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CIO Unplugged – 9/1/09

September 1, 2009 Ed Marx No Comments

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are mine personally, and are not necessarily representative of Texas Health Resources or its subsidiaries.

Healthcare Passion Refueled
By Ed Marx

My passion for healthcare sprouted in high school while working in environmental services at an outpatient facility; they called us janitors back in the 80’s. From that point forward, different encounters have renewed that passion. The most dramatic experience was personal.

A Journey Home. Three years ago this month, my mom traded her earthly rags for a robe of righteousness. After a courageous four-year fight against the ravages of ovarian cancer, Ida Wilhelmine Marx bid us farewell. The entire experience had a profound impact on me not only as a son but also in my profession.

My mom and I were tight. As I blindly plodded my way through adolescence, she represented mercy and grace. When I shoplifted, got arrested for joy riding (14 yrs old), set the house on fire, partied excessively, and flunked junior high, she was there. I’m convinced that if it weren’t for my father’s discipline balanced by my mother’s care, I would not enjoy the successes of today in my education, career, and family.

Radiance. Mom suffered much from illness her entire life. She took the cancer in stride: eight rounds of chemo; two rounds of radiation; and a couple of surgeries. Her sole desire before transitioning from this life to the next was to celebrate her 50th wedding anniversary. When we transferred her to hospice, it became apparent that she would be a few weeks shy of reaching her goal. With my parents’ permission, my brothers and sisters planned an early 50th anniversary party and vow renewal—the final celebration of Mom’s life. Knowing our world would change the following day, that night we put on a heck of a celebration.

Hollywood could not have written a better script. Hospice physicians agreed to give my mom life-sustaining nutrients and fluids through the big day (normally not allowed). They arranged for a “Sentimental Journey” pass: a limousine (ambulance) service for my mom and dad to the picturesque Cheyenne Mountain Resort in Colorado. Two paramedics waited in the background just in case their services were needed (they weren’t). They quipped how special my mom was because the only other person who ever received two paramedics as an escort was Dick Cheney when he came to town.

All 7 of us children attended plus all 15 grandchildren. My parents invited their closest friends. With the backdrop of the Rockies and all the majesty of a traditional wedding ceremony, I had the privilege of walking my father to the front. My oldest brother, Mike, had the honor of escorting my mom in her wheelchair to join my dad at the altar. She looked ravishing; my sisters had dressed her to the “nines.” Her dream was unfolding in real time.

Each of her children had a part in the ceremony as did each grandchild. Assigned to deliver the sermon, I decided not to use notes but instead prayed that God would intervene and deliver a message that would bless my parents and set vision for successive generations. The primary message: my parents had created a legacy of marriage that would impact not only the first generation (me and my siblings), but the grandchildren, and their grandchildren, and so forth. The fact that my parents stuck it out and endured a lifetime full of sickness and health is a testimony to the world: “Yes, it can be done.”

The ceremony ended with the exchanging of vows. A co-worker of mine had arranged for a Papal blessing of the 50th milestone as well, which touched my parents deeply. We printed the blessing in the renewal program. Unity candles, songs, prayers, and standing ovations lent to the evening’s incredibleness. But this was only the beginning.

One Heck of a Show. We then entered the adjoining room for a superb five-course meal. Taking advantage of the live music and dance floor, Dad rolled Mom out in her wheelchair to dance. My parents are fantastic dancers, and seeing my dad wheel my mom around was moving. Throughout dinner and beyond, we danced to our hearts’ desires. All four sons danced with my mom, who was clearly delighted. Even my son, Brandon, danced with her, to which she commented: “You’re not dancing. You’re just shaking your ass!” Next came toasts and the garter ceremony, and all the similar accruements of a fine celebration. At that point, Mom addressed the room with loving words. Dad tried but fell apart. As a finale, guests and family formed a tunnel by joining hands. Dad wheeled Mom through as we hugged, kissed, cried, and spoke blessings. Returning to her limousine, she was still beaming. My dad shared that as he laid Mom in her bed that evening, she said, “We sure gave them one hell of a show tonight, didn’t we?”

Timing. During her illness, I flew out often to visit her. I wanted to be at her side when she transitioned, just as she had been at my side so many times. I missed by 8 hours. But that was okay. Over the years, I’d left no doubt in my mother’s heart of my care, admiration, appreciation, and love for her. Arriving shortly after her passing, I supported my brokenhearted father and assisted with the funeral arrangements.

Kiss. My mom had taken her last breath shortly after midnight. Two of my siblings and my father were at her bedside and described that, while painless, her body struggled for every last breath. As a result, her mouth was stuck wide open. The hospice nurse explained that, given the timing, the mortician would be the only one able to close Mom’s mouth. My sister in-law, an ICU nurse manager, validated this.

Meanwhile, my dad knelt at Mom’s bedside and held her frail body, the first time in months where he could hold her without causing her pain. He kissed her lips. Wept over her. Sometime in the next two hours, while they awaited the mortician’s arrival, Mom’s mouth closed…and she smiled. Comfort permeated the room and reinforced our belief that she had indeed transitioned to a happier place.

Passion Fueled. My mom’s battle allowed me to spend considerable time in various care settings. I observed the processes, evaluated technology, and pondered how things could be improved to benefit caregiver, family, and patient. The clinicians treating my mom lacked the communications and clinical decision support needed to deliver the highest quality of care. I was shocked by the lack of access to critical and timely clinical data. The wasteful amount of paper utilized and manual processing disappointed me. I swore it would never be this way in my work environment. As I took mental notes from the perspective of patient and family, my passion to leverage technology and transform the clinician and patient experience was renewed.

It’s this passion that drives me in my daily work. This is why I’m tenacious in advocating technology, why I continually innovate and collaborate with clinicians, and why I blog. This is why I advocate for more meaningful, meaningful use. It’s the heartbeat behind why I spend more time with my people on leadership, customer service, process, and passion than I do on bits and bytes. Until my people have a heart for patients and are in a position to empathize with their plight, the bits and bytes will be limited. The full potential of technology in the delivery of high quality healthcare comes with a transformed heart.

Thanks, Mom, for refueling my passion as a leader of healthcare technology.

Ed Marx is senior vice president and CIO at Texas Health Resources in Dallas-Fort Worth, TX. Ed encourages your interaction through this blog. (Use the “add a comment” function at the bottom of each post.) You can also connect with him directly through his profile pages on social networking sites LinkedIn and Facebook, and you can follow him via Twitter – User Name “marxists.”

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