"Life begins on the other side of despair.” - Jean-Paul Sartre
Did you know that hopelessness is the leading risk factor for suicide in cancer patients? Did you know that doctors have the highest suicide rate and nurses are the second most unhappy professionals in America?
Why so much despair?
Imagine being a cancer patient and feeling so dehumanized by your hospital care that you plan to commit suicide; no sense that you are in the hands of people who see you as a person, acknowledge your suffering or treat you with simple dignity.
I’m a C-level executive, author and internationally recognized speaker on customer service and the bottom line. Until my battle with Stage 3+ throat cancer, I assumed that customer service in healthcare (a patient’s experience) had some impact on profitability.
What I discovered, however, is that customer "compassion” can be a matter of life and death for patients, as well as caregivers and the institutions in which they serve. At my lowest point, hospitalized in a top-tier hospital with a life-threatening infection, my care was insensitive, unkind and totally lacking in human compassion.
Once, while waiting for a doctor to remove my infected PICC line, I heard him berating a nurse outside my door. When they came in, she appeared humiliated and I was terrified he’d treat me as insensitively. Sure enough, as he began, the pain was excruciating and I begged him to stop. He shrugged me off. "This will only take a minute.” It took far more than a minute and was among the worst physical and emotional pain I’d ever experienced.
When a dead gecko lay next to my toilet for three days, all I could think about was filth and infection. When my fever spiked and my room was sweltering, I was told to "call maintenance.” Frustrated, I rasped into the phone it was "so damn hot” in my room. The maintenance guy said, "Calm down and call back later” and hung up. Humiliated, I called back and he said he’d "get to it tomorrow.”
I have wonderful friends, but oddly, none came to see me. When I received a "Thank You” note from the hospital, I understood why. Over the whiteout on a used envelope was my name, but it began "Mrs.” (I’m a Mr.), was spelled wrong and had the wrong room number. My friends had been told I wasn’t there. I didn’t exist. Dozens of experiences like these pushed me from depression to despair and thoughts of suicide.
My will to live was restored by Dr. Dean Edell, America’s original "Media Doctor” and dear friend. I asked him, "If I use all these pain killers, will I die?” He said yes, but strongly proposed an alternative. He said, "Why not fight to live and combine your customer service knowledge, business acumen and patient experiences to become part of the solution?” Instantly I took his advice and am convinced I am alive today to do just that.
I have come to understand that:
- Compassion has a measurable impact on healing and the will to live.
- Healthcare providers are under enormous stress, and they deserve our compassion and gratitude.
- All I care about now is that ALL patients receive the compassionate care they so desperately need and deserve.
So I ask, "What will it take for all institutions, physicians, and every person who touches us to see us not only as individuals and valued customers, but also see that every minor miracle of compassion alleviates our mutual suffering, reaffirms our shared humanity, and, over time, makes its way to the bottom line?"
Lee Tomlinson is a C-level executive, author and internationally recognized speaker on customer service whose life is devoted to improving the patient experience to benefit patients, healthcare professionals and the bottom line in hospitals in which they serve. Lee combines spellbinding speaking skills with in-depth business skills to reconnect, re-inspire and re-engage healthcare professionals to "up their games” when it comes to patient-centered care.