (PSKOT). The project is designed to help health region providers and leaders better understand a patient’s surgical experience, by following a patient from admission through to discharge.
Before last week, I saw the Surgical Patient Experience Project as a technical opportunity for those who have been through Lean Leader Training, to practice using time observation, standard worksheet, and observation and defect tracking forms. It would also be a place where regional leaders could build value streams maps and where we, collectively, could begin to analyze and study how to improve the care experience for our patients and families.
But last week showed me this project is so much more than simply a technical exercise…
Saskatoon Health Region, Keewatin Yatthé Health Region and PSKOT had arranged to map a pediatric patient from a remote northern community who would be traveling into Saskatoon for surgery. When one of the two regional staff who was to map this patient’s journey had a family crisis, I was invited to provide ”technical” support in the event that he was not able to participate.
As it turned out, this individual did end up carrying through. There are no words to describe the pure grit and level of commitment this leader demonstrated to this project – given the very devastating personal loss he had experienced only a week before.
By this time though, I felt such a commitment to the project that I didn’t want to step away. I asked how I might stay involved; we decided that I would join them at the place of surgery, as long as the patient and patient-guardian were comfortable with this, and I would prepare the ‘Daily Summary Report’ which is a requirement of being involved in the mapping project.
When I sat to write the report, after a full day of mapping, I began to really understand what this patient experience mapping project is all about and, in that moment, I felt incredibly humbled and grateful. The stuff that impacted me the most from this mapping assignment wasn’t even captured in that summary report.
I was moved by the dedication, passion and humanity demonstrated by the two regional mappers that I had the privilege of meeting on that day of surgery. The pair put in roughly 35 hours in just over 2 days. They traveled into the remote community and waited outside the home of the patient and patient-guardian, until they left for the 9-hour journey into the city. The following morning, they waited outside the hotel of the patient and patient-guardian, until they left for surgery. And they followed the patient and patient-guardian all the way back to their home after the surgery, then turned around and drove back to their own homes. During all of this, they showed the utmost respect and concern for the patient and patient-guardian, and did so with smiles on their faces.
I was also struck by the courage, trust and vulnerability demonstratby the patient-guardian and patient, by agreeing to be involved in the mapping project. Once the patient was taken into surgery, I offered to take the patient-guardian for something to eat, as he had not eaten since the previous day. It was during this time, as we sat in a Tim Horton’s drinking our coffee and eating our sandwiches, that I learned that the three previous trips that brought this patient-guardian in from his northern community were for the loss of his wife, the loss of his aunt, and for his own recovery from a very serious and life threatening injury. For this man to consent to having three strangers literally follow him and his only child’s every step through a somewhat worrisome surgical experience, was utterly inspiring.
My final, and perhaps most profound, takehome: I learned that there is no word for “hello” in the Dene language. Instead, this Northern people have a greeting that roughly translates to: “How are you? There is room for you here.” The Dene also do not have a word for “good bye” as good bye means going away, and going away means to forget.
I will never forget the experience I had in meeting this father and son, and the two amazing regional leaders involved in this mapping experience.