My Medicine X recap is different. It’s different because my view was different. I got to see things you may not have seen. Were I less inclined to my vegany ways, I might say I saw how the sausage was made. But that’s not exactly what I mean either. It is true, I got to see the luggage tags before you. It is also true that I know where in Palo Alto sells 80 lb. test fishing line. What I mean, about my view, is that I got to see amazing people do amazing things. I got to see it from a vantage point many did not have access to.
And I wouldn’t trade my view for anything.
I arrived in Palo Alto a few days before Medicine X and asked Dr. Larry Chu to put me to work. (I’m afraid, if you were to ask him, he’d tell you he got what it paid for in my volunteer efforts). Regardless of my heroic contributions —those welcome packets looked nice, didn’t they? —I got to see a high-preforming team at work.
Dr. Chu and company have taken over a space in the 4th floor of an old part of Stanford Hospital. His AIM lab, at least a week before Medicine X, is a Grand Central Station of activity, comings and goings. Boxes arrived. Then there were more boxes. Then there were more people. And somewhere behind a wall of food containers, Pelican boxes and new TV monitors, were Monique, Will and Jeff. They formed a mind meld, finishing each others’ sentences and predicting Dr. Chu’s next moves.
Great teams don’t just get work done. They flow. When the Med X crew is in the zone, there is a sense of mission and purpose to their work. It’s exciting to watch.
There was, of course, Zoe
Wednesday, before the conference, is load in. How can there be even more boxes? Where do they all come from and, more importantly, where does the universe store them when they aren’t at Stanford? So many boxes!
Projection artist Josh arrived with The X. The X needed to be hung, at a specific hight and with a specific proximity to the screen. It should appear to be floating. According to its manufacturer, The X weighed 62 pounds. According to the airline Josh gave it to as checked luggage, it weighed 102 pounds.
Med X stage manager Kam and I went on a mission. Team Monofilament beelined it to Palo Alto’s big box district where we found fishing line in weights up to 80 lb. test. Double the line, load weight divided by gravity, carry the one…screw it, it has to hold, right?
I’m not saying we saved the day, but…
“I’ve got concerns…this has to be perfect, some of the patients are already arriving.” Britt Johnson doesn’t mess around.
Over the next four days, I took a selfish front row seat (literally, for those who noticed) and watched Sarah, Britt and Liza and Hugo shine. I watched them organize, with extreme prejudice. I watched them comfort, with extreme kindness. And I watched them be their very best selves, with extreme pride.
Sarah works behind the scenes. She coaches ePatients gingerly, but without mincing words. Who has time for fluff? Your talk is good, but have you thought about…? You should think about it! Sarah coaches all of us the same way. She sits quietly in our discussions, waiting to slip in the one sentence that brings everything together.
Hugo confided, “this is the conference we were meant to put on. I’ve been waiting for this.” Hugo likes to work quietly, slipping influence in between warm smiles and self-deprecating humor.
Britt, whom we’ve already established doesn’t mess around, took the lead on the engagement track ePatients. It was, as they say, her baby. Britt has the leadership art; when she says be at this place, at this time you know its because she cares about the experience you have.
And Liza…well, it’s the Year of Liza. Liza brought an intellectual purposefulness to Medicine X this year. She knew who should speak on which topics and why they needed to be heard. She knew which ePatients should meet certain other attendees. She applied a sense of design to her interactions and leadership.
There’s a thing that happens sometimes in life, when we are lucky enough to experience it. Its that sort of out of body feeling when you almost float above the conversation and observe yourself in it. I had that feeling for four days straight as I watched Liza, Sarah and Britt.
After a late strategic dinner (Code Urkel, I repeat, Code Urkel) one night, I thought to myself this must be what working with a highly functional team feels like, because this doesn’t feel like work at all!
I have a friend who, in reaction to my boasting about shoulder rubbing, says: “you breath a lot of rare air.” She’s right. I somehow get to spend time with some of the brightest and most inspiring people in healthcare.
Take, for example, Emily. You think your travel story was bad? Emily’s has it beat. I met her on the tail end of her horrible travel day. “My legs are three times their normal size and my pain is off the charts.” Then she started laughing. Who does that? Who laughs through pain? Emily did.
The next day, from the main stage, Emily used that same objective calmness when she told the audience here pain was at an 8.
I also got to meet Joe, the Prosthetic Medic. “I wanted one in camo, you know, real redneck style,” said Joe, showing off his prosthetic leg. Joe’s disarming humor makes him a secret weapon. While he has you laughing, he slips in something like, “I had to fight really hard to get the leg I deserve.”
Medicine X gives some of us special credentials which include access to a VIP room. This year, our ePatient scholars used the VIP room to convene every morning and during lunches, for open debriefs. Tom Lee, from Symplr, was not one of our ePatient scholars. Yet, Tom, often accompanied by his colleague Audun, showed up to every ePatient meeting. Tom sat quietly; I even wondered if the others noticed he was there. But he was there. Every day, for every discussion. Tom, you were noticed, appreciated and cared for.
From my back stage, behind the scenes, VIP badge, hardest working team in healthcare conference view, I got to breath the rarest air.
I saw Chris do what he is born to do on stage, expertly weaving together a conversation about what it means to be an ePatient. (He’d shoot wry grins when he knew he’d found a theme).
I watched Jody exude poise, charm and leadership.
I met Niki who sees her cane as a fashion accessory.
Deb wins the award for most perky ePatient ever.
Karen bought us Mexican candy.
Katie, er Gerald, you made us laugh, while Alan sat quietly, tweeting profound insights, next to Casey who never sits quietly.
Michael and Marion —yes their stage talk was great —both giggled like school kids when they slipped on Google Glass during a break.
These weren’t the only experiences or people I observed. I saw a mentor find his tribe. I saw two big thinkers bump brains and spill out ideas. And, I saw icons become iconoclasts. It’s a snapshot, a sampling.
The icing on the cake
My friend Jason and I sat up way too late the night before his talk. We were chatting about our time in graduate school, his treks into the Minnesota wilderness and our shared passion for the human side of healthcare. We got deep, comparing the rewards of helping patients to Buddhist meditation. And we were light as we sipped his homemade cherry brandy. “I’m pretty nervous about tomorrow,” he said.
The next day, I watched Jason give one of the best talks of Medicine X 2013. “Once you start involving patients and families,” he projected, “you won’t stop because it just feels good…it feels right”.
On Thursday, before the conference, a small group of ePatients and attendees went inside IDEO. IDEO, a famous design and innovation firm, led a design challenge for the group. That’s where I met Laura.
“I guess I don’t really think of myself as an ePatient,” she told us. “I’m still trying to figure this all out…”
Went spent the day learning about Laura and her condition — autoimmune soup, as she calls it. “I’m not really out, as a patient, you know. Its new to me, having all this attention.”
Over the next four days, Laura sat in the front row for every main stage talk. She participated in every discussion and every breakout session. She was not only present physically, but also emotionally and mentally. I could see, on her face, the connections being formed and the ideas spinning.
On the last day, from the stage Dr. Chu issued an assignment: before you leave Medicine X, find one person and tell them why they made an impact on you.
I went to Laura and said —tried to say, I’m sometimes lousy on the spot— “Thank you for being here. I am inspired by the courage you’ve taken in being here and your openness and I cannot wait to follow the big things you will do.”
I mean it Laura. You will do big things for patients.
Thank you Dr. Larry Chu for your vision and for creating an environment many described to me as: “the first place that has felt right.” And thank you for pulling together the best team I’ve ever had the privilege to work with.
And, finally, I got to see my dad experience Med X. Meta, I know. “You are Nick’s dad? I want to meet Nick’s dad!” The taller Dawson always gets more attention.
I had a pretty good view.
For a comprehensive list of blogs and links related to Medicine X 2013, visit Catherine Rose’s wonderful compendium.