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CIO Unplugged 10/13/10

October 6, 2010 Ed Marx 14 Comments

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are mine personally and are not necessarily representative of current or former employers.

Healthcare Passion Refueled

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

A Journey Home

Four 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 (at 14 years 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.


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 seven 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 (my siblings and me), 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, 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?”


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 eight hours, but that was OK. 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 siblings with the funeral arrangements.


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.

10-6-2010 8-20-13 PM

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 ended up creating medication reconciliation lists and pulling together charts. 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 stronger IT leadership. It’s the heartbeat behind why I spend more time with my people on leadership, customer service, process, and passion than I do on virtualization or cloud computing.

Until my people have a heart for patients and are in a position to empathize with their plight, the technology platforms, while critical, 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.

What fuels your passion? What stokes your fire? Leave a comment below.

Ed Marx is a CIO currently working for a large integrated health system. Ed encourages your interaction through this blog. Add a comment by clicking the link at the bottom of this post. You can also connect with him directly through his profile pages on social networking sitesLinkedIn and Facebook, and you can follow him via Twitter – User Name “marxists

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Currently there are "14 comments" on this Article:

  1. Moving ! But a testimony to dedication and commitment.

    Great article and enough to motivate our generation and the GenNext to be better healthcare professionals.

    Keep writing !

  2. Wonderful article – I have seen three parents (my own and my mother in law) through their final journeys (two of them in the same two week period) and though I met many wonderful caregivers I was struck by how far we have to go in this process to make it better. I try to share what I have learned both within our field and with others who are going through it.

    Your Mom and your family sound very special – thanks for letting us know about them!

  3. Ed, what a wonderful story and testament to your mom. I love how your family celebrated the anniversary. You added to the memories and role modeled what loving relationships are all about for your children and the grandchildren. Thank you for sharing these insights and helping us in health care improve. Blessings, donna

  4. Ed,
    Thanks for sharing your touching story and wonderful tribute to your mother. I’m so sorry for your loss.

    As a former hospice nurse turned IT director/informatics nurse, I can greatly appreciate your sentiments. You have succinctly illustrated the value of technology in health care. It truly is about the patient, always. Your story is a poignant reminder of why we do what we do.

    Regards, Teri

  5. Thank you for sharing your wonderful story. I can relate to the passion you feel after my personal experience with Hospice. Were it not for my courageous mother, I would never have experienced Hospice first hand, which led to a passion for me to help and comfort others. This experience enabled me to streamline the endless paper trail into electronic files and databases, thereby providing a more efficient way of bringing comfort and valuable time to those who needed us most — those with the smallest amount of time.

  6. Great article as always. Having lost my own father to cancer 30+ years ago, when I was beginning my healthcare career, had a lasting impact on me as well and still fuels my desire to serve. Thanks for the courage to share as well as putting your faith in action. It’s an inspiration.

  7. Ed,

    What a wonderful celebration of life, both your mother’s and yours. This experience is obviously reflected in your passion for changing healthcare.

    Thank you for openly sharing. I look forward to seeing you at the eHealth Symposium.

  8. Ed – From this writing and previous writings, it is obvious that you are a man of integrity and resolve to do the right thing with your work. Having recently lost a family member to ALS, your timing is perfect. Thanks – keep up the good work!

  9. Hi Ed,
    Great story and article, thanks. Love lives forever, doesn’t it? It’s the best (evidence-based) argument for immortality there is.

  10. Ed
    This article carried passion and grace. It gave a meaning to why you do what you do and what fuels your fire in the work place/ in life. Having a terminal
    Illness is never easy on anyone, but the way your family carried through should be an inspiration to others!
    My passion is very similar to yours. I too have seen things in the healthcare system ran poorly and not achieve the optimum potential we have as an advanced technological world. When my son was told to take ADHD medication at the age of 3, my desire to find alternative healthcare was sparked. Once we found his gluten allergy, his and our world was forever changed. This got me to thinking..just how many people out there have been misdiagnosed or given the wrong medication!?
    My desire to serve people in healthcare is fueled by my sons testimony. I wish to help change lives so that they too can live a life free from drugs, worry and pain. I am given God’s amazing grace to share this opportunity with the world and save one person at a time. I will always continue learning and continue to find new and improved solutions for our healthcare system and the people of this nation that rely on this important system day in and day out!
    Thanks Ed, this article was another great reminder for why I do what I love doing!!!

  11. Thank you Ed for speaking from your heart. Having lost family early in me career fueled my passion to help make a difference. It is we serve and why we care. Keep on making a difference.

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