Writing prompt: Never underestimate the lives of old men sitting on park benches

Three elderly men sat on a park bench.

“Looks like a storm brewing.”

“Nothing to do with me.” The man in the middle asserted quickly.

“Didn’t say it did.” The first man returned slowly.

“You say that now, but we both know you don’t mean it.” He growled deeply. “Whenever there’s trouble you automatically think of me.”

“It’s just conversation! Besides, it’s not you that’s the real trouble-maker of our home.”

The heretofore silent man smiled, amused, as he patted the dog at his feet. His eyes were closed as he enjoyed the breeze passing through the nearby trees.

“And what are you smiling at?”

He sighed, opening his eyes out of habit. “Enjoying the day, brother.”

“Leave him be.” The man on the other end of the bench sighed. “You know he doesn’t get out often.”

“Do any of us?” The man in the middle grumbled. “I remember when we could have had a time of it on a day such as this one.” This was said wistfully and the other men nodded in agreement. Now, they just enjoyed the quiet.

A warning rang out, “Look out there!”

With lightning reflexes, the middle man caught something as it flew towards them. The contact made a resounding smack, but he barely noticed. Opening his large hand, he realized how wrinkled and faded it had become after all this time. He stared in fascination at the round object in his palm.

“It’s gold.” He whispered.

“It’s not.”

“It is. Look again!” He asserted, shoving it in the other man’s face. His hand shook, but whether from age or something else, who could say.

“It’s merely a ball.” The third brother’s calm voice interrupted.

“What did you think…?” The first brother began, then stopped as he looked again. He paled. “It really does look like an apple…”

“Can I have my ball back?” A youth stood in front of the men, shifting uneasily from one foot to another.

“Give the boy back his ball.” The third brother prodded the man next to him.

Eyes narrowing, the man with the ball looked critically at the youth before him. “Doesn’t look like a scamp…” He began, clearly unconvinced.

“Nothing like … your spawn…” The first brother’s eyes were wide as he leaned closer to have a better look.

“Is … there something wrong with him?” The youth asked uncertainly.

“My younger brother is reminded of an outing long ago. There was … another … yellow object…” The third brother paused. “It did not end well.”

The youth frowned, looking from one old man to the other.

“We’re frightening the boy.” The third brother sighed, shaking off the memory. “Here… catch lad!” Quick as silver  the man snatched the golden ball and threw it into the air.

Catching the ball, the youth looked again at all three old men before joining his friends that had walked over to see what was happening.

“Everything okay?” One of the boys asked.

“Yeah.” The youth shrugged.  “Just some old guys talking like they’ve never seen a ball before.” He scoffed.

The dog growled, shifting uneasily.

“Easy, Cerebus.” The man patted the dog. “They mean no harm. We should be getting back before we’re missed.” He heard his brothers grumble as they got to their feet and began walking behind him. They walked in silence for a time.

“You think they found out we were gone?” The first brother asked quietly.

The youngest brother shrugged. “What do you make of it, Hades?”

Hades heard the concern in Zeus’ voice, though he tried to hide it. He knew without seeing it, the worry in Poseidon’s walk. “It was merely some boys playing. But … you know all too well what comes of not inviting her.”

All three men shivered. If only people realized even the gods didn’t like to cross Discord.

Note: If you don’t already know it, check out “Golden Apple of Discord”

I Write

In fact, I’ve spent my career and life writing. There is nothing I will not write: proposals, grant applications, elevator pitches, press releases, slogans, collateral, advertisements, advertorials, customer service guidelines, technical columns, user handbooks, bed-time stories, poems, songs, and even fanfiction.

Now I write a blog.

There’s something about language … selecting the precise word to convey a specific action or emotion; describing a feeling so completely that a reader is unaware of any other; drawing that reader into a character’s mind and world so they want nothing more than to know what’s next…

There is nothing quite so heady as realizing that’s what’s on your desk for you to accomplish that morning. Every morning…

It is also humbling.

Never mind that some days it is the most daunting, overwhelming, disorganized ordeal attempting to write anything at all … some days it’s nothing you’d let anyone read.

But, this blog is about all parts of my life. My family has been quite clear: They want to read what I’m writing. So, here is an assortment of ramblings from various writing prompts and excerpts from various projects all for your entertainment.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you…


Innovation 101

I attended Ottawa’s first Hacking Health Hackathon a couple weeks ago. The place was humming with energy and it reminded me of my internet start-up days. The projects and teams were diverse, excited, and committed to their ideas.

It made me wish I had more time and energy to get involved because I learned a long time ago you want things to change, you have to get involved. Besides, as a patient, it’s my responsibility to ensure my perspective is part of all this innovation. And, I take that seriously.

However, something happened to me as I walked around speaking with the teams. I became less excited about the “innovation” which in many cases wasn’t anything new. There are many wait time tools, self-care monitoring tools, and the like already available. As a patient I was disheartened that there was so little participation from patients (the ultimate beneficiaries), including no patient representation among the judges.

And then it occurred to me: Yet again, people presume to know what is best for me.

I continued to smile and speak with people as I walked through the next room, but I couldn’t help but begin to look at the people and projects differently. I began to feel more uncomfortable about being there as a patient.

I took away two things from this event.

First, the greatest projects aren’t the ones that try (and fail) to solve the big stuff. The best aren’t trying to catch your attention and they sure aren’t innovative. Projects like the free flap monitoring floored me. Why? Simple, really. These teams took on something they could accomplish in a relatively short period of time. These projects have immediate impact on the quality of a patient’s life. You don’t need to convince the patient the benefit of this project, unlike so many of the apps.

These guys get patients.

There are projects that are not sexy. They are even boring. But, they are doing what needs to be done. Many cases, these should have been done a long time ago.

It isn’t all about innovation: Finding the new, the exciting, the panacea … it is about doing all the simple things that make the overall life of the patient better.

My second take-away is a two-parter. I should not be surprised that there is inequity in patient involvement because that has been the status quo for generations. Instead of leaving me dis-spirited, this inspired me. But, because there was little patient involvement, it got me to re-think what innovation really means.

Innovation is about change, revolution, upheaval, transformation, metamorphosis, and breakthrough.

Innovation doesn’t have to be a thing; it can be a new way of thinking.

Innovation isn’t the end; it is a means to an end.

Innovation can take tried-and-true from other industries because these ideas can be revolutionary or innovative simply by virtue of never having been done that way before in healthcare.

When you look at it that way, who wouldn’t want to be part of it?

However … you cannot bring innovation to healthcare … you cannot transform healthcare … without actively involving patients throughout the process. I’m not saying you won’t get it right without patients. I am saying whatever you do can be better with patients … if for no other reason than you get all stakeholders in the same room.

So, you want innovation? Be careful what you ask for. I’m a patient and I intend to change your opinions, revolt against your way of thinking, cause upheaval in the status quo, and transform the way we get things done.

I can’t wait to see what happens next…

The Thing About Hurdles

I used to love track and field as a youth. I loved to watch and I loved to participate. I loved the challenge of hurdles and long distance runs best.

I never could say what happened. All I know is the person next to me slipped, falling against me, causing me in mid leap to hit the hurdle right across the knees.

It wasn’t my first bad fall and it wouldn’t be the last. It was, however, the last time I ran hurdles. Although, now that I think about it… I’ve been dealing with hurdles of one kind or another all my life. So, maybe it’s not so much that we have hurdles we have to deal with, but rather how they come at us?

Fast forward to this point in my life… I often read that in order to be engaged, patients need to have more knowledge. I’m a patient and I’m telling you lack of knowledge may not be the greatest obstacle to engagement: It’s the constant barrage of hurdles.

In my quest for knowledge, I read a study in the American Journal of Managed Care (April 19, 2017) which found that 98% of patients want to receive their results online. Can’t say I’m surprised. Top reasons why: it saves time and we get more complete information. This is what I’ve been talking about for some time now!

Many patients do not mind receiving abnormal test results. While healthcare professionals continue to be concerned that without the face-to-face interaction and personal encouragement of such a visit (to receive lab results), patients are more likely to fail to plan their next treatment steps, it is clear patients want the information in their own hands. It’s called empowerment.

Which brings us to today’s particular hurdle: Extra charges for lab test results.

I received an invoice in the mail this week for a test that is no longer covered by OHIP. It’s for AST, a “relatively non-specific marker of liver disease and therefore has limited utility in the community setting”. So, maybe there’s good reason to exclude it unless the requesting physician is a hepatologist (as indicated on the invoice)?

I just want to know how else am I going to know that my liver function is still okay considering the nasty drugs I have to take for my RA? That piece of information was not included on the invoice.

So, in addition to this valid concern, this is the first I’ve heard of it and, according to the invoice, the decision was made in 2013, although it didn’t come into effect until April 2017.

I want to know where have I been for the last 4 years when I’m sure patients were being told about these changes?

I have a standing order from October 2016 and there was no mention of this change (and charge) from the physician nor from the lab that handled my requisition.

I’m one of those people who read everything, and I do mean everything, when I’m in a waiting room. Again, nothing in any of the physicians’ waiting rooms nor in the lab where I had my lab work done for the last 4 years.

Disappointed. Annoyed. Not surprised.

Some days it doesn’t matter how hard you try to keep yourself informed, educated, and knowledgeable, you still get stuck with a nasty surprise. It’s not that I don’t like a challenge, and I’m in this for the long haul (guess I still like that long-distance race). It’s just some of these hurdles seem so unnecessary. So easily avoided.

You want the best for patients? Don’t worry about abnormal test results. I have a support network for that. Don’t worry about unclear test results. I have google for that. Changes to what is covered and what is not? Now that I could have used a heads-up on.

Oh. That’s right… Guess someone did tell me… when I got the bill.