I want to share a personal story about an encounter I had early in my career, retold recently to the University of Connecticut’s Academy of Distinguished Engineers.
I vividly remember a call I received 10 years ago while I was doing my bed shop rotation as an intern at Hartford Hospital. The call was for a malfunctioning bed alarm on a pediatric bed at the Children’s Hospital. The bed shop technician and I arrived at the room to find a very sick little boy, about five years old, who was undergoing an intense cancer treatment. He had a breathing tube in his nose, was pale, had lost all of his hair, and just looked defeated and scared.
As we began working on his bed the little boy somberly asked me if he could help. With his mother’s permission, I smiled and said “sure.” My partner and I started handing the little boy tools. Mind you, many of these tools we did not even need to fix the bed, but we wanted the little boy to feel like he was part of the process and helping us out. We would go under the bed and pretend to work on it. We would then stick our heads back out and ask the little boy to hand us a tool, such as a wrench.
We continued to repeat this process and would ask the little boy to hand us a different tool every time. My partner then gently moved the bed up and down, and we told the boy that we just needed one more tool to finish the job. By this point, the little boy was full out laughing and we were all smiling from ear to ear.
When I got up to leave the room, his mother jumped up from her chair and grabbed my hand tightly. She looked at me with tears in her eyes and graciously thanked us, saying “He doesn’t smile much these days. … In fact, I haven’t heard him laugh since we’ve gotten here.”
I walked out of the room feeling very emotional, but I knew we had done a great thing for that little boy and his mother. It was in that moment that I knew that HTM was an amazing field where I could impact patients in their journeys throughout their care. But even deeper, I learned the importance of empathy and how a small, kind gesture can really impact the life of another person.
I challenge you all to be kind even when it may be difficult. What is so endearing about our work and the work of everyone who works in healthcare, is that it brings out the rawness in every single one of us. It is the sad reality that people come to hospitals during some of their darkest, scariest, and most vulnerable times and it is through our empathy and ethics that our greatest work shines through, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
And, hospitals are also places where people go to heal and are miraculously returned home to their families and loved ones. However, were it not for all of the medical instrumentation in these hospitals, combined with the finely trained professionals who come to work every day to support that equipment, clinical care providers would not be able to perform these miracles every day. In times of need, our staff swiftly responds to equipment in critical situations—never once thinking about who the patient is, what they’ve done, their beliefs, religion, race, gender, or sexual orientation. They simply fix the equipment because it is the right thing to do.
At a time where it seems like we are more divided, our field is true proof that we are united through empathy, compassion, and kindness through helping those in need. We do it every day. I was fortunate to learn this early. It is not always through solving the most technically challenging problems where we learn the most. And to me, that was the best trouble call I ever received.
As we move through these times of uncertainly, I urge you all to attack every situation with kindness, never lose sight of your “why,” and root all your actions, and decisions, with empathy.
Danielle McGeary, CHTM, is vice president of healthcare technology management at AAMI.