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Archive July 2019 XX, No. 7

Ideas That Work: Personal Connections

Email Reminders of Your True Calling

Northwell Health
IMPORTANT MESSAGE Benjamin Schwartz, MD (far left), and the rest of the surgical team listen while OR nurse Amanda Brussich, RN, reads an email sent by a member of the patient's family.

At the end of pre-op clinic appointments, I hand patients a business card that includes my personal email address and request that a family member send me a message about the patient. What do they like? What makes them tick? What do they want my surgical team to know about them? I respond to the email, thanking them for their thoughts, and copy my assistant, who prints out the exchange and adds it to the perioperative paperwork. A member of the surgical team reads the message aloud during the pre-op time out. The words remind us of our calling and help us refocus on what matters most in that moment: the patients in our care and the loved ones waiting for them outside the OR.

Many messages are lighthearted. A husband revealed his wife was a Pink Floyd fan, so we played “Comfortably Numb” — fitting, right? — when she was wheeled into the OR. Other messages have moved us to tears. A 13-year-old boy named Daniel had recently endured the sudden loss of his mother. His grandmother, who had become his maternal figure, was laying on the table in front of us. In an email, Daniel told us his grandmother makes the best meatballs, and asked us to be at our best that day because he couldn’t live without her or her signature dish. We cried together, collected ourselves and began the case with renewed purpose and focus. At the end of the successful surgery, the entire team gathered around a speaker phone and called Daniel to tell him, “Grandma’s OK. More meatballs are coming.” You can imagine the impact his tears of joy had on everyone in the room.

Something magical and powerful happens when you ask for emails from patients’ family members. It’s helped me connect with patients and their support circles in ways I never thought possible and has reinvigorated my career and personal outlook in ways that are impossible to describe.

Benjamin Schwartz, MD
Southside Hospital Northwell Health
Bay Shore, N.Y.

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