In this Harvard Business Review article on happiness (“The Science Behind the Smile“):
Much of the research confirms things we’ve always suspected. … Healthy people are happier than sick people. People who participate in their churches are happier than those who don’t. Rich people are happier than poor people. And so on.
That said, there have been some surprises. For example, while all these things do make people happier, it’s astonishing how little any one of them matters. Yes, a new house or a new spouse will make you happier, but not much and not for long. As it turns out, people are not very good at predicting what will make them happy and how long that happiness will last. They expect positive events to make them much happier than those events actually do, and they expect negative events to make them unhappier than they actually do… A recent study showed that very few experiences affect us for more than three months. When good things happen, we celebrate for a while and then sober up. When bad things happen, we weep and whine for a while and then pick ourselves up and get on with it.
Christine is now walking (view on Flickr.com)
This is Christine today. Her injury is resolving – she’s now walking! This is after 12 weeks of no ability to ambulate. I had a reunion with her and asked her what she was thinking and feeling.
In contrast to our visit last time, when she was energized about improvements to the health system, she’s now focused on her experience and that of others. She says that she’s approached by a lot of people in public who give her advice or tell her their stories.
I asked her about this and she wondered if these experiences (being the involuntary patient) are so defining in their lives that they are driven to tell others about them.
Christine doesn’t want that though – in fact, when she talks to me she refers to her injury as “not that serious compared to other people” – which is amazing for me to see – a testament to the resilience of people.
It’s possible that she may even forget about a lot of it as she focuses on her career, her family, her relationships.
She told me about this note that I sent to her from my awesome colleague Kayt Havens, MD who read the first post in Christine’s blog:
“can’t tell you the number of patients I see at the VA for whom this article will give solace…thanks yet again”
Christine said this feedback was meaningful (her exact words were ‘it almost made me cry’). She told me that sustaining an injury like she did, with such a long recovery, requires daily thoughts about the future, the next day, and a reliance on a support network that a lot of people don’t have, or if they do have, can’t be there all the time. Christine would like to see a world where people in her situation can reach out to other people to get this support. In an easier way than random Google searches. And she says, physicians not required, this is not about getting medical questions answered.
She has fleshed out many more lessons learned in her blog, which she said has been therapeutic to write – she looks back at in a little bit of amazement about where she was.
What did I learn?
This is the first time I have ever followed a patient as a person who writes a blog and who happens to be a doctor. I didn’t expect that Christine would be this patient, and neither did she. She said it so well:
If I could just get a redo on those 3 seconds…..3 seconds….sigh.
Three seconds can change your life. Besides being reminded to cherish every second we do have, I learned that every patient, involuntary or not, will make choices about where to fit their health care experiences into their lives.
Some patients might become health activists as a result of their experience. Some may not, and they don’t have to, they’ve chosen to live their lives and reach their goals through optimal health.
On the one hand, the resilience of the human body and the ability of people to move on works against health care improvement, because people forget. Therefore, its our job, the people who work in health care, to remember on their behalf, and carry their stories with us. It also means that the patients who do become health activists and leaders in health care improvement (the Regina’s, the Kait’s, the Dave’s) are carrying the flag for a lot of people – we are fortunate to have them.
Before concluding part III, I want to show Christine’s progression as captured in photographs, from injury (and disempowerment), to information (and empowerment), to resolution (and resilience). All of us know or will know patients in all phases. Keep this in mind when you see someone in any phase – it’s a journey, and they may not see themselves defined by their health condition, even if, to the observer, it seems that they are.
The people you see may not be as open with you as Christine has been here. However, like Christine, they will always be awesome.
“We grow strong in the broken places.”
Thanks for reading.