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Rethinking “it’s gonna be okay”

okayLast week I had the privilege of participating in a four hour course in a simulation center.  For those of you who don’t know what a simulation center is, it’s basically a learning environment that simulates medical scenarios using robots and technologies, with the end goal being to improve patient care and safety.   The audience was physicians and nurses in the Ob/Gyn field, since the course centered on a common problem encountered during labor and delivery. And then there I was–random scientist–there primarily as an observer (but I also got the chance to do a little role playing).

It was an unforgettable experience.  And there was a plethora of observations and take home messages—here are a few (I guess those of you following my blogs have figured out that I am a list-making type of person):

1-New methods of teaching (and the right teacher!) make all the difference in absorbing and retaining the information (and also enjoying the class).  We wrote on white boards, read to ourselves, worked in small groups, heard relevant anecdotes, moved from room to room, and took advantage of state-of-the-art computer, robotic, and audiovisual technologies.

2-The ability of doctor/nurse teams to react to and overcome medical emergencies is beyond astonishing.  I didn’t really appreciate this until I saw this in the simulation, as the real-obstetrician-playing-the-role-of-the-obstetrician was literally sweating and panting as she directed her team and exhausted her procedural options on a dummy until she achieved success.

3-Premeditated plans need to be in place to deal with crisis situations, and not just ones in the simulated or real hospital settings.  During the crisis, someone needs to assume the leadership role and assign roles to others. Communication has to be maintained throughout, with frequent and unambiguous updates.  When things have quieted down, the team needs to debrief, and they also need to debrief others involved.  Think about applying this model to mini-crises that happen at home or in the office.

4-There are words that should be said, and others that should be avoided, as they relate to the ramifications post-crisis.  Specifically, our teacher repeated and repeated that, during a “situation,” healthcare professionals should refrain from telling the patient that “it’s gonna be okay,” since it is confusing during an emergency and can open up the medical team to  litigation in the event that things don’t turn out okay.  For personal reasons, I immediately related to that piece of advice and wished more physicians could hear it.  And then, when I later that morning played the role of nurse-calming-the-woman (dummy)-in-labor…what was the first thing I said? IT’S GONNA BE OKAY! I knew it was my comforting (and novice) side talking, but I still felt like an idiot.

On that note, you may be thinking now, what does this blog post even have to do with genetics?  The answer is nothing at all.  I just wanted to share how valuable it is to be able to step into someone else’s world for just a short while, to gain an appreciation for what they do and even learn a new lesson or two.

Lessons learned the hard way

hand reaching handI have never written a very personal blog before but I feel like the time is right. You see, my oldest child just was admitted to the college of her choice. So, I have a lot to be grateful for.  I am very proud that over the years I (almost) always made my family my first priority, and that I invested in each of my children according to their unique talents and needs.   I feel that I was especially sensitized to the concept of “each child being a gift,” because I lost several pregnancies over multiple years.

While my family and friends knew what I was going through, I never thought that I would be sharing this personal information with total strangers.  However, I do think that The Gene Scene is an opportune forum to mention some lessons that I have learned from my experiences:

1-      Pregnancy loss is very common.  Most of the time miscarriages occur before the woman even knows she is pregnant, where the rate is about 50% of all pregnancies.  Among those women who know they are pregnant, the miscarriage rate is about 15-20%.

2-      You may think that it’s possible to put past pregnancy losses behind oneself, especially as time marches on and if there are already or are subsequently other children in the family.  But, honestly, I still think about my losses almost every day.  Like when I pass places that vividly remind me of those difficult time periods.  Or when I hear about friends having their fifth or sixth babies. Or when I read articles about children who are the victims of child abuse and neglect.  Don’t get me wrong—I lead a very full and happy life.  But, there is a dull wound that persists.

3-      If you know someone who is dealing with a pregnancy loss and you have dealt with one yourself, offer to be there as an empathetic source of support (but do not force the issue).  I think there is a “pay it forward” concept involved here—if someone helped you, you should be there to comfort someone else.   Studies have shown that the supportiveness of the environment one is in immediately following a stressful situation can play a crucial role in healing.

4-      I have learned not to ask people if they have children, or how many children they have; instead I wait until those details are offered. On a similar note, I have learned not to say that a child “looks exactly”, or on the other hand, “looks nothing”, like his/her parents. You never know when there can be stories and associated hardship involved.

Finally, my personal experiences definitely helped in guiding my own career path towards our Program for Jewish Genetic Health.  Being able to turn something negative into something positive has undoubtedly been a major redeeming feature of my own healing process.

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