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Storytelling: From telling to living

I am making an attempt here to decribe why my mother's recent health problems have relevance to learning. The fundamental question I am pursuing in EDN is, "How do people learn the things they value most?" Since I am now immersed in a challenge to find proper care for her I feel I can make an attempt at writing authentically.

My mother's struggle since writing Hospitals and Branding: Where is the care in healthcare? continues. Over the past nine days we have made two visits to the family doctor, two calls to Telehealth Ontario and three visits to the emergency room of Royal Victoria Hospital. On this last visit, now three days ago, she was finally admitted to hospital.

In Healthcare: Canada Trending Downward I shared a recent statistic revealing that 33% of Canadians have given Canada's healthcare system a grade of C or less. The reasons most frequently given are twofold: a) lack of funding; and b) lack of access. At the same time I would have to say that all Canadians are indeed fortunate to have a public healthcare system and it remains an important part of our national identity. So any accolades or criticisms of this system are made in the spirit of trying to make it more sustainable, durable and responsive to the needs of people. It is also a way to try and examine learning in the face of real-life circumstances...

The paramedics that tended to my mother on what would soon become the third visit to the emergency room were extremely effective and professional. By this time, my mother had been suffering from intense nausea and vomiting now for some three weeks. Her lack of desire to eat and well as dehydration were obvious problems. But the paramedics also began questionning her medications - a growing list of prescription drugs that had seemed to slowly build over time. They felt that negative drug interactions might be a possibility.

I think the issue of prescription medications is something I need to pay much closer attention to. While chatting with one of the paramedics I was reminded of Ron's near-death experience via Lipitor. I have often read those long lists of potential side-effects of a single prescription medication with surprise, and now I had started considering what must be endless side-effect permutations on multiple prescription medication interaction. If someone was on, for example, three separate precription medications, I wonder what a list of potential side-effects for multiple drug interaction might looks like. I suspect this would not be a short read. These interactions, I imagine, must not only dramatically alter the body, but they must in someway later the nature of the mind as well. Do we really have a clear understanding of what happens when multiple medications are combined?

Of course, none of this is to imply that we should not be using prescription medication, but it is to say that perhaps we really don't understand the entire effect of them - especially when they are combined and used over the long-term. It also seems to me that no one, until I made an issue of it in the emergency room, analyzes the list of medications a person is on for potential negative reactions. Or perhaps this does happen and I am simply unaware of it. In Health: Faint Warning - Adverse Drug Reactions, it seems clear that Canada as a nation is not doing nearly enough to build better solutions in this area.

Telehealth Ontario is an excellent organization and I would recommend it to anyone. Simply stated, anyone in Ontario can call a toll-free number and get immediate advice from a registered nurse. Case files are maintained for future calls. For me, it became a critical resource since we seemed to be striking out both with the family doctor as well as the hospital. The message from Telehealth Ontario was clear and that was to immediately take my mother back to the hospital.

The emergency room doctor that looked after my mother was excellent. After reviewing her case he stated that he felt the problem had gone on for too long and more needed to be done. He recommended that she be admitted - and she was. As I write this, my mother remains in the hospital and we are not yet sure what the cause of the problem is, but hopefully given enough time they will be able to provide some help. Today, in approximately four hours, we have a family meeting with the doctor responsible for my mother's care in hospital.

As I ponder this weblog a number of connections emerge. I am reminded of Johnnie Moore's Are brainy people allowed to rant? While I am unsure of what exactly a "brainy" person is, I know I have made an attempt at avoiding a rant. That is not to say that I feel a sense of underlying anger, but if I take my own advice, that anger needs to be leveraged into something useful. And there are also Johnnie's numerous insights into branding and marketing that have direct relevance to this story.

I think about Lisa Galarneau's Relevancy weblog. The list of descriptors she provides echo the very thing I am attempting in present circumstances:

The quality or state of being relevant; pertinency; applicability' or 'related to the matter at hand.' To be relevant means that you are adapting to the needs and wants of the people you interact with. It means listening, customizing, personalizing, anticipating , understanding, sympathizing, adapting, responding, cooperating, conversing, collaborating, empathizing, tolerating, respecting...

I am reminded of Sean's work at Patternhunter and his focus on "tracking the spread of ideas, technologies and social change." Patterns, for me, are emerging in relation to our health care system and aspects of the network that makes this system work are revealing themselves: family doctors, specialists, government agencies, prescription medication, pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, emergency rooms, paramedics, hospital doctors, nursing staff, nursing assistants, volunteers, and so on. And all of this interwoven with love for family, the uncertainty of how to deal with a large system of influence, listening to stories of other patients, being aware of someone who just died a few rooms away, and becoming more aware of just how fragile life can be.

If we were to look at this from a design perspective, perhaps we could develop ways of improving people's experiences - that is, experience design. To my thinking, it is the designers' insights into communication patterns and systems of interfacing that, if they can get beyond mere programming, could be of great benefit to people.

Tamarack's and Philia's pursuit of vibrant communities leads me to consider if we need to build better systems of dynamic community engagement to better support our health care system. In behind the statisitcs of the health care system are the lives of real people in real circumstances. If 30% of the Canadian population rates our health care system poorly, then what are the authentic stories behind this that drive those numbers? And if these stories are negative ones, then how can we replace them with better ones?

I suppose I've told a story here and we might refer to an entry like this as storytelling. But from my perspective, this is storyliving. I have a sense of the past, hopefully good insight into the present, yet the future is a question mark. It is part of the universal plot that happens uniquely to each of us between our own birth and our own death. Perhaps if aspects of this story share some common bond with your own experience, there may be aspects of it that move you beyond being a recipient of the tale.

It is also clear to me that my education in no way prepared me for experiences like these. It's not enough to say that I am applying some form of creativity and critical thinking skills that were born out of educational activities. The develop of thinking skills is not dependent upon education. From a knowledge perspective, I am clearly lacking in relation to my mother's situation, but I am making an attempt to reduce the gap. However, if we define standardized curriculum, instruction and assessment on provincial terms (i.e. - here in Canada), then why are unavoidable life experiences such as these absent? Are they too difficult? Too controversial?

Joseph Campbell, a profound teacher, made consistent reference to the inability for education systems to describe the life values of what it is they teach. And this was not a mere cheap shot since he dedicated his life to the improvement of education. Parents are a universal thread in our existence of mythical proportion, and education could provide great value to students by at least introducing them to the practical realities of the health care system they will live under.

What I am left with respect to learning, in this example, is that I have been reminded of the importance of trying. I can ponder the past and learn some lessons from it, but it is best not to stay there too long. I can imagine the future and create visions of it that may help provide guidance, but I also know the future is never the here and now.

"Attention," a voice began to call, and it was as though an oboe had suddenly become articulate. "Attention," it repeated in the same high, nasal monotone. "Attention." - Aldous Huxley in Island

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