Kelvin Knight: Are You Cutting Stones or Building a Cathedral?

I walk through the hospital every morning on the way to my office and notice people along the way. There are families bringing children to clinic visits, navigating their way through the long corridors and crosswalks connecting buildings, sometimes escorted by volunteers or even an employee. Some employees walk briskly to their offices, eager to start their work day. Most people seem sure of their direction and intent on getting to their destination by their anticipated time. Seeing all of these people, I am reminded that there is a big picture in the functioning of any hospital, and everyone has a role.

The families bringing children to the hospital for clinic visits come from all over the state. Some travel great distances and leave their home in the early hours of the day to travel several hours for an 8 a.m. appointment. Others stay in nearby hotels to ensure they are able to make an appointment on time. Some travel in the public transportation system while others use a non-profit transportation provider. Each person has faced individual challenges to arrive at the hospital.

As I enter the hospital, I see a long line of red wagons wrapped with a band labeled “cleaned and ready to roll.” Sometimes the wagons are used by parents who put young children in them and pull them through the corridors and crosswalks. Some are used by families to bring in wagon loads of personal items to make an extended stay more comfortable. A team of volunteers walk through the hospital and parking decks each day collecting the wagons that have been used by patients and family members. The volunteers clean the wagons, place the “cleaned” bands, and return them to a spot near the entrance.

During my morning walk through the hospital, I sometimes think of the old parable about the man who came across a stone cutter. He asked the stone cutter what he was doing.  “I’m cutting a stone,” was the reply. The man came across a second stone cutter, asked the same question and heard this response: “I’m cutting a stone to exact dimensions to fit perfectly in a wall.” The man soon came across a third stone cutter, and he asked the same question. The response, this time, was, “I’m building a cathedral.”

Each day, I see volunteers and employees at the hospital who seem to have the third stone cutter’s vision of their work. It is nice to know there are those who see the big picture.

Kelvin Knight is director of biomedical engineering at Children’s of Alabama, a healthcare system headquartered in Birmingham. He is a member of AAMI’s Technology Management Council.

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