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CIO Unplugged 11/13/13

November 13, 2013 Ed Marx 16 Comments

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

Grilled Cheese Sandwich, Please

As a new CIO, I spent the first five years volunteering after hours for our health system. They assigned me to the greatest volunteer opportunity available. Each Wednesday afternoon, I went room to room delivering $10 gift shop vouchers to all the winners of our closed circuit TV bingo game. Bingo was the highlight of the week for hundreds of patients and their families. The game normally finished around 4 p.m. I’d pick up the certificates at  5 p.m. and hand-deliver them to the winners.

While striving to take our IT shop from bad to good, I was not always Mr. Popular with my customers. Thus, volunteering became the highlight of my week. It got me out of the office and into our hospitals. Everyone wanted to see me. Everyone welcomed me. Wednesday evenings became a salubrious respite from the work grind I faced the rest of the week.

Observing joy in the recipients’ faces brought my heart pleasure. Think about it. These citizens were stuck in a hospital. Receiving a voucher for a $10 credit at the gift shop meant everything. And their responses had an impact on me. I stopped taking life for granted and started embracing the simple things.

Volunteering routinely also broke my heart, especially those dreaded deliveries to the fifth floor of our children’s hospital. As I scrubbed in before entering the floor, I took twice as long to wash in an attempt to delay the inevitable. I was about come face-to-face with kids the same age as mine, except these children were dying.

I’d knock gently on the door and they would be looking right at me. Expectant. Picturing my own two children in their situation, I’d swallow hard and muster up a smile. But then the joy in these young patients’ faces made the grief worthwhile. Before leaving the floor, I’d stop in the restroom and let my smile fade to a cry.

I learned the value of listening. When I delivered vouchers to the elderly, they always wanted to chat. They cared more about having company and far less about the vouchers. Oh, the loneliness I witnessed! As much as I wanted to hurry the interaction and get on to the next winner, I envisioned my own parents and thought how I would love for someone to spend time with them if I could not be there.

I met many interesting characters. The love I saw between seasoned married couples encouraged me in my marriage. I recall one man holding the hand of his sickly wife. The lines in their faces proved a beautiful testimony of a life well lived and a true commitment through health and sickness.

I’ll never forget the mom who met me in the pediatric ICU waiting room. Before I could reach her child’s room, she said, “Can I use the voucher in the cafeteria?” Although the vouchers were strictly for the gift shop, I took her down there to see what we could negotiate. She went to the grill and asked for a grilled cheese sandwich. “We don’t serve grilled cheese sandwiches,” the cook said. The exasperated mother all but begged. “My daughter just woke up from months in a coma, and her first words were, ‘Mommy I’m hungry, I want a grilled cheese sandwich.’” Tissue, please. The cook made the off-menu grilled cheese sandwich while the woman wept.

Ask anyone who knows me, and they’ll tell you — often with a shudder — that I’m a Type A personality. My wife tells me I’m an extremist, all or nothing. I am wired to compete and win. I can’t climb just any mountain, I have to summit the highest peaks, all of them. Army combat training taught me to kill with my hands, and my kids say when I’m overly focused on a project, I look ticked off at the world (I’m not really, and I’m working on smiling more). But volunteering became my counterbalance. Interacting with the sick, feeble, and dying helped shave the edge off my hardcore design.

What keeps you balanced? When you see a bed of roses, do you stop to enjoy their scent? Or does just the thought of pausing to take in the “life” happening around you ruffle your nerves?

I miss bingo. I miss weekly interactions with patients. The memories still stick with me. The emotions still live vividly. And I’m ready to jump back in and refresh the experience.

Grilled cheese, anyone?

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 sites LinkedIn and Facebook and you can follow him via Twitter — user name marxists.

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Currently there are "16 comments" on this Article:

  1. Thank you Ed for reminding us about how little things can make a huge difference in someone’s life and how we need to be a compassionate listeners.

  2. Edward,

    As I reflect on your question of what balances me, lately a couple of experiences have helped direct my attention back to the simple things and the things that matter to me. My brother in law got married last weekend in Belize. When I see two people in love and pledging their lifelong unconditional love, it reminds me of the pledge I took 3 years ago and I become aware again of how much in love with my wife I am. My conduct therefore changes as a result.

    I attended a funeral Monday where an elderly father of three was eulogized by his 4 kids and a family friend. Through hearing the stories about the life of this man I again became balanced and reminded of the values of family, being a good father, being the world’s best husband, pursuing your wife even after marriage and creating a relationship instead of allowing it go on autopilot, and serving community. I left inspired by this man’s story. My conduct has changed as a result.

    Those two events as well as today’s post are inspirational and centering to me.

  3. Ed, What a great piece to write about. Yes indeed the small things in life has the biggest impact. Thanks for sharing these moments. Absolutely made me stop and look back at those similar moments in my life. Made me realize how I have tend to forget them in the daily chaos of work/personal life. Thanks again!

  4. Ed,
    Although I am currently in Business Development for a Global Leading provider of IT Project and Workforce Solutions, for years prior, I owned my own businesses. From that period in my life and career, I can directly relate to this message of yours. The fun of business development became absorbed with stresses of ownership. I would constantly catch myself angry and scowlling. My therapy came on the lake. I would go out by myself in my bass boat and fish. I wouldn’t answer my phone (unless it was my wife, of course). But she would never call me when she knew I was fishing. She knew I needed it.

    I really enjoyed your blog. My Managing Director once met you and heard you speak at a HIMSS event, I think?? Maybe we can meet some day.

    Best regards-
    Chris Bush

  5. Ed,

    Your post made me cry. I salute your efforts to put a smile on the face of citizens who are going through a tough time. I sure appreciate your leadership skills to turn things around. As an active volunteer, I would urge everyone to take the time out of their busy calendars to serve the community. That is how we can all make it a healthy community.

    – Michael

  6. Wow, powerful peace. It made me tear up as well. And the grilled cheese story rings a bell. Last year I had surgery at NIH for an Insulinoma & after a few days was allowed to eat but with a very strict diet, fat content had to be less than 18grams for the day. That is near impossible & I got so sick of their food that I thought that I would die. But my pancreas needed to heal so that I could get the drain tubes out (I had a pancreatic leak). Between being homesick, hungry for something palatable, & in pain & strapped to the bed, & too many drugs on board…I was a babbling fool (& I’m not a cryer & consider myself pretty tough). They sent the nutrionist up (again) & she wanted to know what I wanted to eat as I was not eating anything. And the only thing that I was so craving was a grilled cheese. The cheese alone was gonna wipe out my quote of fat for the majority of the day, not too mention the butter that is normally used & grilled cheese was not on their menu either, ever. But they made it happen & went out of their way to get what was needed. Sometimes for pts it’s the small things & those small things are never forgotten.

    ~ Holly

  7. This was a great reminder Ed thanks. So much of what you write about is balance. I need that! We remind ourselves weekly that however seriously we take our solutions, it;s just software, and its just stuff. We love what we do and it is important, but it’s people that matter at the end of the day, not stuff. Someone pretty famous and important once said “Love your neighbor as yourself”. Life would be richer, fuller, and more joyous if we follow that rule just a little more. Thanks for sharing Ed.

  8. Ed,

    I grew very choked up when I read this. Your kindness is inspiring (and infectious – I recall your staff bringing me a warming blanket when I was shivering supporting a THR go-live in the ER!) . Thank you for your grace, compassion, and motivation!

  9. Thanks your story should remind all of we ‘technology’ professionals why we chose healthcare— even with some of the nutty, crazy, and some days outright ugly challenges we have. I’d rather do unit rounds myself!

  10. Sir,

    Great and powerful article.
    I am proud to say that I am part of Healthcare.

    I enjoyed the emotional based blog

    Thank You !


  11. First I want to say “Thank you” for sharing your story and feelings of humility. For me personally every day in the hospital faclity I was deployed to was what I call a reality check. Seeing on a daily basis patients, family members, friends and even co-workers experience hardships due to health issues was very humbling. I happened to be deployed to a facility which serves my immediate community and it was not uncommon for me to see friends and acquaintances. For the recurring visits of older friends I became a light they looked forward to. This “light” was nothing more than taking a few minutes out of my routine to sit with them and visit to find out the status of the day. Even though I had nothing to offer, but my time and letting them know that I cared, it made a huge impact on their day. It truly is the little things we do that make such a huge difference. For instance I had a co-worker notice my breast cancer ribbon pin on my badge and she asked me if I was a survivor or if I knew someone, and I explained about family members and friends who I wore the pin for. She looked at me and said “Thank you” for your support because I am a breast cancer survivor. I gave her a hug and left her knowing I had made a difference in her day. There are many, many ways to volunteer, but for me I chose to volunteer on a daily basis in my own environment. It truly only takes a few minutes to provide support to someone in need. Each day was truly a blessing. Very thankful for the opportunities I have been blessed with.

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