Launching my Research at the RCPI

Pictured with Mr Stephen McMahon, IPA; Dr Rupert Fawdry, NHS, Mr Richard Corbridge, CIO HSE, Ms Deirdre Munro Founder Global Villages

Last year was without a doubt an extremely turbulent year, not just in my own life, but also in the global world of politics; the world of entertainment (loss of so many famous people) and in the world of our environment (learning of the real impact of global warming). 

We, as humans though, can often look back, reflecting on the all the negatives, but sometimes, I feel, it is better to focus on all the positives that happen. I personally faced extreme lows in 2016, but in keeping with my last post related to my New Year resolutions, I decided to remind myself of all my own personal highs… 

In just one year I am glad to say that:

I became the International Ethical Governance Lead of the World Health Innovation Summit

I was interviewed on The Business Show (RTE); Ireland AM Breakfast Show (live TV), iRadio (and many local stations) and had an article about my work published and shared by HER.ie, and many local newspapers

I became an International Fellow of the England Centre Practice Development [ECPD], Canterbury University and became a patient reviewer with the British Medical Journal [BMJ]

I got into the top ten businesses in my category in the Virgin VOOM awards and presented to their teams in London 

I was a rapporteur for IPPOSI regarding EHR’s and eHealth

I participated in, and facilitated, many workshops and projects including: Global Village Health Translation; International #fabnhsday guide for Colostrum; NDRC – Business Mentor for Health Tech Start-Ups; Facilitator for SOUND, ICAN and SUGRU; Patient Representative for HSE working groups – National PPPG Framework; National QI Programme Prevention VTE; Paediatric Early Warning Score System (PEWS) ; National Sexual Health Strategy; National Maternity Strategy; National Medical Card Form; National Health Service Vision 2026.

I worked with DCU on a literature review commissioned by the Department of Health on Public Patient Involvement.

I met with the HealthXL team and produced an article related to Medication Non Adherence solutions

I visited Google HQ and Virgin HQ  in Dublin 

I also keynoted and spoke at many conferences including:  eHealth Ecosystem (Lighthouse Projects); IADT (Social Entrepreneurship); Maynooth University (eHealth); SOUND Charity AGM; Rotunda Hospital (Thrombosis Day) and the World Health Innovation Summit (WHIS) Cumbria to name but a few..

But the biggest highlight, for me, was launching my own project, the MediStori, at the prestigious Royal College of Physicians [RCPI] last June.

I had been working on this project for nearly four years. This piece of work meant so much to me on a personal level as it was built initially for my dad, and then progressed out of a sheer need to change our system – and not a need to make money or profits. I learned along my entrepreneurial journey that this is one of the main characteristics of a social entrepreneur. I strived to make the world a better place, through simple processes and tool-kits which would empower both patients, carers and health professionals alike. 

Even still though, after winning numerous awards and accolades, I was determined to validate this work through a national research project.

I knew that when people met me and saw the product they were often empathetic and nice to me, upon hearing my personal story, but I was wary that this would not truly validate the toolkit in hand. So I reached out to the HSE, and with their support, I was able to commission a researcher from NUIG, Dr Padraig Mac Neela, to externally validate the project in hand.

After a year of working with two national acute hospitals and numerous national charities; going through ethics committees and designing surveys, I was proud to say that we had successfully validated the MediStori.  

The Time 2 responses were an endorsement of the potential for the MediStori to have a positive impact on patient outcomes. Three quarters (79%) of participants said that it had impacted on their management of medications; eighty per cent said it had impacted on how they managed health care appointments; nearly 80% indicated it had an impact on how they communicated health care information to health care professionals. For over two thirds (77%), the MediStori had had an impact on how they felt in their ability to manage their child’s condition. In combination with positive perceptions of the MediStori’s usability, the Pilot Study findings are indicative of a strong potential for making a contribution to health care practice as ninety three percent of all participants had used the Medicine Memo to write down their child’s medication and the times the medications were given. Similarly, 100% of those who responded indicated that it was a good idea to have the MediStori to manage their child’s medication. [Mac Neela, 2015]

So many people were involved in this project and it was a great pleasure when many of whom turned up on at the launch and many others accepted my invitation to speak on the day also. 

Speakers at the launch of MediStori included: 

Mr. Stephen Mc Mahon – CEO Irish Patients Association

Mr. Richard Corbridge – CIO for the HSE; CIO eHealth Ireland

Dr Padraig Mac Neela – Senior Psychology Lecture NUIG; Researcher MediStori

Dr. Amir Hannan – GP, Manchester [NHS] and Chairperson of the World Health Innovation Summit

Ms. Deirdre Munro – Founder Global Village Networks; Midwife, Researcher and Lecturer

Mr T.J. Hughes – Senior Development Advisor, Enterprise Ireland

Ms. June Boulger – National Lead Public Patient Partnership Acute Hospitals, HSE

Dr. Rupert Fawdry – Founder WISDAM Project; Lead on Maternity Records [NHS]

Every person had something valuable to say about their own work in the domain of healthcare and this added to the vision I have – that healthcare crosses all spectrums. 

I have to say my own highlight of the day [with obvious bias!] was when my beautiful 13 year old daughter, and patient, Micaela spoke to the audience. 

Micaela finished the day talking about what it was to be a young undiagnosed patient in Ireland and the difficulties that it in itself can entail. I was so very proud of her as it was not easy to stand in front of so many and tell her story. 

And this is what I do in healthcare.

I aim to empower others to share their stories, to not feel isolated or ashamed or to feel like their voice is too small to be heard. 

Toolkits and processes can help with this, but more importantly when people work together, this is when real movements and change starts. 

I am so grateful for every single person who has helped me on my journey , especially the teams in the RCPI for helping me with the launch, and am looking forward to more highlights in 2017. I aim to push the MediStori Movement to the next level and I know this can be achieved with the right people supporting it. 

Thank you to all involved and if you would like to read more about this project please see www.medistori.com/proof

For more on my blogs or posts please visit www.oliveoconnor.com

Upcoming events I am in involved in for 2017:

National Primary Care Conference, Ireland
Canterbury University, UK
National Sustainability Summit, Ireland
WHIS Ireland, WHIS Cumbria
National Health Summit, Ireland
DCU Framework Public Patient Involvement

Mobbing as a form of bullying – in school and in work.

I collect my daughter from school.

I know she is not herself. She is quiet, withdrawn and won’t make eye contact with me when I ask her how her day was.

I know something is wrong. She is usually a witty, happy-go-lucky child with a charming sense of humour that would make even the grumpiest of persons grin. She is smart and creative; but also super sensitive, so has learned the skill of not letting anyone see how she is really feeling.

Except me. I know when she is not being herself.

When we get home and her sisters go upstairs to do their homework, I tell her to wait downstairs with me as I needed her help with the dinner. I push her some more, asking again how her day was. Ever so quietly, with a slight quiver to her voice, she tells me her day was okay, but again keeps her eyes down. I can tell that she is close to tears. I choose to hold off making the dinner and sit her down next to me at the kitchen table.

I push gently again, but to no avail.

I am really worried about her. I know tough love is now required. I need to know what is bothering her.  Sternly, I tell her that she is not going upstairs until she tells me what is really going on. I know each of my children well enough to know which approach to take with them, and when. Ignoring the problem, or waiting until they are ready, is not always what is needed when your child is near breaking point.

She bursts into tears, followed suddenly by an outburst of all that is troubling her.

Tells me how everyone is school has suddenly stopped talking to her and she doesn’t know why. Tells me that many of her friends have stopped responding to her on her social media platforms. Tells me that she sat in the locker room that day eating her lunch because she had no-one to sit with. Tells me she has not being asked by her friends to get ready in each others houses to go to the next disco.

Tells me not to tell anyone, and most specifically, the school – what she has just told me. Terrified I will make it worse. 

I just hold her tight to me, wiping her tears, and I let her talk. The story of her trauma spills out, in a non-coherent manner. My heart is pounding. I am trying to make sense of what she is telling me; try to put all the pieces together. Try to show her I am strong. But right now, I feel weaker than her. Inside, I am crying. Every emotion is running through me at the same time. I am angry, I am scared, I am fiercely protective.

There is nothing worse than seeing your child in a pain of which there are no medications for. 

When her heart wrenching sobbing subsides, I ask her to go back to the beginning of the story. Try to make sense of the situation.

It turns out that the girls in her class had taken a sudden dislike to another girl in school and had stopped talking to her. My daughter had decided not to unfriend this girl – she continued to talk to her and tried to include her in the gang. I was so proud to hear this – I had raised her to never be mean or unkind to anyone. And most importantly, never to be a bystander or worse, a “sheep” following the leader of the pack.

But because she did had done the right thing, she too had now become isolated.

I asked her did she know who might have started this whole situation and she was able to identify one girl in particular.

As a youth worker, I know a lot about childhood bullying, but in more recent years I have also learned about bullying in the workplace; more specifically, I have become aware of a type of bullying called workplace mobbing. “The reason that this type of overt harassment is referred to as mobbing is because typically one individual assumes the “ringleader” role, rallying many to participate in similar, systematic behavior that is frequently demonstrated by virtually everyone within the organization who interacts with this individual.”  

This “ring leader” can also be called the “instigator” or “chief bully” – one individual who suddenly finds a reason to dislike another person.

“If this ringleader is an extrovert it will be obvious who is coercing group members into mobbing the selected target. If the ringleader is an introvert type, he or she is likely to be in the background coercing and manipulating group members into mobbing the selected target; introvert ringleaders are much more dangerous than extrovert ringleaders.” [ Mobbing-USA]

This person will usually be clever enough to gain the trust of other, weaker persons – who are often called collaborators. Both instigator and collaborators are usually insecure in themselves and need to find a way to make themselves feel superior. Jealousy is a running theme in this type of bullying. The instigator will plant seeds in the collaborator’s heads – usually untrue rumours or spiteful underhanded remarks about the victim. It can be about their looks, their personality, their work or their skill-sets. The ring leader will feed on the collaborators vulnerabilities, making them feel better about themselves. The ringleader will find something wrong in everything the target of the bullying does – and more so if the victim is a high achiever and well liked in general.

Mobbing targets are typically educated and well-regarded for their competency. Further, they tend to be attractive and often are both outspoken…they also tend to be highly accomplished, exceptionally creative and greatly dedicated. Because of their competence and strong [work] ethic, it is often very difficult for mobbing victims to comprehend why they suddenly were isolated, humiliated and ridiculed. In fact, former allies can quickly turn against the target — without cause — believing that because the individual is being widely criticized, there must be just cause. The target is often branded as a troublemaker and others who had otherwise good feelings about the person quickly disassociate, creating feelings of isolation and abandonment. The target quickly loses his or her feelings of belonging, identity and dignity. www.nobullying.com

Once the instigators and collaborators start working together, another wider group is formed. These are usually the “bystanders” or as I call, the “sheep”. They listen to the instigators and collaborators and often make a subconscious decision to follow the leaders. They don’t necessarily know they are part of the acts of bullying or exclusion, even if they do know “something” is wrong. Nevertheless, they become part of a mobbing group, because they don’t question what is happening, or try to prevent it. Bystanders can often be vulnerable themselves and don’t want to be seen as “different”. They may themselves have been victims of bullying in the past, and are afraid of it happening again.

Now when this whole group come together, this is when the target suddenly recognises that something isn’t right. They find they are all alone and suddenly nobody wants to talk to them. They feel paranoid and isolated. They question themselves.

Mobbing is sometimes thought of as a terrible and unrestrained virus that spreads throughout a group through the use of such tactics as: Gossip; Baseless accusations; Humiliation; Isolation; Intimidation; Condescending behavior; Public discrediting; Creating a hostile environment; Isolation; Ridicule; and Malicious, relentless emotional abuse.

Exclusion mobbing is often the worst kind because the victim often cannot prove it is happening, and it is quite difficult for management of schools or workplaces to enforce rules to make people be “friends with one another”.

And this is exactly what was happening to my daughter.

So what did I do?

I explained this type of bullying to my daughter and asked could she identify the different personalities who would fit the roles of instigators, collaborators and bystanders. She was able to do this.  I explained what a bystander was, and that they may not know they are doing it. She was so worried that I would get the school involved (out of fear of making a bad situation worse) and so she asked me to allow her time to try to talk to some of these girls, before I took action.

The next day she came home from school, smiling.

I could not tell you how I felt – the relief was something unbelievable. I didn’t realise how tense I was all that day. My daughter relayed what had happened that day. She told me that she went up to one girl at a time in school and just started talking to them. On their own they were different people – they were happy to chat to her. She asked them had she done anything wrong – all said she hadn’t.  At lunchtime she then “acted” carefree and confident, held her head up high and followed these girls to lunch and sat down with them. None of them ignored her.

As she told me the story, my heart filled with pride at her bravery.

She then told me that during one of her classes during the morning,  one of the teachers had put her and the “ringleader” in a pair to work on a project together. They were forced to interact. My daughter told me that they started talking, albeit small talk. The ringleader did not have her full gang around to come to her aide. And so my daughter was now in the position of negotiation, even if she didn’t feel it at the time. She stayed upbeat in her conversation and acted like nothing was bothering her – pretended nothing had happened. And the ringleader had no choice but to talk.

At lunch break the ringleader saw everyone talking to her too – what could she do, but interact?

As my daughter chatted to me, she was smiling – from her eyes.

She looked down at her phone as she told me about her day, and I could see her scroll through notifications as one by one the group started interacting with her again. I asked her did any of the teachers talk to her that day.

She then looked at me, somewhat accusingly, and said yes, they had.

You see, I had contacted the school. I could not be a bystander either. I had to override her fears, for her safety. 

The chaplain had strategically arranged a private meeting with my daughter to ask her what was happening. At this stage in the day, my daughter had already talked to the girls in question and she told the chaplain that she felt much better. The chaplain told her how proud she was of her to 1) take action and 2) for standing by her friend and not becoming a bully. I feel the other teacher who had paired my daughter and the ringleader together on a project, knew exactly what they were doing – and it worked.

There were lessons learned here – firstly, my daughter know knew how easy it was to become isolated when part of a big gang – and she made a promise to herself to not forget that – and most importantly to never become that type of person. She stood by her friend who was being excluded and continued to be there for her – even if she lost all her “friends” again because of it. She had figured out a way to not let the bullies see she was upset. She had learned the reasons she was a target: she was – is –  a beautiful, smart, creative and talented girl in nearly everything she does. She knew her friend was also the same. She figured out that it had all stemmed from jealousy.

Secondly, she also learned that I would do whatever I could to protect her. Children often don’t see the bigger picture and are consumed by that days events. They need to know that someone always has their back. Yes, I went to the school without her consent, but I ensured it was done in a way which none of the bullies would know. Our trust is not broken because of this – if anything, it is stronger now.

And thirdly, she was now educated on what “mobbing” was and to be able to identify it for the future.

But I learned lessons too. I had to hold back on my maternal instincts and think clearly – I wanted so badly to ring the parents of these children and ask what was going on. I wanted to sit all these girls down together and discuss the situation. I wanted to go into that school as a youth worker to explain to all classes what mobbing was. I wanted to pull my daughter out of school to protect her.

I am, after all, only human.

But I didn’t do any of these things because I would not be doing my daughter justice.  I have always said, we cannot change other people, only ourselves and how we react to them. I needed to show her the skills she would need in life to overcome it. Because, this, sadly, would happen again.

It happens every single day in workplaces across the world.

I feel that we, as society, need to be educated and be more proactive in preventing this particular type of bullying.

It doesn’t matter if we are ten or thirty years of age – bullying has a serious negative impact on the victim(s)- and often too, the bystanders. Schools may talk about individuals as being bullies, but quite often do not differentiate between this and “gangs”. Instigators need others to make mobbing successful. They often justify their actions by creating rumours or pointing out flaws in a person that do not exist. I have recognised this characteristic in people I once was good friends with – and when I started disagreeing with their statements or changed the subject, these friendships gradually terminated.

Many of us as adults see this on a daily basis, but turn a blind eye. We hear people “bitching” about others, making snark remarks about their clothes – or making comments such as ” Who do they think they are?”

This is all bullying. There is no other way about it.

And it is up to us as individuals to put a stop to it. As parents, as bosses, as colleagues and as friends.

We need to think about ourselves – are we bullying without knowing it? Could we be the instigators or collaborators? Do our children hear us judging others? Hear us knocking others parenting styles, talking about people being “too big for their boots” or gossip about everyone in the village? Are we the bystanders, and go along with what others are saying, for the sake of peace and quiet?

Don’t stand by and think because you are not doing it, it is not your responsibility.

It is.

Do the right thing, because if you don’t, you may find one day that you are the one left on the outside.

Or worse, your child is.

 

Inspiration is not just a feeling, it is an action.

At some stage in our lives most of us will say we have been inspired by a person we have met or heard about – a speaker, a business person, a person who has overcome tough times, against all the odds.

I have met many people in my life that I have been inspired by.

Quite often when I deliver talks about the background to my work, and why I do it, people tell me I myself am inspirational. I always feel grateful that I have evoked positive emotions in people, and often, I feel good in myself knowing that I am helping others. I also feel slightly embarrassed because I don’t take compliments too well (it must be an Irish thing!)

But (and there is a but!) I think I feel this way too because, I always say that inspiration should not just be a feeling – it should be actionable.

Think about the definition of the word inspiration:

  1. The process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.
  2. A sudden brilliant or timely idea.

Both of these statements carry an action, based on a feeling or thought.

Really, think about it.

You may watch a YouTube video of communities coming together to help a person in need (e.g. crowdfunding for a sick child etc.) or you may read an article about people on a train in America standing up for two Muslim women against racial bullies. These stories can envoke strong feelings in a person. You may think how brave they were, how kind they were or even how strong they were. We sometimes use the word inspirational to put all these feelings together.

But, did their actions make you consider how you may act from there on in, or did the feeling just pass by as soon as you forgot about the article?

You see, to really create change in the world, we need actions not just words.

When I tell people about why I do the work I do, or how I overcame serious personal and business challenges, I don’t do it to create sympathy or have people feel sorry for me. I do it because I want to show the world that everyone is capable of achieving anything they set their minds to. I do it because I want to see people stand up for what they believe in, without being afraid. I do it so that people can come together to achieve the same goals, and when that really does happen, then we can change the world.

It sounds quite aspirational, I know, but it really isn’t.

In the last five years of  my work, I have seen competing organisations collaborate based on what I have shared with them. I have seen patients become true advocates. I have seen adults being bullied in workplaces lift themselves out of that negative situation, and help others who have been through the same. Many of these people say they were inspired by me.

I have also seen people that have said they were inspired by me, yet never changed their ways.

In times when I have talked about people being kind to one another, for example, I see these same people who call me inspirational, bitch about others time and time again. When I have discussed collaboration, I have seen an even stronger uglier competitiveness arise in them. I have seen people steal others ideas. I have seen people allowing themselves to be caught up in politics, even if their heart tells them what they are doing is wrong.

And yet, they call me inspirational? This boggles the mind to no end.

I have seen people talk the talk, and not walk the walk. And this is what urks me about the feeling of inspiration. 

You may hear me saying that I have always been inspired by Richard Branson. And this is true. But it is not just a feeling.

I live by a lot of his mantras.

When I hire staff, I look for who they are, not just what they have done to date. I train my team to be better than me, not beneath me. When I think I can’t do it, I think of everything he has done, and all he has overcome. I think of his failures and successes and translate them to my business. My values are aligned to his in so many ways – regarding racial inequalities; challenging the status quo about disabilities; the drug wars; climate change and so much more. I think global, not local, while working with a person-centered approach.

I believe in having fun, and working to live, not living to work.

I do not just feel inspired, I act inspired.

So my reason for this post, is to hopefully “inspire” you for when the next time someone evokes strong emotions in you that makes you feel inspired, think about the action that will follow to act on it. Don’t let the feeling pass or forget the story.

One little act of kindness can go a long, long way. Standing up for what you believe in can reap the rewards. Walking away from something unhealthy in your life can create the future you’ve always dreamed of. Joining forces with those with the same values can bring a community to life.

Actions speak louder than words. Don’t just feel inspiration – be the inspiration.

Because you’ll never know, unless you try.

Resilience, Survival and Fears of Entrepreneurs

At 7am, on the morning I woke up to pitch on Dragons’ Den, I rang my husband and said I couldn’t do it. Told him I was coming home.

Told him how scared I was that I would make a fool of myself. Worried about what people would think of me – would they think I was too big for my boots? Would people hate my idea? What if I messed up on my financials? Or tripped and fell and made a fool of myself? I even worried about people seeing my weight gain on television because they wouldn’t know I was pregnant during the interview.

Reading this, you might think these are strange thoughts to have, but to me, they were real.

I was doing everything and anything in my power to convince myself not to do it. But my husband wouldn’t let me. He answered every fear with a logical answer. Told me I could do it and reminded me of everything I had achieved to date. Told me to be myself and all would be okay.

And so I did it. With morning sickness and all, I took that deep breath and walked out in front of the “Dragons”.

I remember the moment exactly when my nerves eventually started to settle. Gavin Duffy sat back, and asked me how I overcame the toughest of family health circumstances while creating my new product, the MediStori. My answer to Gavin was simple – back then, I felt a need to mentally escape the reality of my situation by allowing myself to tap into my creative zone, thus giving me a small chance of escapism from my “real life” situation. I first and foremost wanted to help my family, and as I explained to Gavin and the other Dragons, I had never really meant for my innovations to become a business, it just happened naturally.

But there was so much more behind that statement than met the viewers eye. 

When I answered Gavin, I suddenly remembered why I did what I did. Just like when my husband reminded me that I could do it. I had turned my idea into a business simply because of my passion to help other patients, carers and families – and I managed to succeed with my business because I had learned on a deeply personal level 1) how to survive when times got tough and 2) how to become resilient to adversity and others judgement of me.

Resilience is a word quite often bandied about when it comes to entrepreneurs, and what the world calls “heroes”.

But what is resilience? In the dictionary it is defined as “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.” My issue with this definition is the term “quickly”. In my opinion, there is no time limit on when one is “resilient”, but there is when it comes to “survival”. It is critical to know the difference between the two.

So I decided to write my thoughts down about my experiences of resilience in the hope that it may help other start ups. I feel it important that entrepreneurs, in particular, stick together and “learn to share, and share to learn”. For this piece, I broke down the word resilience into an acronym, highlighting the key components of what I feel are needed to survive and most of all to become resilient in the business world.

R = Reactivity

How we react initially to adversity and crisis does not necessarily mean that is how we’ll react in 48 hours from that time. My emotional reaction before Dragons’ Den was very different to how I felt afterwards. Even if I didn’t get investment I knew I would have been proud that I did it. It is so critical to pause, reflect and try to remove all emotions when making critical business decisions. Think future. If you don’t do something, will you regret it – and vice versa. If something negative happens today, how do you feel now? I always say it’s okay to have a bad day, but don’t let it be a bad week. Take some time to allow yourself be upset or angry and absorb the situation. Talk to friends, family and trusted colleagues. Then start thinking logically – that day has past, how do you feel now about the situation? Think will your decisions impact negatively/positively on others, on you, on your business – tomorrow and the day after that? Think about the words you use and the need to move forward, not backwards.

E = Empathy

To survive in the business world, entrepreneurs need to be kind to themselves, first and foremost. Upon reflection, I was so harsh on myself before I pitched in the Den. Unlike computers, humans are emotional. When times get tough, many entrepreneurs sink back into themselves and often are too afraid to discuss the situation with others because of how they may be judged – especially if they were the ones they feel could be at fault. This is one of the biggest reasons businesses can fail. Remove the unkind thoughts you may be having about yourself and allow yourself to listen to what others have to say. We can often make a “mountain out of a molehill” simply because we feel deserving of the negative situation at hand. We often internalise our thoughts and concerns. Most people we reach out to will listen, show empathy and try to problem solve with you. Others may not be so – they could be harsh and berate you for what they see as your flaws. Either way, I would say, take the risk. If you don’t ask, you won’t know.

S = Survival

There is a strong connection between survival and resilience. Survival mode gets us through each minute, hour, day. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs will say the basic needs for humans are food, water, heat, rest. I always say in today’s world, before these needs, another  component needs to be added. And that is money. Nobody can survive without it – everything costs money, even water nowadays. And that is the bottom line for all entrepreneurs. How do we make (and keep) money? Survival mode steps in when this bottom line is affected negatively and all emotional and critical thinking resources need to be applied. The important question to ask is, what is the absolute bottom line that you can tolerate that will not affect the basic survival of your emotional or physical well-being? Or impact your families lives. Overstepping this mark may impact on decision making in your business, and worse, your personal life. Resilience steps in when you know when to stop, and know when to keep on going. Resilience is about tomorrow, not today. Deep down, I knew I wasn’t taking huge risks by doing the Den: it cost me nothing financially. If done well, I could gain in every aspect, at worst, my ego would be the only thing hurt.

I = Intuition

I very nearly let fear get in the way of my dreams. Deep down I knew the Den would be okay, but I allowed negative thoughts to come in. The strongest of entrepreneurs will always listen to their intuition. What is your”gut feeling” telling you? Does something just not feel right but you can’t explain it? Or is it just fear of the unknown; fear of what people think of you; fear of failure; fear of people thinking you’re crazy? Critically and logically analyse your thought processes. Fear is an ultimate game stopper for many people who have big dreams but don’t pursue them. But are these fears real (i.e. logical and could mean the failure of your business) or theoretical (i.e. fear based meaning you are preventing yourself from moving forward). If you can’t answer these questions then go back to your inner instinct. If it doesn’t feel right, then chances are, it isn’t. For now, anyway. Apply this way of thinking for potential investors or partners too. Don’t rush in and think of the money in short term – think of the close relationship you will have on a long term basis. What are their reasons for investing and will they stand by you when the going gets tough, or will they shy away? All investors want a return on their monies, but many also have other reasons (e.g. excitement of being involved with new companies, passionate to help society etc etc). Emotional intelligence plays a huge part in business-relationship developments – for both parties. Listen to your intuition – any niggles of doubt need to be ironed out before proceeding with such commitments. I knew I got the right investor in Barry O’Sullivan – his questions and responses felt right in my gut – I also knew the reason why he wanted to be involved. Before I accepted his offer I had stated ” 1% of 100 is far better than 100% of nothing” and I really meant this. He saw the need for it, he believed in me.

L = Learning

I can’t count the number of times I was told by “experts” that my product wouldn’t work because it wasn’t technology, or that I didn’t have a “degree” so I wouldn’t be able to run my company (yes, true story!) I can’t count the numbers of times I didn’t win competitive pitches. I can however count the amount of awards I have won, and the competitions I have been successful in. Before going on the Den, I reflected on the good and the bad. One critical character of resilient people is their ability to learn from experience. Not just bad experiences, but good ones too. Reflecting on times when everything was on an upward incline, and also times when it all fell down like a house of cards. Thinking about how they reacted and turned a situation around, both personally and financially. If the same mistake keeps happening over and over again, then it is time to reflect on why this is so. Is there a cycle? Additionally it is important to learn from your market. If your preliminary research is sending you a resounding ” I like it but wouldn’t pay for it” then deeply consider where you go from here. But be aware, if it is not your potential customers who tell you this (i.e. friends, family or mentors) then consider why they are saying this. It could be that your friends and family are scared of you taking risks – it could be that potential advisers, experts or mentors have their toes dipped in other related businesses, or more simply – that they are not your target market. Research, research and research again. Listen, ask, learn – and listen again. Then take action.

I = Innovation

Resilience is also about the ability to become innovative. Apply the same processes to product development to problem resolution. Do your research; think about the objectives, the vision, the outcomes; think about the how, why and where. How are you going to communicate your message? Bringing a team around you can be critical to providing a broad spectrum of solutions to a situation. As the saying goes “there is always more than one way to skin a cat” – a horrible expression, I know, but an apt analogy for any business person. Thinking outside the box is an absolute when times get tough. As an entrepreneur, you already have the skill-sets to be innovative.  Resilience will become a pattern if an entrepreneurs creativity is applied in a different context. When in the Den you have to think on your feet – and fast! If you watched my episode, you would have seen me make a critical error because I had not interpreted Chanelle McCoy’s question correctly. I could have left it there, but I knew I couldn’t. Many would have said nothing, but I knew I had to figure out a way to set things straight. Thankfully Barry had noticed something was amiss, and this allowed me to clarify the situation but my head at the time was swirling trying to figure out how to say it!

E = Eagerness

When times are good all entrepreneurs are willing and eager to get up in the morning and make the next day better than the day before. But when times get tough this is when we can tend to put our heads under the sand (or under the duvet as the case may be!) No business, ever, has never had tough times and it is critical to realise when your eagerness to continue starts flailing. On these days, go back to the drawing board – take out the business plan. Think about the reasons why you started and the vision you have. Remember, money is usually only the outcome, it’s not the reason why. Some people want to use their money to travel the world, build their dream house (me!) or simply provide for their family. Others do what they do because they want to help others (me, again!). But to become resilient, the key to is to keep that vision in mind. It will get you through the tough days if you know your goals. I personally have a vision board over my computer and often, I look up at it and imagine it can happen one day. I then go back to my work and ensure I do what I can to achieve it. It is one of my tactics in becoming resilient to adversity. Just before walking unto the set of the Den I imagined walking into the front door of my dream house on the ocean – until reality hit me in the face haha!

N = Networks

I would always say reach out to those who can be honest with you, who will listen and may be able to help you see beyond today. The world of business will open your eyes to those who have your back, and those who don’t. Who once were friends may not be so when you dig deep enough. Try to figure out the reasons people are saying what they are saying. Is it because of their personal bias (jealousy, greed, envy, lack luster); their personal characteristics (honest, open, blunt) or your interpretation of what they are saying (perceptions of honesty as negativity). Don’t be defensive if they challenge you – think about why they are doing so. Be open to ideas, but do not ever allow someone to knock you when you are already down. Simply walk away and thank them for their time. Do think about what they said and why they said it, while being conscious of your own bias. Remember if you are defensive to someone for telling you to stop your business, then this is usually a sign you don’t want to give up! This is a good thing! But if they are telling you to consider changing your business model, marketing strategy or product lines, then listen. As I said on the Den – everyone should look back at their first product and cringe – customer feedback will be the determining factor to new ways of going forward, so listen to what they have to say.

C = Communication

Ask for help and be honest. There may come a time when you can’t communicate publicly or to the outside world (i.e. customers/partners) about the issues you are having in your business – and yet they still need to know what is going on. It is important to get advice from those who excel at communications. The same goes for legal advice. Write everything down as it is in the most blunt of manners, highlighting the pros and cons of the matter – remembering throughout how your message may be perceived by stakeholders. I have been in this situation, and particularly, just before the Den it was crucial I knew what I could/should and could/should not say. Your intuition may be to just blurt it out as it is, but often this not strategic or effective. Your companies ability to not be effective anymore may have been through the fault of the breakdown of a contract or another party – but it does not always help you to  share this with the world. As Michelle Obama says “when they go low, we go high”. Sometimes this is the most effective way of portraying your situation. Be careful with your words and expressions. Think of the big picture and long term vision of the company. Once it’s out there, there’s no turning back. The key is that you honestly communicate your issues with experts in the field – to help you, help your company.

E = Endurance

And finally, we come down to the strongest component of all successful entrepreneurs – endurance. Olympic athletes are an exemplar example for endurance – and believe me sometimes it does feel like you’re running a marathon. I couldn’t explain the adrenaline I felt after doing the Den, nor the similarities of sacrifices needed to grow the business to get to that place. Entrepreneurs will endure the sleepless nights, pushing their bodies beyond the average, sacrificing home life, finances, jobs or education – just to reach their goals. Much like entrepreneurs, athletes have coaches and trainers – and they learn every single little thing that will make them the best. They watch their competitors, learn from their teams and have a passion and belief that they can do it. They win some, they lose some. Many become resilient to the judgement of the world. Do they get disappointed? Yes. Fear the worse? Yes. Hurt themselves physically and emotionally? Yes. Many keep on going – but they too know when to stop. Resilience comes from perseverance. And maybe even, a dash of sheer stubbornness too. The key is to ask yourself how long you can endure the pains and positives that come with running a business – and when it gets to that point, don’t let stubbornness override sensibility.

So all in all, I ask myself, do I have all of these components? The truth is, on some days I feel I do – and on others I don’t. I am after all, only human.

Do I get scared? YES! Do I feel that it’s all too big for me? YES! Do I sometimes feel used by others so they can reach their goals? YES! Do I feel like the fear of people judging me negatively can be so overwhelming that I just want to stop? YES!

But…I don’t stop.

I pause, reflect and think about the reason why I do what I do.

For me, the worst thing that could happen in life is the loss of a child.

Every fear after that, is tiny in comparison. Entrepreneurs need to think about their ultimate fears and use perspective.

Resilience comes after survival. It is what makes you not just eat breakfast in the morning because you need food, but to take that day until you reach the highest level on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – self actualisation – to be the best person you can be. Resilience can not be taught – it can only be experienced.

I love the fact that I help people every day. I love the fact I am showing my daughters not to let anyone stop them from achieving their dreams. I am teaching them to be different, to be unique: to feel the fear and do it anyway. To be kind, honest and reflective.

This is my reason why. And it is this that makes me resilient in life, and in work.

Closure through Open Disclosure: Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right.

Many years ago, I remember walking into the playroom to find two of my daughters screaming at one another – my younger daughter was in tears.

Using a firm, but much lower tone than theirs, I requested both of them to stop screaming. They did. At just seven and six years of age at the time, these little arguments were a regular occurrence. I bent down to their level and asked both girls what had happened.

I was abruptly met with more ear piercing screeches of:

“She did…” “No, she did..!” “NO, I DIDN’T…!”

Again, lowering my voice even further to almost a whisper, yet remaining stern, I asked them to speak one at a time. I had learned that raising my voice often had the opposite effect.

My youngest jumped in first telling me that her older sister wouldn’t play a game with her and in retort had grabbed her hairbrush off her when she was using it, and it had pulled her hair in the process. Almost immediately, my eldest daughter defensively intervened, telling me that it wasn’t true and that she had simply seen it on the floor and picked it up, and that her younger sibling had hit her.

I sighed. I had a good idea who was at fault but I needed them to admit it. So I again asked each of them to reiterate their stories, but this time I watched their eye contact and body language closely. My youngest, again, held her ground with me (while also glaring at her sister!), but when it was my eldest’s turn, she glanced around the room and looked uncomfortable.

I couldn’t make judgement based on this evidence alone though. That wouldn’t be fair, nor would it be the right thing to do.

I sat them both down and told them how two wrongs don’t make a right and that telling a lie, on top of a wrongdoing, would mean they could be in trouble for two things instead of just one. As they were so young, I informed them that “Santa Clauses Robin” could tell me either way about what happened and I gave them a second chance to tell their story. My youngest daughter was adamant that she was telling the truth. My eldest however, paused and in this short window of opportunity, I quickly reminded her that two wrongs could mean double punishment, but if she felt there was anything she wasn’t telling me, I would give a momentary chance for redemption,.

She looked down and thought about it.

She then looked up at me, not looking at her sister, and admitted she had pulled the hairbrush from her sisters hair. And just before she got a chance to add any excuse as to why she did it (i.e. not wanting to play her sisters game) I promptly praised her for being honest. She now looked up at me wide eyed, but now her eyes were filled with remorse, not defense.

I asked her why did she lie.

She told me she was afraid she would get in trouble. I asked her would she not feel guilty after hurting her sister and would have to live with that fact? She not only would have hurt her once, by pulling her hair, but thrice, by also getting her in possible trouble with me for both hitting her and lying about it. I told her it may be hard for her sister to be her friend in the future if she couldn’t trust her.

She said she hadn’t thought about it like that.

I asked her why she had hurt her sister with the hairbrush in the first instance and she said she did it because she was tired. I asked her what she would do differently and she said she probably would have come in to me to tell me, instead of hurting her sister.

I then asked my youngest daughter was there anything her big sister could do to help her feel better. She said if she said sorry and if she would play the game with her that that would make it better. And that was the punishment I gave to my eldest daughter. A punishment which ended up with them both rolling around the floor laughing – the best outcome, in my books!

But there was a lesson learnt too.

My three daughters, all older now, know the  strict rule in our house – two wrongs never make a right. Lies do not go down well.

Open disclosure is not just for healthcare – it can be applied in all areas in life.

I decided to use this principle with my staff. From day one, I always told my team to tell me if they felt they had done something wrong, and not hide behind it. That we would deal with one problem, and not two. Also, living with a lie can eat away at a person, subconsciously.

The same goes for business contracts, partnerships and deals. If issues arise, people can often want to jump into taking a legal case. Often, resolution can come, just by having frank, open and honest conversations – with an aim to find solutions together.

Who wants to make something private, public and possibly damage the reputation of a business or the people working there?

I know sometimes this method doesn’t always work out, but it’s definitely worth trying in my opinion.

Building trust is key for organisations, and it is even more important for those working in healthcare.

We are all human. We can all make mistakes.

But what if that mistake harms another person, or worse, kills them?

I truly do believe that 99% of those working in healthcare aim to help patients, not harm them [of course there are a few cases where this has occurred (eg. Dr Harold Shipman Case, 1998)] but that is a tiny, tiny percentage.

I do not think people who chose their career to help others would ever intentionally make decisions to hurt their patients.

But what happens when they accidentally do? Do they tell the truth? Do they hide behind it?

Open disclosure in healthcare is defined as:

The open discussion of incidents that result in harm to a patient while receiving health care with the patient, their family, carers and other support persons. The essential elements of open disclosure are outlined in the national Australian Open Disclosure Framework.”

Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Healthcare

But is open disclosure always practiced as it should be, even if it is in policy and departmental recommendations?

Unfortunately the answer is, no.

Legalities can be blamed as a major causation for same. I completely agree that all parties should be given the right to fair proceedings; but sometimes it is completely unnecessary. The fear of being sued is very real. But remember, much like “Santa’s Robin”  – investigations will often reveal the real truth anyway.

And sometimes patients and families are left with no other choice but to take this route, or need to be compensated for damages done.

Another factor which also comes into play with regard practicing open disclosure, especially in small communities and countries, is reputational damage for health professionals. The fear of everyone knowing you did something wrong, is the same as was the case for my daughter. The fears we may get in trouble; or that people will judge us are very real. But there is also the fear of a career we spent years building, being taken away from us.

And I get this. I really do. 

But what about a patients or family’s lives?

Especially those left permanently damaged, disabled or…sadly, dead.

Patients and families living with constant questions unanswered, self-doubt – and a guilt that they could have done more for their loved ones, never leaves their mind.

Closure, through open disclosure, could help alleviate much of this. 

As could the early interventions upon learning of a potentially harmful event caused by a health professional to a patient. If in the case a health professional disclosed an error early enough, treatment could be administered and/or protocols and safety measures could be put in place to ensure incidences do not recur again. I do not believe a health professional who has harmed someone and not disclosed it can simply wash their hands from it and delete it from their minds. I do tend to think that if preventable harm was known by the person who caused it they would feel elements of remorse too. But just like a harmed patient or family, relief from these emotions may never ease – if it is never dealt with.

I feel guilt would live with a health professional all their own lives. And while this may change how they personally do things in the future – if it is not disclosed openly, it doesn’t change anything at all at a systematic level.

Maybe on the day of the incident the health professional was just so tired (like my daughter) that it caused an error. Maybe there were other uncontrollable external factors? If these are not highlighted openly how can management teams know to change the length of shifts or how their health service needs to change to support staff?

It is hard to admit we did something wrong. It’s even harder if it involves a persons life.

But it is far, far harder for those living forever with the pain caused by same.

I myself have experienced this pain.

I have sat through my dads public inquest. I can say that the immense pain and confusion I lived with was somewhat alleviated when I met with some of the health professionals prior to this inquest. Apologies were given and tears were shed, by us as a family, and the health professionals who cared for him.

This conversation led to on the day of the inquest, when offered an adjournment by the coroner, we as a family, chose to close the case.

We felt lessons had been learned and we shook the hands and hugged the health professionals when we left the courtroom.

One health professional told us he would never forget our dads firm hand shake and anytime he met with someone who had a limp handshake, it reminded him of our dad. This was so personal to me and it was at that point that I saw the “human” behind the “professional”.

You see, not all patients and families are out to get “payback” or “payouts”.

We just want answers, apologies, if necessary – and if it is noted that compensation is required to help families cover health expenses or losses, this should be forthcoming too. It is the right thing to do.

Two wrongs never make a right – and when in doubt about what the right thing to do is, do what you would want done to yourself.

Telling a constant lie could mean a double punishment. Trust can be regained, but only if there is a willingness for the trust to be restored.


Articles related to open disclosure:

Irish Health: The high price of medical negligence

Irish Medical Times – And Open Door on Open Disclosure 

Mr Stephen Mc Mahon [IPA] advocates for Open Disclosure

HSE: Open Disclosure

Branding and Buy In: Business (and Buyer) Beware – and Be Aware.

As an an entrepreneur now for almost 16 years, one of the most important elements of my work has been building brands that resonate, not just with local customers and staff, but with global audiences too.

People can often think a brand is just a name for a product or service, but it is so much more than that. It is the perception of a brand that actually matters most. I particularly liked an article by Jerry McLaughlin, which stated:

Put simply, your “brand” is what your prospect thinks of when he or she hears your brand name.  It’s everything the public thinks it knows about your name brand offering—both factual (e.g. It comes in a robin’s-egg-blue box), and emotional (e.g. It’s romantic).  Your brand name exists objectively; people can see it.  It’s fixed.  But your brand exists only in someone’s mind.

In today’s world, people work hard to stand out from the crowd and we see many examples of innovative solutions with product names which don’t seem to relate to anything of which the product does or offers.

Take, for example, Google. A name that is now, not only globally recognised, but has even been added to the dictionary.

 But most people would not know where the word Google came from. And the question is, does it matter?

Google vs. Googol

The verb google and the noun googol are commonly confused because they have similar pronunciations. Google is the word that is more common to us now, and so it is sometimes mistakenly used as a noun to refer to the number 10100. That number is a googol, so named by Milton Sirotta, the nephew of the American mathematician Edward Kasner, who was working with large numbers like 10100Google, on the other hand, is the name of a search engine as well as a verb that refers to searching the Internet using the Google search engine.

The search engine’s name was inspired by the number: the founders of Google chose the name to reflect their mission “to organize a seemingly infinite amount of information on the web.”

We can see here that the name “Google” and its relation to the word “Googol” may not really have been the secret to the growth of their company to such an extent, but their mission statement is more probable to what may have made the difference. They continued to better and better their product and service offering, by simply listening to what their customers (and staff) wanted. They are known for being great employers.

And it is this which is most often overlooked when people are trying to build brand recognition.

Brainstorming names, logos, slogans, colour schemes, and taglines can be an arduous ordeal at the best of times, but defining a mission statement, should not be. Business owners and managers should know what it is their customers want – and need. They should aim to strive for the best possible experiences for their customers and their mission statement should reflect this – promoted inwardly through staff engagement and rewards; and outwardly through the form of their logos and advertising.

There are far too many examples of when branding goes wrong – and often, this is down to a simple lack of research of local and global knowledge, some which can be seen in an article here by Mike Fromowitz.

He shares one example of Coca-Cola entering the China market, naming their product something that when pronounced, sounded like, “Coca-Cola”. The only problem was that the characters used meant “Bite the Wax Tadpole”. When they learned of their blunder, they later changed to a set of characters that meant “Happiness in the Mouth”.

Another major branding blunder occurred when Puffs tissues tried to introduce its product, they were quick to learn that “Puff” in German is a colloquial term for a whorehouse.

Both of these could have been completely prevented, if only their marketing teams had investigated these terms in the localities they were selling to.

Research, research, research is what is required to build and execute a brand that will resonate, not just with local customers, but with anyone, anywhere. In an online world with global reach it is imperative that a brand can not be interpreted by anyone in a negative light. From not understanding what happens to letters or words when translated into other languages; to not realising that a slogan can mean something entirely different, can have disastrous results for a company, and these are seen in the examples shown in the above article.

Some companies have even been downright boycotted because of their ignorance in relation to local cultures and terminology.

Some companies may feel a “re-brand exercise” will fix these problems.

I feel that re-branding is only a short term solution – changing a whole workplace culture and way of thinking is what could make the real difference.

A brand is so much more than words or images alone.

Anyone can create a new “word” or “slogan” with an aim to stand out from the market, but if they do not have a unique selling point or business proposition then this won’t be of much use to them or or their customers. A companies brand includes you, your team and most importantly, your offering, values and vision. Think about what you say and do outside of your business. Do your actions meet your messaging?

Trust is everything. Whether you want to believe it or not – people do, buy, from people.

Take for example two butchers in a local village – not new services, nor innovative in today’s world with what they provide. Both may say they provide the cheapest, most efficient and best quality products to their customers – but one butcher may not actually follow through on this.

This is when word of mouth comes in to play.

And this is a key component for brand and customer growth. 

Customers will always talk to one another – both offline and online. And the same goes to staff – they are also customers, as are their family and friends.

And…like it or not…they do talk.

My concluding advice is to really think about what it is that you do – and your vision for going forward.

  • Write it down – it doesn’t matter how long the mission statement is initially – this can be edited. But do write it all down.
  • Aim to create a culture and environment in your workplace where everyone is “bought into” what you deliver. What do you want your staff to tell your local community? What do you want to be shared on social media informing a global community?
  • Think about what your customers really want in terms of value for money, quality of service and efficiency. If you have a new product which no-one has heard of or used yet – simply think about the problem it solves – and state this clearly on your marketing materials. Sometimes a “sexy logo” is not what is needed in these instances – consider Ronseal’s strategy in this aspect – “It does exactly what it says on the tin”.
  • When thinking of your logo, slogans and taglines ask yourself are they inline with what you want the want the world to perceive your company or product as. Think of the colours you use, the text in your statements, the images used. (Do not do what Gerber did!)
  • Think about the global interpretations of your brand – a word or term that is used commonly in one country for one thing – can be used in a completely different context elsewhere.
  • Do be confident when choosing a new name, but don’t be arrogant (I could have used the word cocky here but I know that this word has different meanings across the world!)
  • Do not ever think that you will not sell your product in that country and so it doesn’t matter – remember people travel and relocate from far and wide on our planet and the last thing you need is someone seeing your brand in their new hometown- possibly insulting them or their culture. (Remember, your company may be small now, but that doesn’t mean it won’t go global at some stage – think ten steps ahead!) Also, once you have a website – this can be seen anywhere, by anyone – including investors and potential business partners!
  • Remember, initial advertising may draw new customers quickly, but if you don’t deliver on what your brand says it will, then you may be setting yourself up for failure. Don’t say you do something you don’t – or con people by twisting words.
  • I would also add that it is, in my opinion, important that you think of how your company resonates with cultural, equality, environment or other global agendas. More and more companies today are scrutinised by consumers and business partners on these issues. An example of this going really wrong is demonstrated in the Nestlé scandal in Ethiopia.

On this note, and for whatever reason, if you choose to not be concerned with any of these global issues, my advice is this –  do not attempt to fool people into thinking you are, for the sake of fitting in. Do not say you are doing something when you are not, just to gain traction (see: Volkswagon Emissions Scandal).

This tactic is seen more often than we realise, especially in aggressive competitive marketing – and all too often it backfires.

Take for example, a new innovative “Dry-Cleaners”. They have a “green” logo name and they state on their website that they are “environmentally friendly”. They say they do not use conventional chemicals when cleaning clothes, but instead use water and soaps.

While these statements may be true – the question posed is “are they really and truly environmentally friendly?”

Are their packaging and hangers biodegradable (disposable plastic suit covers and wire hangers)? If they say they’re not using conventional dry-cleaning chemicals could they be using up to 50% more water than the other cleaners? Are the soaps in their machines being removed and treated by specialist environmental firms such as in conventional cleaners – and if not, what water source do their soaps wash into?

This new company decide to deploy their marketing strategy by publicly attacking the methods of conventional dry-cleaners in their online campaigns stating that the chemicals used traditionally are carcinogenics and harm customers if they wear dry-cleaned clothes. The facts may show that while some chemicals used in dry-cleaners are carcinogenic, the same could be said for petrol/gasoline, which are used daily by billions across the world in vehicles. Chemicals on clothes dry-cleaned work from the same theory. Statements made by this new company, may be seen as false fear mongering.

An excellent article can be seen here in the New York Times related to a similar case.

Additionally this new “dry-cleaner” is stating that they use water to clean clothes. This poses another problem as their new process is not factually classed as dry-cleaning as per global standardised definitions: dry-cleaning is the process of cleaning clothes without water. These new “dry-cleaners” actually use a new process called “wet cleaning” (i.e. washing dry-cleanable clothes in water) – and by claiming they are a “dry-cleaners” in the first instance, by default, could be seen as deceiving their own customers – and also be deemed as false advertising.

But this company chose to capitalise on a solution that was already recognised, and brand theirs as the same – rather than go the bother of informing their customers of an innovative new product and service offering (something which could be really exciting and disruptive- if done well – and of which could change the minds of dry-cleaners who do use toxic chemicals and get them to change their practice too – which of course is good for the environment!)

While the marketing efforts made by the new “dry-cleaners” may seem smart, it could also prove to be a disastrous campaign if both competitors and consumers challenged these statements. A whole brand could be damaged and this company could feel the strain under the pressure. And simple research and talking to customers could have helped them start a new revolutionary movement towards “wet-cleaning” as opposed to cheating the customer into thinking they are getting the same service.

Why create enemies when you could create allies? Why play dirty, when you could play smart?

One message to take from this example – if you are going to make a statement, especially an aggressive competitive one – back it up and prove it.

Be ready to do what Toyota did, when Trump challenged them on their new set up in Mexico.

Now, in relation to global movements as mentioned earlier, I also often wonder if companies really understand what “empowerment” is. Especially in relation to equality. Yes, you may feel this is a step too far in the world of business, but it really, really isn’t.

For my own healthcare product, I knew that the statistics consistently showed that women were the main carers in the home. I could have capitalised on this “gender segment” for sales, and state this product was to empower women.

But why would I say something that doesn’t try to change the status quo?

By saying it was just for women, I could be indirectly stifling the equality agenda – and I could be stigmatising male carers in the home. Thankfully with new stats continually showing that more men are participating in the care of their loved ones, I knew that I could empower those 60% of women that do provide care through my product, but I could also promote something which advocated that both genders could do so with no differentiation – and aim for a 50/50 approach.

So, I chose to promote family centered care by design, and this, I feel, helped promote the equality agenda – not stifle it.

But you may wonder does my strategy impact negatively on my sales even though all business mentors would say I have to pick one “customer segment” for the best outcomes?

The answer is no, not at all.

I simply have different messaging strategies – all of which can run at the same time due to the power of social media and high levels of domain knowledge. It just takes a little more innovation – and a lot of research, research and more research.

You, your company and your service offering will be the brand that will grow customers. Your mission statement will be the foundation for which this is built. Your values and vision will help build this foundation. And your logos and advertising will reflect a combination of all of the above.

Be proactive, not reactive. Aim to never have to re-brand your company.

Think about the articles you write, the content you share, the image you portray. Both in public and private domains.

Is this reflective of what you actually do?

Consumers do not like to be taken for a ride.

And in today’s world, if they think they have been – they can tell the world in less than 140 characters.

And take your character down with them.

Being a “Carent” – a Parent and a Carer Combined

As a parent we will all at some time have to deal with the coughs, colds, vomiting bugs and the many cuts and bruises that our children will entail as they grow up. We will have to deal with our crying child as they get their first vaccinations – retracting with a pain in our own tummies as we hate to see them in pain.

Even the smallest illness will stress a parent out to no end – never mind the sleepless nights, and GP visits – it is just horrible when our children are unwell.

But when a child is diagnosed with a chronic or rare condition, this is when the “normal” role of a parent changes significantly.

I will never forget the first day I had to tube feed my five week old daughter. Drawing back fluid from the tube to ensure it was not in her lungs, but in her tummy. The fear that I would get it wrong, never left me. Terrified of drowning her with her own feed.

Recalling the day I asked the consultant would she survive her surgery – and him telling us that she may not and we would have to prepare for this. Having her baptised in the hospital.

Waiting on the news that she survived her heart surgery. Seeing her in ICU. Fiery by nature at her young age she needed soft baby “handcuffs” to stop her pulling out her breathing tubes.

So helpless, so vulnerable – both of us.

Taking her home, I recall the panic of giving her medications – one of which had to be given exactly twelve hours a part to keep her heart rhythms in order. Changing her bandages after heart surgery. So afraid to hurt her frail little body, afraid she would get an infection.

Having to tell family and friends they couldn’t call to see her as she was too high risk of catching bugs. Some ignoring me, and her ending up with bronchilitis – leading to a two and a half hour ambulance journey to Crumlin from Mayo, which normally should have taken four hours.

Seeing her travel with oxygen levels dropping rapidly and being suctioned to clear her little lungs.

Being sent home again for me to care for her.

Weighing her daily to make sure she was putting on weight, but not so much weight that fluid could be accumulating in her lungs.

Listening for the alarm on her apnoea monitor when she was sleeping, just in case she stopped breathing.

Feeling isolated, scared and alone. Feeling incapable. Wondering if I was strong enough to do this – to care for a sick child and get her to full health again. She went through a tough first few years of her life – asthma and hypermobility following soon after.

But with her fighting spirit and my will to get her to full health, we did it, with the help of many health professionals, friends and family.

Then the swine flu struck our home in 2009.

Myself and our three daughters went down like a ton of bricks. I have never felt as ill in my whole life, eventually leading to me ending up in hospital, but I had to keep going to make sure they were cared for. I allowed no-one near our home in those two weeks for fear it would spread further to others. We informed the school, they closed it down on the advice from the Dept. of Health.

Following this flu, it triggered complicated symptoms and chronic conditions in my other two daughters.

Leading to me, three years later, having to inject a chemotherapy drug into my twelve year old’s tummy to treat juvenile arthritis.

The fear of how she might react to this toxic drug terrified me, as did the fear of causing her pain. It is one thing when a doctor sticks a needle into your child’s arm – this is brought to a completely different level when you have to do this to your child yourself.

And then came the day when I got a call about our eldest daughter, telling me to go straight to Crumlin as they felt she had tumors in her adrenal glands.

I stood, phone in hand, in my local hairdressers, in shock, and just burst into tears. Overwhelmed, scared, angry.

And yet, through all of this, I did it. I did not know my own capabilities or my own strengths. I had to take everything day by day.

But, I was lonely. 

I knew I didn’t fit in with other parents.

I was scared that my children, each with autoimmune disorders, could catch bugs which could be detrimental to them. I was constantly on edge.

Other parents just didn’t understand this.

My life was a world from theirs – constantly in and out of hospitals, and sleepless nights. I felt I couldn’t hold normal conversations with people as I was consumed by health issues. I didn’t go out or socialise.  I didn’t work. What could I talk about to people that they would be interested in?

I realised that being a parent of a healthy child, and a parent of a child with a chronic condition were two very different things – we suddenly are carers – often performing medical tasks that health professionals are trained to do.

I had become a “carent”. A parent and a carer combined.

It took me a long time to admit this to myself, as I wanted to be “normal”. I wanted to scream to the world that I was like any other mom or dad. But I also needed to realise that our lives were different. And that the best way for me to get through it was by talking to others in the same situation.

I learned that I was not alone when it came to the constant worry, especially when my gut instinct kicked in.

That I was not alone when it came to feeling like a “neurotic” parent when trying to advocate for a child who could not speak.

That I was not alone when it came to feeling liking a failure when my children caught bugs, again and again.

That I was not alone in hearing parents of healthy children tell us that our kids “look great” when their bodies were so sick on the inside.

That I was not alone hearing family members tell us that if we” changed their diet” they could be cured.

That I was not alone when people said it could be “psychological”.

That I was not alone when it impacted on all our children when one got sick.

That I was not alone when it impacted on my relationship with my husband.

That I was not alone when it impacted on our finances.

I learned that it was not just me.

All “Carents” go through very similar experiences, at different times in their child’s life.

I simply learned that life happens. And it’s how we deal with it that matters. With the support from others.

Reach out to your spouse or partner – talk to them – often they are simply coping in a different way. If you are a single parent reach out to your friends, siblings, family – they too cope in different ways. Reach within yourself and recognise that you have the strength to do it. Take it day by day.

For all the parents and guardians out there who are caring for sick children, I want you to know that it is not only okay to be different, but it is imperative that we relish in this differentiation.

Our children will grow up already knowing they are different to other kids, and the best way for them to strive and not feel isolated is through learning by example, from us, their parents.

Reach out to others who have walked similar journeys – ignore the ignorant comments made by others.

Realise that they have not walked in your shoes – thankfully – nobody wants a sick child – ever.

But when it does happen, realise that you as a parent, as a guardian or as a simple human being, can do this.

And it doesn’t have to be alone.


 

When life gives you lemons, taste them – and learn.

We can change our attitude any day of the year, not just in the New Year.

On this day, the beginning of 2017, I reflect on a mantra I use often:

“Everything happens for a reason”.  

While it is easy to say this when calm has been restored, it can be a real challenge to trust in this when we are in the eye of the storm.

People can often see entrepreneurs as a little “crazy”.

“Who do they think they are thinking they can change the world?”

“That’ll never work!”

“Why can’t they get a job like everyone else?”

“They’re not qualified to do that work!”

Just some of the statements I have heard over the years by the “non-believers”.

And again, when the going is good, it’s a fantastic way to show these people that entrepreneurs can change the world. But when it all starts going wrong, these statements can ring loud in one’s ears.

Entrepreneurs often endure many challenges on their journey to success. When the business starts thriving, everyone is excited and wanting to be part of the adventure. But when it all goes pear shaped, people can quickly walk away.

What these people can forget though is often, when things don’t go as planned, it is not down to the failures of the entrepreneur.

Other people, other powers, other agendas can impact on their world in a way they never thought could occur.

Financially, reputationally. And emotionally.

Other people’s silent words can impact an entrepreneur most.

Overcoming fears of what other people think of us can be the biggest challenge of all. We may hear the whispers, see the glances, witness the nudge of the elbow when we enter a room. Realise when people, who know not enough about us, or our idea, can make an instance judgement and choose not to engage.

And if they do choose to do so, do with false smiles.

Often, during my own challenging times, I felt like standing up and telling everyone in one glancing sweep – the truth.

I did not fail, I was failed.

But I knew this would not have helped the situation. People would still choose to believe what they wanted to believe. A combination of loyalty to their own agendas, loyalty to their own “people” and their blinkers to reality would have hindered the outcome I hoped for.

So I was often left with the greatest challenge of all.

To say nothing with words, but say everything just by getting back up.

Silence can often speak volumes.

Silence, however, can often be deemed as a failure in itself too.

Silence from those causing the pain, in my opinion, is not ethical, nor honest.

Not saying sorry; not trying to fix what went wrong; or speaking up when witnessing wrongdoings, to me, is failure. When others cause hurt to others, this is when the silence should be broken. And those causing the pain should be the ones to speak up first.

Entrepreneurial victims should not have to change who they are, simply to fight for what is the right thing to do.

People say it’s hard to accept the things we cannot change.

But the thing is, we can change. 

We can change the way we react.

We can change the way we listen to what others say, about others.

We can choose to put our blinkers on, or we can choose to open our eyes.

We can challenge the laws and rules that society has imposed on us. If we are brave enough to stand by our ethics and values, that is.

I am glad to say I do not have to change – anymore.

I have learned how to react and listen to what others say, about others – about me.

I have and am challenging the laws and rules imposed on me, and society as a whole. My eyes have been opened.

So, for 2017, I have put pen to paper to create a list of the learnings I have personally gained from the challenges I have witnessed from the last few years of being an entrepreneur.

This list may even be helpful for others – if not in their business, maybe even their personal life…

This is my promise to myself for 2017:

I am going to stay exactly who I am. I have already gone through a significant change process. Being a social entrepreneur has taught me life lessons no college degree ever would have covered.

I will not listen to those who talk negatively about me, but to those who talk positively of me.

I will stay true to myself; true to my values; true to my ethics and true to my vision.

I will cherish those that have stood by me, and I will stand by them – when they need it.

I will strive for proactive change and ignore negative “Can’t Do” attitudes.

I will listen to the undercurrents of what people say, and learn from it.

I will keep an open mind to others agendas, but not be swayed by egos.

I will learn from my mistakes and I will learn through others mistakes also.

I will say sorry if I do wrong.

I will stand up for what I believe in.

I will (always!) challenge the status quo.

I will have balance, and spend equal time with family, friends, hobbies and work.

I will make peace with those who hurt me on every level.

I will be myself: I will continue to smile, be bubbly, be creative – and be talkative (a trait I couldn’t give up even if I tried!).

I will accept the things I cannot change, but strive to find ways around it.

I will fight for what is right, especially when justice is not served.

I will stand up for others and not be a bystander.

I will not let people tell me I am not good enough.

I will not let people walk all over me or use me.

I will not let people tell me I failed, when I didn’t.

I will always help others, especially those who need it the most.

I will recognise when I need to stop working; when I need to breathe, and get space.

I will allow myself moments to be sad, to cry, to reflect.

I will value myself and my skill-sets, even if others don’t.

I will continue to increase my knowledge and skill-sets through education.

I will nurture my own and my family’s physical and mental health.

I will not be passive, nor will I be quieted, regardless of the powers who say I should.

I will have fun: I will dance like no one is watching & sing like no one is listening (hopefully for their sake, no one will be listening!).

I will remember why I do what I do, and not try to fit into what others want me to do.

I will continue to believe that all the things on my bucket list for life will happen at the right time.

This next year, I will be Olive.

Mum, wife, sister, daughter, friend – social entrepreneur and dreamer of dreams.

I will be a human being who feels like they deserve as much chances of success as the next person.

I will be grateful for when things don’t go right, and trust that everything does happen for a reason.

I will taste the lemons and think of all the good things that can come from sour experiences. I will sit back drinking lemonade, knowing that from all bad comes good – if I just add a few of the right ingredients made from a list full of hope and dreams.


Hoping you all have a wonderful New Year and your dreams come true too,

Kindest regards,

Olive x


 

Gut Instinct in Healthcare: “I just feel something isn’t right”

“I really feel something is just not right”.

“My gut instinct is telling me something is seriously wrong”

I have spoken about reassurance and concern before, but I want to reiterate just how important this topic is.

Reassuring patients at the first point of care, could potentially not just save lives, it could also save money, time and resources. 

The purpose of this very personal post is that I really want to demonstrate that feelings and concerns a patient or carer may have, when communicated to health professionals and subsequently acted on accordingly, could really impact on a patients short and long term outcomes.

My Personal Story as a Case Study

In 2006 my little baby girl was born. After a very difficult labour, she didn’t cry when she was born; she was quite blue and unresponsive. (A moment which will forever haunt me.) Thankfully though, after a few moments, she came to and the relief was insurmountable.

Even so, I still felt something was just not right.

I had felt this anxiety throughout my pregnancy, but I did not feel comfortable sharing it with anyone. We had no major medical issues in our family prior to her birth. Why was I feeling this way?  In the days that followed in the hospital she found it difficult to feed. She was sleeping constantly. The nurses took her out to their work station to attempt to feed her. Stripped her down to make her more alert. Told me she might have to go to the special care unit. But then changed their minds the next day, said she was healthy and we could go home.

I went home feeling really anxious.

This feeling was so intense that I even borrowed a family members apnoea monitor as I was truly scared she wouldn’t survive. When she slept, the monitor kept alarming. The public health nurses kept telling me not to put it on her. But I just couldn’t do it. I really felt something bad was going to happen. She had lost her initial weight but wasn’t putting any more weight on. It took her two hours to feed. She was sleeping almost nine hours at a go. I wasn’t a health professional but from my experiences from my other children, I knew this wasn’t normal.

Upon receiving her heel prick test she momentarily stopped breathing and went blue around her lips. The nurse told me this could happen when babies got a fright. I was told that I was just very anxious; that I probably had post natal depression. I was even told my house was “too tidy” for a mom with three children.

But I ignored this. Going on nothing but my gut feelings, over the next week, I brought her to A&E numerous times. We were always sent home. Again, I was told it was “me” with the health problem, not her. None of my family members felt there was anything wrong with her; thinking it too, was just me.

But then, when she was just twelve days old she went limp in my moms arms. My mom got an instant fright and urged me to go to the hospital with her again.

I did, but this time I refused to go home. I picked up the courage to mention the dreaded words I had learned in college when studying legal issues:

“You have a duty of care”

It took a lot of courage for me to say this, but it worked – we were kept in. The next day a paediatrician came to see her. He listened to her chest and eventually told me she had a little heart murmur. Told me they would bring her back in six weeks to be further investigated and that lots of babies had them.

Leaving the hospital though, I still didn’t feel okay. I was not going to wait six weeks. I rang my GP, who was just back from his leave, and told him my concerns. He told me to come up straight away. He took one look at me; listened to her for a few moments, and immediately called another hospital. We were sent straight up. It was there we were told she had three holes in her heart and fluid on her lungs.

She would need to go to Crumlin immediately.

My little girl, eventually at five weeks old, after weeks in hospital; weeks of tube feeding and still weighing what she was at birth; underwent lifesaving heart surgery, and for a year or so after was put on multiple heart medications and high calorie formula milks to help her gain weight.

The impact this whole process had on me personally took its toll and one year later, I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD]. Every little worry I would get would frighten me – was it just that – a worry – or was it my gut instinct? I stopped trusting all health professionals, except my GP – the one person who really listened, and reacted on my concerns immediately.

I never made a complaint to the hospital or nurses about what had happened. I was too scared they wouldn’t care for her properly if I did. I didn’t want to cause tensions. 

I went to counselling for two years, and was getting much better, but then sadly, this whole thing was to be repeated again when my middle daughter aged 9 at the time, started waking up stiff every morning and was in constant pain. In this case however, it took three long years before this beautiful daughter of mine would eventually be diagnosed with Juvenile Arthritis, needing intense therapies and medications (including weekly methotrexate injections – a chemotherapy drug) to help get her into the remission she is in today.

Over the three years prior to her diagnosis my daughter underwent countless scans, appointments and tests. All costing the system money and resources. Had she seen the right specialist right at the beginning I feel this could all have been prevented.

Over the years, both I – and she – were again told it “was in our heads”.

Over the years she told me that she felt health professionals thought she was a liar. It had a dreadful impact on her mental health. As it did I.

Too many times I was made feel like a neurotic mom. I wished so often that they would prove me wrong – that my children were healthy.

But I knew this would never happen because in my gut I knew something was seriously wrong. 

Sadly, nothing seems to have changed – we are now going through this again with my eldest daughter for another range of symptoms. Again, we are now four years waiting for a diagnosis. Again we are told it is anxiety. Some days I have more fight in me than others. Other days I just can’t face the “talk” I am given by health professionals about stress related symptoms.

So while our personal situations often seem to end up with a serious diagnosis, I also want to demonstrate another situation where the outcome is not what the patient feels it may be:

Case Study:

A patient is having continual chest pains and a racing heart beat.

They go to their health provider. They are told it is anxiety, yet they don’t feel this is the problem. They are convinced it is something more serious. Their health provider however, using their best judgement and knowing the patient has suffered from anxiety in the past, tells them to try counselling, therapies or medications. No tests, scans or referrals are made to investigate the chest pains. The patient is not asked if they feel reassured by this.

The patient goes home but they just don’t feel right. 

They go to “Dr Google” to look it up. Decide from this that their symptoms look serious and so won’t try the recommendations advised by their health provider. Decide that they will get a second opinion from a specialised health professional, and a third if that doesn’t work out. The symptoms get stronger as the time goes by and by this stage the patient is feeling miserable – they feel they may even die.

After six months, they eventually see a cardiologist who listens to them and proceeds to provide various diagnostics to help reassure the patient.

The outcome in this case is that the patient does not have any cardiac related issues. The cardiologist and their team take some time to explain to the patient in detail how the body can react to stress and how it can cause these symptoms. They are advised to try different therapies by the cardiologist and that they can come back to them at any time if they feel worse. Told that they were right to get it investigated and asked if they now felt reassured.

The patient at this stage may feel embarrassed that they made such a fuss. Additionally, their symptoms have escalated due to the time to get diagnosed, and now they feel a lot physically and mentally worse than they did at the onset of the condition. The patient may feel relieved that they did not have something “serious” wrong with them, but they know they do still have something wrong.

And mental health issues can be more serious than many cardiac issues.

What should have happened in this situation? If the patient was really listened to at the very first point of care could this have been prevented? 

I feel, if an opportunity to provide diagnostics at this very first point was given, then the patient could have had a chance to alleviate these symptoms much faster and get accurate treatments. This could mean they would not feel the need to go to websites (which could have inaccurate information); they wouldn’t have to see so many other health professionals for second (or third) opinions; they would have been able to follow through on the initial recommendations by their health provider thus not escalating symptoms. I do feel the patient would have followed through on the initial recommendations if they felt truly reassured that nothing more serious was going on.

Patients know their own bodies better than anyone – parents and carers know their loved ones in the same way. Their symptoms are very, very real to them and I feel everything should be done to ensure that they feel they are safe.

In this case, in particular, if the patient had previous episodes of anxiety, then this should have been a warning sign to act earlier rather than later, as the anxiety could escalate, as seen above.

What if, in this case, the symptoms were actually cardiac related – what would the output be then? At worse, the patient would not survive; at minimum they could end up spending a lot more time in acute hospitals, primary care services or taking more medications than required. This patient was not wrong, they had real symptoms to them. And these needed to be taken seriously.

A Worried Nation

So a patient finds a lump on their body – is it cancer? A pain in their chest – is it a heart attack? Many parents will identify with that “intense heart stopping fear” when they see a rash on their child – often thinking of the worst scenario first – is it meningitis? When temperatures spike, fearing they could get a seizure. When airways clog up, the fear of them not being able to breathe.

The list goes on and on.

Many patients are called hypochondriacs – which is my opinion, is not a fair diagnosis because if someone has constant worry, about their health or otherwise – I feel that they have a mental health condition, most often which is called anxiety. It is this underlying anxiety that needs to be treated, holistically.

From talking to so many patients and families over the last years I have heard over and over again situations where they went to their health providers for reassurance, but they were brushed off; often told they were over anxious or the symptoms were caused by stress.

Parents, carers or patients should not be labelled as neurotic – when they react to help themselves, or their loved ones – they should be praised. They are not neglecting themselves or their families, they are doing what they feel they need to do. Is this not a good thing? 

If we didn’t react on time – what would happen then? We know of so many stories, like my own, where patients were left waiting too long, often causing permanent disabilities, or worse, not making it at all. We also know of many good stories when a patient was listened to and were provided with immediate diagnostics, leading to accurate interventions, on time – like my GP did.

In these situations not only did these patients survive, or were they left with chronic disabilities, but they also felt reassured.

When the public are aware of the most serious conditions this can be life saving in many cases.  I take my hat off to anyone who creates proactive awareness, but I also ask that a balanced approach is taken so as not to constantly fear monger patients or carers. There are so many advertisements telling the world that “1 in 3 will die of such and such…”

Is it any wonder we are seeing a spike in a worried “hypochondriac” nation? 

But, regardless of our anxiety levels, we still really do need reassurance that we are going to be okay, and I feel, it is at the first point of care of which this should be addressed. Do the blood test; do the X-ray; do the scan; do the diagnostics; do the referral.

While it may look like it will initially cost the system a lot to do this, I can almost guarantee you that if the patient is not reassured, it will cost the system a lot, lot more in the long term.

Don’t just presume a patient feels okay – simply ask the question, do you really feel reassured? 


Did you ever seek health care assistance because you felt “something just wasn’t right”? Or maybe you were a health professional and your gut instinct made you react?

If so, click on the survey link below and tell us your story here:
 
 

Leaders Need Encouragement, Experience and Effective Education

So, it was just after finishing my Leaving Certificate [way back in 1999!] when I became ecstatic to learn that I was accepted into college to study electronic engineering. I was so eager to get started but unfortunately this feeling was short-lived as I had taken very ill and had been hospitalised for a length of time. It was then, after much reflection and debate, I decided, along with my parents, that it would be probably be best for me to take a year out to heal before I put myself through studying again.

It’s funny though how life has its own path laid out for us because it was not long after this, that I met the love of my life – and our little family started very soon after. College was the last thing on my mind as I cared for and minded my children.

I grew up as a mom, and as woman.

During this time, though, I was always determined to be involved in my community also. I became a Leader with our local Scouts; I led out as chairperson on a massive youth project along with our young people, and local community; I became a member of our school’s parent’s committee and I worked with an amazing team who developed an online platform, with over 10,000 members, for those who were feeling depressed and/or suicidal [EasySpeak]. I regularly fundraised for charities of which had added personal value to our lives; as all three of our children have chronic conditions. Additionally, I made it my mission to continue my education when I could, through the many courses available in my community.

I have always had a passion to learn, and to share, knowledge.

Then one evening, a conversation came up with my husband – we discussed the dreams we wanted to fulfil in our lives. It was funny how the first thing that tripped my tongue was that I had always wanted to get my degree. He simply looked at me – and told me to “just go for it!” Excited and eager again, yet this time apprehensive, as I work full time as a social entrepreneur, I went about looking for areas in which I was interested in. I knew my “engineering” brain was still intact but I also knew my passion had changed with regards to how this skillset could be applied.

I reflected on my past experiences as a volunteer, and as a leader. I remembered as a young person I would often “look up” to adult leaders, and I would absorb everything they said, and did.  Throughout these experiences, and from very early on, I also recognised that I could identify the differences between good, bad and mediocre “leaders” and often witnessed good leaders be overshadowed by individuals or groups who were afraid to breach the status quo; even if the outcomes would be in the best interests of the community.

And so, after this soul-searching exercise, I knew then that I wanted to learn more about the practicalities and theories of leadership; and specifically, for me, with regards to healthcare. I also knew I would need something that I could work into my hectic schedule – and something that I could apply to my daily activities. And most importantly, that it would apply to my vision to change our health service.

I do believe in serendipity because it was strange what happened in the next few days. Out of the blue, a previous leader of our youth committee contacted me and told me about a new online programme that was starting out that she thought would be good for me to do.

Immediately interested, I went online and applied to meet the coordinator – and from there on in I was bought in. I learned that this programme, ran by an amazing team from An Cosán Virtual Community College, was a set of Special Purpose Level 7 Awards that would lead me to getting the proposed Degree in Community Education and Development.  This course, over three years, would all be achieved through online classrooms, and most importantly for me, the modules were exactly what I cared about – ranging from modules in “Community Leadership” to “Citizenship & Social Action” and “Technology Enhanced Learning” to “Transformative Community Education”.

I felt that being part of this programme, I would be able to meet with like-minded people, and through getting to know them, together we could make a difference in our communities.

On my first day of induction, I was admittedly nervous; unsure of the technology platform; unsure if I would be “good enough”; unsure of the people who I would meet along the way. However this was all put to rest when the team on the day rang me to help me with set-up, and then proceeded to reassure me when my microphone wouldn’t work. Even with the barrier of not being able to speak, the learners and tutors introduced each other and we all conversed naturally – using the power of positivity; the power of technology (and the power of online emoji’s!) The lightbulb moment which showed me that this course was for me, was when the opening of the course began with a beautiful poem called “I Look at the World” (Hughes, 2009)

From this, I identified that there were no boundaries other than in our own minds, and if we worked together, as leaders in our own right, anything could be achieved.

Our first task was to personally reflect on our first session. This “reflection piece” stirred up in me the importance of implementing this practice in “real-life” scenarios. If we didn’t reflect on our work, how would we know what needs appreciation, changing or improving upon. We were also asked to explore three inspirational videos which shared various people’s thoughts on leadership. Each speaker shared a different perspective of leadership. One discussed the power of the “follower” following the leader, and role reversal of same); another described the importance of emotional closeness and its impact on obedience to authorities; and one other discussed the impact one person can have on one other person – that leadership it is not about the quantity of people’s lives we change, but the quality of changing just one person’s life.

This last video caused me to personally reflect and it brought me back to a time when I felt I had impacted on a person’s life.

“I was an administrator of an online forum for people who were suicidal. A young boy messaged me, telling me he was gay and didn’t know what to do. Told me how he was so scared of what people thought of him. I listened. I empathised. I told him I cared. I directed him to services who could help him, and every week he would tell me how it went.

Eventually, the messages went quieter, his posts became more positive, and I knew he was getting stronger.

Then, a few years later, out of the blue, he contacted me.

He was super excited; telling me that because of me he was going to do social studies in college – he wanted to change loads of people’s lives, like he felt I had done. I was so very happy for him and proceeded to give him some advice I had learned in life.

Told him to imagine a person in a bad mood. And if that person stayed in that bad mood they could go home to their family and upset everyone else also. But, if someone interacted with them during that day, to turn that mood around, then that person would more than likely go home in good form; therefore, impacting positively, not negatively, on the whole house.

I told him that if we just changed one person’s life, we could change so many more people’s lives. I told him to aim to

“Change the World, One Smile at a Time”.

I believe leaders should reflect often. I also feel people shouldn’t feel they are not leaders just because they are not changing the “masses”. Leaders should look at their personal achievements and not be afraid to admit that they did good – if we can tell others they can achieve anything, then why can’t we admit to ourselves, we can too! It is also so important that other leaders support one another too. Upon reflection of my leadership skills, I believe my honesty; my ability to communicate and empathise; my commitment to him and my passion to help and protect him so he wouldn’t set himself up to fail, but to lead, helped him believe in himself again. I really do believe in changing one person at a time. And we, as leaders, have to believe we can do that.

I always say, we all here to not just help each other, but to help ourselves grow too. And the only way to do that, is to be open, honest and kind.


About An Cosán

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An Cosán VCC Current Academic Year: Semester 1 – 2016

A full list of programmes which will be available in the coming months is available here with deadlines in the next week for next two programmes. Details of the upcoming courses starting in November are outlined below.

  • Transformative Community Education (QQI Level 7) – commences Saturday 12th November – Application deadline: Wednesday 02/11/2016
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Unhealthy Competitive Cultures Can Impact Negatively on Patients

My Problem

As a carer to my dad leaving hospital after a nine week stay, the doctor shows me his prescription – a whopping twenty two separate drugs are on his list – many of which are not pills but are inhalers, injections, patches, liquids and gels.  Items which a pillbox cannot help me with. I quickly realise that I am going to need something to help me manage these medications at home so I ask the doctor can he give me anything to help. He looks at me forlornly and apologises as he says they don’t have anything like that available from their hospital. He recommends that I go online as there may be solutions available to help me there. I quickly try to access the internet in the hospital from my phone only to realise that there is no internet (seriously!) so when I go home I type into Google “medical health records”.

My Confusion

Upon hitting the return key, I see this particular phrase showed 30 million results

Surprised with this, I decide to change my text and type in “Medicine Health Record” – it shows 18.5 million results. I try to narrow it down:

Medicine Record – 284 million; Medicine Diary – 20.8 million; Medicine App – 151 million results; Medicine App Ireland – 1.26 million results

google-search-medical-records

At this stage, frustrated and after using numerous other phrases, I realise time is against me (my dad is coming home the next day) and so I start panicking. After scrolling through so many different solutions available online, I am none the wiser and know that I do not have the time to figure out 1) which one would work best 2) how to use them or 3) which one would work for my family also. 

So, I resign. I find my own little notebook to track the times, types and doses of my dad’s medications. Little did I know that this notebook, would end up saving my dad’s life and upon realising same, after four years of development with over 200 health professionals, patients and carers, it would become a project known as MediStori.

My Personal Bias

Okay, so you may think I am biased when it comes to the topic of electronic versus paper based records in health systems, because of my own project, but I am here to tell you this is not the case, not at all. Using my personal experience as above as an example, it shows that I would have had no problem in using an electronic record to help me with my problem. Technology was the first thing I was recommended to use, and the first thing I went to, to help me. I just didn’t adapt any of these technologies because of the sheer volume of solutions made available to me. I was completely confused as to which to use, and time was not on my side – as it the case for most patients and carers. I had always intended to develop my project digitally. I just always wished the health professional knew something of which he at the time felt comfortable enough to recommend to me. I still couldn’t understand why there was no one amazing patient health record that everyone knew about. 

This blog, however, is not about just about my views on health records, I use this as an example to show what the reality is. This post is about my views on how I feel unhealthy competitive cultures and lack of user involvement within public and private sectors can disrupt and hinder connected health in our systems.

My Experiences

The situation of trying to track medications was not the first time this had happened to me. I am unfortunately extremely experienced in using health services and self-managing conditions, because not only did I provide care for my late dad, but I also provided care for myself and others in my family. Excluding my work in healthcare over the last four years, I have used over twenty separate health services in the past ten years across the country; I have engaged with over 12 specialists for my children and over 15 specialists for the rest of my family. I have used over 8 hospitals and countless GP practices and pharmacies.

And what have I noticed?

Every one of these services do the same basic things BUT in completely different ways. Whether this is related to the way I have to check in upon arrival; the way they provide customer service; the way they communicate; the types of meals they serve; the information they provide about conditions; the management of waiting areas or even how they prescribe drugs – they are all done differently.

And this, for me, is a problem.

Living with Conditions

Medicine usage in our life is part of our norm. Appointment management and communication of health information is the bane of our lives. Too much information is not what I need – I just need accurate, two-way and timely information. I also do not just need information – I need something to help me practically manage treatments, medications and symptoms in the home. As a patient and carer, upon attending health services, I am already anxious about my health visit – the last thing I need is to start learning how to navigate my way around a new system, a new way of doing things, each and every time.

Disconnected Health Information 

Confusion caused by the communication of health information has to be the biggest problem for me as a patient and carer. Here are some examples –

“I remember once receiving a lovely little white folder for my daughter from her specialist hospital in Dublin. It was specifically made by the hospital, alongside a charity – for her specific condition. I could log her growth charts, her feeds, her diagnosis. I loved it. About two months later however she ended up being admitted to our local general hospital. I took out her diary to show her health professional but I was told to put it away because they didn’t use that diary there – I was told it was only for use with the specialist teams in the original hospital. Truthfully, I was really embarrassed at the time. I put my diary away and I never used it again after that, as she was mainly treated in the general hospital from that time onwards. I also realised as time went by and she developed other conditions that realistically this diary was only disease specific. It would not suffice to manage the symptoms that arose from her asthma or hypermobility. I felt it would be a good idea if there was some diary which would cater for a person’s personal information and needs first, and then specific disease diaries could be implemented as the need arose – building a health record from birth to end of life, not gender, age or location specific.”

 

“On so many occasions, I became so frustrated with the fact that none of our hospital records were shared with one another – I would have to repeat information over and over again, to different health professionals each time. I would be asked questions about symptoms at home and often found it difficult, with limited time, to recall everything. Many times I left the hospital forgetting to say important things, and only remembering afterwards what I had left out. Often, I left appointments feeling confused and still concerned. Many times I was afraid for other family members to bring my children to appointments as they wouldn’t know the information. The burden was all on me.”

 

“I do not know how many different times I have gone to a hospital and seen loads of different types of leaflets – on the same condition! It is bad enough I am trying to absorb information from our specialists, but it’s even more difficult trying to figure out what information to trust from leaflets designed either in house or by non-profit or private companies.”

 

“Don’t get me started on medications – generic, branded – variations of branded drugs. I get so confused when I’m handed the same drug with a different name, bottle or format in how to administer it.”

Technology Users

I am a 35 year old mum – and am extremely tech savvy. I personally could not do my work; I could not connect with people in the industry; I couldn’t have won all my business awards without technology. On a personal level, I could not pay for my parking; catch up on TV shows or even do my shopping without technology.

I don’t just love technology; I absolutely need it. Without technology, I could not share this document with you. But, and there is a but, I also love paper. Even in college, I did not like reading books on my tablet, and when researching documents, I always printed them off and used a highlighter when taking notes.

I often find that health professionals are the same. They prefer if I print photos of rashes or birthmarks than show them on my phone. If I have questions or information written in front of me, they are not sitting there frustrated while I scroll through my phone looking for same. And they can photocopy it if required.

Reality Check

The reality is – this is not just me. 

International internet marketing guru Seth Godin talks about the benefits of a one sheet medical history diary and Bryan Vartabedian a pediatrician at Baylor College of Medicine/Texas Children’s Hospital and one of health care’s influential voices on technology and medicine responds with: 

“As much as it kills me to admit it, there’s a certain amount of wisdom to this.  And not novel, really.  Patients of mine have been doing this for years.” 

Even the RCPI in the UK decide not to abandon their paper record even though they’d developed an electronic version:

ePCHR

“There is no intention to withdraw the paper PCHR as it is important that parents have a choice in how they access information.”

Connected Health

The reality is that it is not that hard to connect health information. The RCPI’s little booklet is a perfect example of this – even if it does only cater for children. This is because we actually do have one common denominator in our health ecosystem which can deliver this. 

This is the patient. 

They are the only one who sees every health provider relative to them. They know what happens to them at home, at their last clinic, at their last admission. They know their symptoms. And how they manage their medications and treatments. In the cases where they don’t know, you can be sure that their carer does.

So now that we know that we have one common denominator in our health ecosystem why has nobody done anything to use this amazing connector – to connect our system? Instead the system still wants to build around them. And instead of thinking simple – it gets more and more complex the more people see an opportunity to get involved – and we are all left with so many solutions, but not knowing which one is best to use; or for health professionals, which one is best to recommend. 

Culture Change = Connected Change

Healthy competitive cultures are when people who really care about what they’re trying to achieve, and work with others to get the job done. They join their brains, their ideas, their teams, their money and their solutions together. And the competition they have is simply to strive to perform better to increase positive patient outcomes – it is not about winning. These people are leaders in the fields of healthcare. An excellent article from the International Journal of Health Policy and Management explores this in more detail, highlighting that:

“..Competition is more and less likely to be a good tool to achieve benefits, rather than whether or not it is “good” or “bad,”

Unhealthy competitive cultures are when people or teams try to outdo one another, and look at the negatives of other solutions, for personal gain – be it profit, pride, positions or power. Often, these individuals take someone else’s idea and try to replicate it. And while in the business world, this is natural, in healthcare, this should not be the case.

People need to work together for the same vision – to reform healthcare as we know it – together. Yes, choice is good, but I stand by my point: unhealthy competitive cultures can impact negatively on patients. We need these 4 “P’s” to be changed and implemented using the P4 Medicine Institute Model: Personalized, Predictive, Preventive, Participatory.

So I am striving forward to collaborate with other like minded individuals and my call to action is this…

If you really say you deliver person centered care, with the patient truly at the center, will you try to join forces with others in your field with an aim to create a “super solution” that connects all health information, and more importantly creates a unique movement of personalised, predictive, preventive and participatory care? 

Will you do what you can to work with and help patients and carers like me, change our health system together?

If so, let me know how you get on with your journey of collaboration. 

Because remember, we are all here to either get better, or to help someone else get better.

 

Other articles related to healthy and unhealthy competition: 

Sports: http://www.howtolearn.com/2012/11/healthy-vs-unhealthy-competition/

Business: http://qideas.org/articles/when-is-healthy-competition-unhealthy/

Religion: https://www.theologyofwork.org/the-high-calling/blog/competition-healthy-or-unhealthy-constructive-or-destructive

Leadership: http://growingleaders.com/blog/competition-healthy-unhealthy/

Parenting: http://www.alfiekohn.org/article/case-competition/


Bio: I am a patient myself with multiple conditions and am a mum of three daughters who have each had complex illnesses including congenital heart defects, juvenile arthritis, hyper-mobility, asthma, psoriasis, sporadic blood pressures and gastrointestinal disorders, to name but a few. My husband suffered a TIA in 2014; I cared for my late dad who was on twenty medications and my mum currently also has a rare condition.

#FABCHANGEDAY The Colostrum Project

As a mom, patient and carer – and founder of the Global Village of Health Translation – I often find myself researching various health topics via “Dr. Google”.

One thing I never found online though was information about the benefits of the very first feed that you give to your new born baby – that was until I found myself having a very interesting online conversation with neonatologist, Prof Minesh Khashu; Irish Midwife, Deirdre Munro and UK Midwife, Sally Goodwin.

As a young mum (a long time ago, I might add!) with my first newborn, I don’t mind admitting I was not at all comfortable with breastfeeding. This stemmed from a fear of the public watching and judging me, or worse – my dad or brother seeing me breastfeeding.

And so, sadly, I didn’t breastfeed.

Too scared of society; too scared of my privacy being on show.

I write this from the heart because I made a pledge today with my fellow team members to change the perceptions of breastfeeding – and to show that if you only gave the first feed to your baby, in the privacy and safety of the labour ward with your kind health professionals supporting you, you would be giving your baby a gift of immunity, for life, through a powerful antibody known as Colostrum.

And just by starting this process, you might find that breastfeeding is just so natural, that it isn’t something anyone should ever be ashamed to do – and you may continue to enjoy the experience. I wish I had known this when I had had my children.

So we, as a team, co-designed this beautiful poster below to help create awareness of the benefits of the “first feed” and I am now delighted to say that this poster, and pledge, was published today through NHS #fabchangeday on Twitter.

We were overwhelmed when in just a few hours of going to post, we were then asked by various health professionals could they print it to shared in their various health care settings!

We would love to see this poster in as many hospitals, birthing centers and any other health settings across the world and we hope you might join in too, to promote the benefits of this amazing gift from Mother Nature. If we only help change one moms perspective, it will help one little baby – and hopefully will be passed on to each and every one of their children too.

We, as a team, pledge to change the perceptions; change the process and change the world – one mom and one baby at a time.

Can you pledge to do the same?

Because – Every Drop Counts.

Kindest regards,

Olive

#fabchangeday #nhs #colostrum #everydropcounts

Doing it with us, not for us…

“Taking account of the perspectives of patients and their families is crucial to articulating the reality and identifying the gaps between patient safety measures possible and the levels of safety being experienced by patients.”

Building a Culture of Patient Safety, July 2008

Staff Guide to Patient and Public Participation, Cork University Hospital

In the last two and a half years, I have attended many health conferences – coming face to face with some of the most innovative people & solutions in health care and more often than not, finding myself wanting to tell every patient in the country about how much ”good stuff” actually goes on in our health services! On one occasion, I actually couldn’t hold back this same excitement and without thinking, I took the microphone and addressed a 500+ room full of health care professionals at the National Patient Conference to tell them how motivated I was about their work and how I wished the media shared these positive stories with patients across the country, instead of just the negative ones.

Obviously I don’t make a habit of doing this (as afterwards I was shaking with exhilaration) but I still get the same feelings when I am invited to sit in on new initiatives to give my view as a patient. A lot of the time sharing is not always in the projects best interest until later stages and so I have to sit tight…excited at the prospect of when patients would learn of them.

So you can imagine my delight when I was given the go ahead to share not just one, but two innovative patient safety initiatives happening in national hospitals across the regions. The first initiative was the launch at Tallaght Hospital of their Zero Harm Medication Initiative and which I felt very privileged to be able to talk at and then write about afterwards, which you can read here:

The second was when I got the news that I could also share what I learned from attending Cork University Hospital’s launch of the 2015 – 2018 “Doing it With Us, Not For Us” Strategy. Now I’m sure you think, sure the name of it says it all (and it does!) but I always think it’s good to put it into perspective as to how we, as patients, tend to actually practise this strategy already in our everyday lives, just in a different way.

Take myself for example. If you know me personally, you will know that my day to day opinions can vary vastly depending on the health professional or service myself or my children are using. Very often, I will share my experiences through phone calls to friends or family or through my selected charities “Private Patient Forums” to see if others in similar situations have experienced same. When I’ve had a particularly positive experience, I will endlessly promote the health care professional, the service or even the resource to anyone who I feel could benefit from it. But I’ve also recognised that when my reaction is the complete opposite – I tend to demote in the exact same manner – and all without even realising the impact my perspective of my personal experiences can have on others actions or reactions going forward.

So why are we having these conversations with everyone but our health care professional?

Why do we feel we can’t tell them how we’re feeling?

And how can change ever be implemented unless health care professionals know what the problems are? Upheavals

Some people have a preconception that “strategies” take a long time to roll out and that they need a whole cohort of people to make it work. But why should they? Any plan can be implemented straight away – it simply starts with one person just having a conversation with another. There is learning from every single conversation that is had between health professionals and patients. Just like when you pick up a phone and share how your day went with a family member, or when you update your status on a patient forum.

A patient’s opinion can shape others actions and decisions going forward.

The conversation needs to happen between all involved in a patients care and this is what the strategy aims to do – to have patients and health care professionals talk openly and honestly with one another about their care, their situations, and their fears. This strategy is being intended for the best interest of the patient, right now, not just the “future” of our health services. Identifying that this strategy aims to change the relationship and behaviours of both patient and professional, there will be a stage of evolution and revolution at times and the Staff Guidelines for Public and Patient Participation is an excellent resource for staff which provides practical means and toolkits to help them implement this strategy, in line with the work they already do, with the hope that engagement with patients can happen naturally, without force.

And so as I sat in the state of the art auditorium after reading through the guidelines, I though how excellent it was to have an auditorium for staff training in a public hospital. When I asked about how it got there I was informed it was designed in the mid 60’s and build in the 70’s and this got me thinking. Someone, some time ago, knew how importantly it was to always be thinking about the future. To be upskilling, training and re-educated if needed. And they valued this so much, that funds and time were put into its design. This proactive approach is exactly what is being done with the strategy and is being led by the same type of forward thinkers. Thankfully the Strategy has a strong leadership team and each of them represented their views and thoughts at the launch through –

Mr J.A. McNamara – CEO CUH Hospital Group

Ms. Celia Cronin – Clinical Governance Manager  CUH

Ms. Margaret Murphy, Patient Advocacy, External Lead Advisor WHO, PFPS

Mr Liam Woods – National Director Acute Hospitals – HSE

Mr Gerry O Dwyer – Group CEO South West Hospital Group

Ms June Boulger – National Lead for Patient and Public Participations Acute Hospital HSE

Each and every one of the speakers and health professionals in the room know the challenges they may be faced with along the way.

But if we don’t try we’ll never know.

We all have to work together, as patients and health professionals to make our lives the best they can be. Collaboration is key.

Because we all either want to get better, or to help someone get better.

Let’s all “Do it With Us, Not For Us”

A Day in the Life of a Patient Attending an Outpatient Clinic: The Problems and Solutions

I arrive at a hospital I haven’t been to before.

I have been told in my appointment letter to go  directly to the outpatients desk to let them know I’m here.

I look around – there are three reception areas – but which one is  for outpatients?

I logically choose the one nearest the front entrance, wait in a queue for five minutes but am then told that this is the reception area, and that I need to go to the one near the coffee shop. Looking at my watch (as I’m now afraid I’ll be late) I head over to the queue that has over ten other people waiting also to sign in. Eventually, ten minutes later, I give my details to the administrator and am now given new directions as to how to get to the clinic. I try to absorb everything she is saying and nod that I understand. I try my best not to forget.

But I do.

I stop and ask a nurse along the corridor for directions. She kindly helps me, but I can tell by her expression that she is trying to get somewhere in a hurry – probably to tend to a patient – I hate having to ask.

I eventually arrive at the waiting room (15 minutes late through no fault of my own) but am unsure if I should just sit there with my file, as a note on the clinic says not to knock on the door. I ask another patient. They tell me that a nurse will come out to me to collect it. I sit back waiting, noticing that Jeremy Kyle is showing on the TV. Not interested, and slightly concerned about the content being shown as young children are in the room, I go for my phone to keep me from boredom.

Only to find there is no Wi-Fi available in the hospital.

There are no magazines or newspapers – only books for children. I would love a cup of tea, or even a glass of water, but I can’t see any machines nearby. I know I am in for a long wait.

Ten minutes later a nurse comes out and takes all the files from various patients. I wonder will we be seen in order of the files being received, or by the times our appointments were at. Either way, I’m here now and I prepare myself for the long waiting period I have now become accustomed to through using public health services.

I see an elderly lady get wheeled into our waiting room – she has obviously just been in A&E or been up on a ward. The porter takes her file, knocks on the door, explains to the nurse her situation and then leaves her there to tend to other patients. I feel embarrassed for this lady, being left in a bed in front of everyone.

Thankfully she is seen within the next half an hour, and the porter comes back to collect her.

An hour later, I now really need to go to the bathroom – but am afraid to leave my seat in case I am called. I ask another patient could they listen out for my name and could they explain to the nurse my situation. I have learned that patients often help each other out.

I see a mother with a disabled child come in, there are no seats left. I offer my seat up.

Ninety minutes after my appointment time, I am now called in. Frustrated and now exhausted from boredom [and standing], I still put a smile on my face, as I know it is not the nurses or doctors fault.

I have a few questions written down to ask the doctor but I am now acutely aware that there are many more patients to be seen.

I meet the doctor, and it is not the consultant I thought it might be – it is his registrar. I am disappointed, but don’t say anything. Upon shaking hands with him I notice that the doctor seems rushed. He doesn’t make eye contact or introduce himself.

At this point, I make a decision to not to take out my questions but instead try to remember what I had wanted to ask. I feel like I am adding to the chaos of this doctors day. I feel guilty.

He asks me questions about previous appointments – I panic as I thought he would have them in his file. I am told that hospitals have different files and the information doesn’t transfer over. I try my best to remember dates; tests I had done and which consultants I had met previously. A nurse is sent off to retrieve previous information from my GP – it is not in my file. She comes back with a Fax document.

The doctor takes all of my information down, not looking at me as he does so. He asks me questions about my own and my family history – I try my best not to leave anything out. I suddenly can’t remember what the name of one of my medications are. I feel embarrassed.

The doctor moves on and proceeds to examine me quickly.

He tells me I look good and once I remember my medications he says that he will increase one of them. He gives me a new prescription. At this point, I don’t feel strong enough to tell him that, that medication makes me feel ill, meaning I often don’t take them. I proceed to tell him I regularly have pain in my knees. He tells me to keep a pain diary, but does not give me a diary of any sort. I just take his advice and walk out of the room – ten minutes later.

I go the reception area for my follow up appointment. I am given a date for six months later.

Before I leave the hospital I can’t find the parking ticket machine. I again ask the receptionist. I pay €7.50 for my two hours time in the hospital.

When I get home I go to fill in my new appointment time in my calendar. I notice we have a wedding on the same day. I ring the hospital back only to find all dates have been taken by now for that month and they can only give me a new appointment for two months after that time. At 8 in the morning. I have to travel from Mayo to Dublin. It will be an early start. I go about getting sheets of paper to design a pain diary of sorts.

Later that day, I pick up my new prescription from my pharmacist. I am told that I cannot take that dose, as it’s too strong for me. The pharmacist rings the hospital to clarify the situation.

I ring my husband in work and tell him the doctor said I’m fine. My husband is happy about this. But I am not. I just don’t feel reassured.

The next week, I again end up back in my GP’s office asking him what I should do. I am now referred to see someone else. He adds an anti nausea drug to help counteract the sickness I get.

I somewhat now feel reassured that I have been listened to.

But why did it take for my GP to help me feel this? Was all the time, stress and worry necessary? Could these issues ever be resolved?

Absolutely.

And here are a few thoughts of my own on how I think it could be done with minimal cost, time and efforts.

Problem 1:“I look around – there are three reception areas – but which one is  for outpatients?”

Solution 1: Signposting or even lines and markings on the floor would help here. A map on the appointment letter could also help.

Cost: Minimal

ROI*: Save time for receptionist; ensures patients are on time for appointments, reduces stress for patients and carers. 


Problem 2:“I give my details to the administrator and am now given new directions as to how to get to the clinic. I try to absorb everything she is saying and nod that I understand.”

Solution 2: Again markings on the floor would help (i.e. follow the blue line until you get to Clinic 1, 2, 3…) or again even a little map would help. If the receptionist could ask the patient for a read back this would be helpful to ensure the patient does understand.

Cost: Minimal

ROI: Save time for health professionals being asked along the way; reduce stress for patients and carers.


Problem 3:“I am unsure if I should just sit there with my file, as a note on the clinic says not to knock on the door.”

Solution 3: The note on the door could say that a nurse will come out to you.

Cost: Minimal

ROI: Reduce unnecessary communication issues – especially required for those with limited communication abilities. Informed patients = better outcomes for all.


Problem 4:“I sit back waiting, noticing that Jeremy Kyle is showing on the TV…there are no magazines or newspapers”

Solution 4: A health and well-being talk show or small snippets of appropriate, relevant information for the patients attending that clinic could be aired, such as local resources, services or treatments – or even ways to manage medications etc. Daily newspapers and magazines from the hospital coffee shop could be distributed. Even notepads for patients to write questions or notes prior to their appointments could be made available.

Cost: Minimal – Low

ROI: Informing patients of resources can empower them to seek these out instead of having to ask health professionals for same. Boredom can lead to tension, thus leading to angry outbursts at times so alleviating this will create a more relaxed environment.


Problem 5:I would love a cup of tea, or even a glass of water, but I can’t see any machines nearby.”

Solution 5: Install a water or coffee/tea machine – this will create additional revenue for the hospital.

Cost: Mid

ROI: Ensure patients aren’t dehydrated (important for well-being/blood tests); creates a relaxed environment and reduces stess. Hospital can gain revenue on vending machines.


Problem 6:“There is no Wi-Fi available in the hospital.”

Solution 6: Install publicly accessible Wi-Fi! Opportunity here to promote hospital, local resources through an app.

Cost: Mid – High

ROI: Reduces boredom thus reduces tension and stress. Stress can also lead to false high blood pressure readings. Having appropriate information pushed through this system could educate patients and carers. Also may allow patients have access/input to medical apps.


Problem 7:I wonder will we be seen in order of the files being received, or by the times our appointments were atI see a mother with a disabled child come in, there are no seats left. I offer my seat up.” 

Solution 7: A simple ticket system could help here, or again this could be written on the note of the clinic door. Nurses could inform patients to come back at a certain time and they could feel free to use the bathroom/get coffee/tea etc.

Cost: Low – Mid

ROI: Ticket systems work very well and everyone feels it is fair. It also frees up space in the waiting area.


Problem 8:“I feel embarrassed for this lady [in the trolley], being left in a bed in front of everyone.”

Solution 8: If it is just for a clinic review then anyone who is in a trolley should be seen where they are placed, or later/earlier clinic times given appropriately. It is a patient safety risk, for them, and the patients in the room, to have them in an exposed environment. It also takes away dignity and respect of the person in the trolley.

Cost: Minimal

ROI: Reduces patient safety risks thus reducing unnecessary infections, medications etc.  Saves time, money for hospital. Reduces need for porter. Increases dignity for patients.


Problem 9:“Ninety minutes after my appointment time, I am now called in. Frustrated and now exhausted from boredom [and standing], I still put a smile on my face, as I know it is not the nurses or doctors fault, I still smile. Upon shaking hands with him I notice that the doctor seems rushed.”

Solution 9: You don’t need stats to know that waiting time for patients in public systems is usually over one hour! Increasing clinics, appropriate management of times [and sticking to them]; chronic clinics separated from acute clinics or having weekend clinics can all help reduce this waiting time. Having no seats means patients are left standing which can increase blood pressure leading to possible false readings.

Cost: Mid

ROI: Doctors and nurses can spend more time with patients. Reduce stress and risks  for them associated with being rushed. Show true blood pressure readings. Patients not being left feeling panicked can create a more relaxed, engaged environment – often leading to more honest and the transfer of accurate information. Better chances of appropriate diagnosis. Saves money, time and stress.


Problem 10: “I have a few questions written down to ask the doctor…at this point, I make a decision to not to take out my questions”.

Solution 10: In the waiting room notepads [as mentioned above] and recommendations by health professionals to write questions down prior to appointments can aide in this.

Cost: Minimal

ROI: If patients have questions to hand when talking to health professionals, they can leave feeling more reassured. The number of questions can be limited at times of increased time pressures. Reassured patients = better self-management; less unnecessary appointments, miscommunication and stress. Health professionals can make the most of their time with patients.


Problem 11: “I meet the doctor, and it is not the consultant I thought it might be – it is his registrar. I am disappointed, but don’t say anything.”

Solution 11: Having a folder with the various health professionals and their bios/backgrounds available in the waiting room can help patients feel reassured about who they are seeing.

Cost: Minimal

ROI: This can prevent concerns patients may have about the health professional looking after them – often patients feel the “top consultant” is the best and can be untrustworthy of “junior doctors”.


Problem 12: “He [the doctor] doesn’t make eye contact or introduce himself. I feel like I am adding to the chaos of this doctors day. I feel guilty.”

Solution 12: Basic training with health professionals on communication and time management can alleviate this issue. Providing self care therapies and services for health professionals can help them better manage stress. Doctors and nurses feel guilty too.

Cost: Low – Mid

ROI: Happy staff = better outcomes for patients. Better outcomes for patients = reduction in money, time, resources and stress.


Problem 13: “He [the doctor] asks me questions about previous appointments – I panic as I thought he would have them in his file. I am told that hospitals have different files and the information doesn’t transfer over.  A nurse is sent off to retrieve previous information from my GP – it is not in my file. She comes back with a Fax document.”

Solution 13: Effective integrated IT solutions across the system would help with the efficiency of the flow of information. FAX systems replaced with e-communication tools.

Cost: High

ROI: Having accurate information to hand is essential part of the diagnosis and treatment process. Patients cannot be expected to remember everything and they may not have test results to hand. Appropriate and timely diagnostic and treatment is the key to proactive care and can prevent unnecessary medications, use of resources and waste of time. Save time, money and resources. Better patient safety outcomes. Saves nurses having to leave their stations to retrieve FAX’s.


Problem 14: “I try my best to remember dates; tests I had done and which consultants I had met previously…he asks me questions about my own and my family history – I try my best not to leave anything out. I suddenly can’t remember what the name of one of my medications are. I feel embarrassed.”

Solution 14: There is always information patients will have that health professionals may not have – especially if it is related to self management and care in the home. A simple health organiser, app or diary can help patients capture information to have to hand for appointments. This should be recommended at the point of care by health professionals, and should be easily recognisable across the disciplines.

Cost: Low – Mid

ROI: When patients have accurate information to hand more informed and accurate decisions can be made by health professionals. It also aides in better self management and care in the home. Integrated care is about needs, not disease, age or gender. Simple health organisers or PHR’s can effectively reduce unnecessary readmissions, appointments, medication non adherence and so much more.


Problem 15: “Once I remember my medications he says that he will increase one of them. At this point, I don’t feel strong enough to tell him that I’m not feeling good and that, that medication makes me feel ill, so I often don’t take them. I also tell him I regularly have pain in my knees. He tells me to keep a pain diary, but does not give me a diary of any sort. I just take his advice and walk out of the room – ten minutes later…Later that day, I pick up my new prescription from my pharmacist. I am told that I cannot take that dose, as it’s too strong for me. The pharmacist rings the hospital to clarify the situation.

Solution 15: Health professionals could have triggers in their IT systems to help them remember to ask patients if they have issues with medications or are there any contraindications. Additionally, asking patients to note their concerns with medications prior to the appointment could be helpful. E-prescribing can be particularly effective here – ensuring medications are reconciled at every point of care. A trained pharmacist could be placed in outpatient clinics to discuss medications with patients. Ten minute appointments are often not appropriate to capture all the information required, and to then administer treatments or diagnosis. Proper time allocations should be considered in relation to the needs of the patient. Often patients are asked to keep diaries but are not given one, meaning they have to devise or resource one themselves – additionally meaning accurate information from them may not be captured upon return to clinics. Simple pain diaries (paper or electronic) devised by health professionals could be developed to ensure appropriate information is recorded, these could be given to patients at the point of care.

Cost: Minimal – High [depending on solutions]

ROI: If patients are concerned about their treatments, or adverse reactions, often they won’t take them. This contributes to medication non adherence**. Additionally, they may not disclose this to health professionals as they may be concerned that they will get in trouble. Open conversations and recommendations by health professionals can greatly reduce these issues. Effective medication reconciliation between hospitals and communities is key to ensuring patients are safe. IT solutions can greatly impact on the saving of money, time..and lives. Spending more time at a first consultation can reduce unnecessary follow up appointments or readmission, and this can save time in the long run.


Problem 16: “I go the reception area for my follow up appointment. I am given a date for six months later…When I get home I go to fill in my new appointment time in my calendar. I notice we have a wedding on the same day. I ring the hospital back only to find all dates have been taken by now for that month and they can only give me a new appointment for two months after that time. At 8 in the morning. I have to travel from Mayo to Dublin. It will be an early start.”

Solution 16: At the point of making the first appointment the receptionist could give patients time to look in their diary or phone to see if there are any clashes. Additionally, their IT system could trigger a few quick questions to ask patients or carers such as what is the best time in the day; is there appropriate travel services in place (i.e. buses, lift from friends/family) and where are they coming from (to give latest time possible for appointment if travelling from afar).

Cost: Low – Mid

ROI: Approximately €80 million a year is lost for the HSE for patients not attending clinics. Many reasons are cited for this but most of which I feel could be addressed through appropriate first point of contact when making appointments.


Problem 17: “I just don’t feel reassured…the next week, I again end up back in my GP’s office asking him what I should do. I am now referred to see someone else. He adds an anti nausea drug to help counteract the sickness I get.”

“I somewhat now feel reassured that I have been listened to.”

Solution 17: If all of the above solutions were put in place I feel I would not only feel reassured, but I would feel less stressed, more trustworthy…and all over safer. I also feel that health professionals would too.

Cost Overall: Priceless

ROI: Never Ending


If you have done any of the above in your health service or have ideas as a patient, carer or health professional on what else could be done, I would love to learn about them.

Click here to fill in our contact form.

If you are a patient or carer and struggle with recording, storing or managing medications, symptoms or appointments then we have developed a simple to use health organiser called the MediStori, as funded by the HSE, and researched by NUIG. This may be a useful tool for you.

Click here for more information about the MediStori.


Definitions:

*ROI – Acronym: Return on Investment. Explanation: What the hospital/organisation/individual will gain/save in terms of money, time or resources by achieving the action.

**Nonadherence with medication is a complex and multidimensional health care problem. Adherence is defined as the extent to which patients are able to follow the recommendations for prescribed treatments. Taken from: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3711878/


Interesting articles you might like to read:

Waiting Rooms Apps that Engage Patients 

National Guidelines on Accessible Health and Social Care Services

The waiting room wait- from annoyance to opportunity

GP surgeries- what patients want

PROTOCOL THE MANAGEMENT OF OUTPATIENT SERVICES [HSE]

https://www.isixsigma.com/industries/healthcare/improving-process-turnaround-time-outpatient-clinic/

 

Are “Self Management” courses worth the paper they’re written on?

A 46 year old man stands at the kitchen counter in his house staring blankly at the two bags of medicines he has just collected from his pharmacy.

Maurice – his heart full of regret; his head racing with anxiety.

Feeling unhappy, scared about his future – and feeling, oh, so alone.

Suddenly he is stirred from his thoughts as his four children – two teenager boys and twin 10 year old girls – come bounding into the house with their mom in tow, after being collected from school.

He smiles at them, pushes the dreaded bags aside and asks them how their day was. Starts helping his wife with the dinner and goes about answering the twenty questions his inquisitive brood dive into.

His wife smiles over at him – she knows he is not himself. Knows he is tired. Tells him gently to go upstairs for a rest and she’ll take over.

Surrounded by people who love him – Maurice still feels all alone. Feels like he is a failure as a father, a husband, a man. Feels like a burden. Feels tainted with a label he can never remove.

Maurice has just been discharged from hospital for the fourth time that year, and on top of his diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis, he now has been told that he also has depression and chronic fatigue.

He tries to take all of this in. Absorb what it means for his life – his family.

His future.

Having to give up his job a year earlier due to his debilitating condition he has found himself in a never ending cycle of pain; an inability to move due to severe stiffening of his joints; a constant tiredness from lack of sleep and an anxiety that never seems to leave him, even when he does sleep.

Maurice chooses to never share his concerns or feelings with his wife. He feels she has to make up for the job of two parents; sometimes feels like he is their fifth child. He hates being a burden her.

He also knows that she can sometimes get frustrated with him.

She tells him often that he should try joining a local support group, go to counselling or try new diets that could help alleviate his symptoms. She sits up for hours at night scrolling through thousands of online sites with the hope to find new treatments that might help him.

But Maurice is not interested.

He just doesn’t see the point.

He feels it is what is and nothing can change that. And as much as he doesn’t want to be depressed, he really doesn’t know how to change.

This evening in particular though his wife comes up to his room with a cup of tea, a glass of water and four of his many tablets. She sits at the side of his bed.

And she starts talking. About her, and the children.

She tells him that while having rheumatoid arthritis is one thing that there may never be a cure for, his thoughts are something that can be changed.

Tells him that she needs her old husband back; that their children need him.

Reminds him that after having her twins that she too had suffered depression and knew the only way to get through it was by talking to a counsellor and also opening up to her friends. She had wanted to get better for her husband, and her children. And most importantly, for herself.

She tries to motivate him into seeking help.

Maurice turns away from her on the bed and says that he’ll think about it.

Knowing that he won’t do anything about it, his wife gets upset and tells him she doesn’t know how much more she can handle. That she loves him but is finding it hard to manage it all on her own. That she wants her old husband back. The husband that cracked jokes which often made her “belly laugh”; the husband that would surprise her by finding old movies from their early days for their “date nights”. The husband that would give her a little spontaneous cheeky wink showing her he is still attracted to her.

They both know they haven’t been intimate in at least six months.

She sighs, gets up to leave; leaving a little leaflet on the bed beside him.

Asks him will he at least look at it.

As she leaves, unbeknownst to her, Maurice’s eyes fill up with tears.

He, again, feels like a failure.

He turns slowly around and picks up the leaflet.

He is surprised when he finds that he is actually interested in what this leaflet has to offer. It describes a local service which helps people better manage their health conditions – including depression. It doesn’t include counselling nor does it include faddy diets or potential “cures”. It seems like a very practical course.

Maurice thinks about it.

Logically he feels if he could take away some of the daily tasks from his wife such as managing his medications or reminding him of his appointments, he could take some of the burden off her.

If he could smile again, and mean it, maybe he could make her belly laugh again.

He picks up his phone and makes the call. Decides he will try this option. Decides he just doesn’t want to live like this anymore. He doesn’t want her to live like this anymore either.

He gets up out of bed, goes downstairs and tells his wife his plans. She is taken aback. He sees a small glimmer of hope in her. Inside he starts crying again. He really does hope that this will work.

On the first evening of the course Maurice is really nervous. He is there along with eight other people; six women and one other man. He feels like he doesn’t want to go through with it. But his wife has dropped him off and she is now at home.

He must just sit it out today, but tells himself immediately he won’t go back again.

The introductions begin. Everyone starts telling everyone else about their conditions. When it comes to his turn he also tells everyone that he has rheumatoid arthritis and finds it hard to sleep – but does not have the courage to talk about his depression.

He listens.

The facilitators had also introduced themselves. They are not health care professionals – but people who have also had various health issues. This surprises him.

They give an outline of the programme that will follow – they talk about how to make action plans, make decisions about their care, problem solve, manage medications, how to better communicate with health providers and how to recognise the symptom cycle – something that Maurice resonates with all too well.

On the tea break, Maurice gets talking to the other man on the course, Joe. He finds that Joe only lives a few kilometers away from his house – and Joe too had to give up his job as he has Multiple Sclerosis [MS].

Joe is also married and has grown up children – and after chatting for a few minutes, Joe admits he too finds he is a burden to his wife.

The course commences and Maurice learns that everyone in that little room are actually going through much of the same things as he. He had thought he was all alone but realised quickly that it didn’t matter what the condition was – the problems were all still the same for everyone.

After the first evening, Maurice says goodbye to Joe, and they exchange phone numbers – promising to contact one another that week.

As Maurice gets into the car, he leans over and squeezes his wife’s hand. She looks up and he knows that she is aware that he is saying thank you.

He feels for the first time in a long time, that there may be hope. He doesn’t feel so alone anymore. He decides to go back the next week.

The next five weeks fly by, and week after week, Maurice starts to understand that learning how to manage simple daily tasks can impact greatly on the way he thinks. The dark cloud starts lifting from his shoulders and he finds he is more motivated. He stays connected to Joe. They do their Action Plans together – going for a short walk, three days a week in the mornings when their wives are at work – they sometimes even change their plans when the weather is bad, or when they’re having a bad day and instead go to the local coffee shop or visit each others homes.

At the end of the course Maurice does not feel he is a “label” anymore. He understands that his condition is only one part of who he is, but it doesn’t define him as a person. He starts taking control of his medications and talks to his GP about reducing his anti-anxiety medications.

Decides that he might take up counselling after all.

His last Action Plan is to find an old movie and to have a “date night” with his wife. He gets into the car on the final evening of the course, looks over and winks at his wife. She smiles…from her eyes. She knows now her old Maurice is coming back.

So why has Maurice changed so much in such a short period of time – what are Self Management courses all about?

Well, I myself am a volunteer facilitator of Stanford University’s Chronic Disease Self Management Programme, which is just one of the many courses available – but one which I find extremely effective.

This course is designed to enhance regular treatment and disease-specific education such as cardiac rehabilitation, or diabetes instruction. In addition, many people have more than one chronic condition. The program is especially helpful for these people, as it gives them the skills to coordinate all the things needed to manage their health, as well as to help them keep active in their lives. The program does not conflict with existing programs or treatment.

The workshop is given two and a half hours, once a week, for six weeks, in community settings. People with different chronic health problems attend together. Workshops are facilitated by two trained leaders, one or both of whom are non-health professionals with chronic diseases themselves.

Subjects covered include: 1) techniques to deal with problems such as frustration, fatigue, pain and isolation, 2) appropriate exercise for maintaining and improving strength, flexibility, and endurance, 3) appropriate use of medications, 4) communicating effectively with family, friends, and health professionals, 5) nutrition, 6) decision making, and, 7) how to evaluate new treatments.

But most importantly, it is the process in which the program is taught that makes it effective. Classes are highly participative, where mutual support and success build the participants’ confidence in their ability to manage their health and maintain active and fulfilling lives.*

What I love about this course, in particular, is the fact that it is not disease specific, but more focuses on the needs – it helps people remove the labels of their conditions and focus on themselves holistically, as people. There are, of course, specific disease programmes available also but I feel these are best done after the general workshop, as these can help with the technical issues arising from managing medications, treatments or services specifically for conditions such as Chrohns disease, diabetes or arthritis, for example.

Carers can also attend these workshops, which I find most important – often the carer can suffer depression, isolation and anxiety too.

I highly recommend that all patients and carers be given the opportunity to avail of these courses, as recommended by health professionals, at the point of care. They are based in local communities, and many people, just like Maurice and Joe, get to meet new people who understand the difficulties of having a long term condition. It can be life changing for so many.

It can be life changing for a whole family. A whole community even.

When patients participate in these courses it can also be extremely beneficial for health professionals. They can save health services time, money and resources and by reducing depression or breaking symptom cycles, for example, this can reduce copious amounts of unnecessary health care appointments and the prescribing of many unwanted medications.

I for one, as a patient and carer, love being a facilitator of this programme – I see so many people come in looking scared, anxious and dubious – and then leaving just six weeks later smiling, hopeful and aware. (It’s also an extra little bonus when many of the participants give us chocolates just to say thank you at the end of the course – though not so great for the waistline I might add!) 

There is something very special about helping others – you always learn something new yourself along the way that you can use in your daily life – and you make so many new friends too.

So to answer the question as the title of this blog suggested – Self Management courses are not about the paper they are written on – they are about the process in which they are delivered.

Self-Management is not about sickness – it is about holistic self care. It is about kindness. It is about community.

It is about life.


Resources:

There are many courses available in Ireland, such as the one I facilitate with. Please go online or ask your health professional for further resources. 


*Abstract [altered slightly] from http://patienteducation.stanford.edu/programs/cdsmp.html on the 27/08/2016

**Names of characters used are fictional – they just aim to help tell a story that many relate to

When patients have no choice but to be innovative…

Patients and carers across the world are constantly coming up with new ideas in relation to the management of medications, achieving daily tasks with limited mobility, tracking symptoms and even finding ways to remember medical information. I myself even came up with the MediStori – a personal health organiser – while caring for my dad who was on 22 medications!

And this last week, for us, it was no different.

This time, however, it was not because of one of the many chronic conditions each of my daughters have – it was simply because my youngest daughter had slipped on a path, and upon going to the Emergency Department we were told she had ended up damaging the growth plate in her little ankle. Upon learning of same, 10 year old Mackensie was brought into the plaster room; a lovely nurse explained everything that was happening to her, and a cast was put on. She was given little crutches to walk on.

Sound serious? No, not at all – especially in the greater scheme of things.

Yet, over the next few days we found out the complications that come with the joys of having a cast and crutches combined – and along with the fact that she has a condition called hypermobility – poor Mackensie was finding it extremely difficult to do just simple day to day tasks.

All of my creative brain had to kick in to help her feel “normal”.

  • The first issue was her hands. After just 15 minutes of using the crutches her little hands became red, swollen and chaffed. All of the pressure was going down on her hands to carry her full body weight as she lifted her entire body for every step she took. 

File 27-08-2016 9 03 47 a.m.Solution 1: Get soft bandages and wrap them around the handles of the crutches.

Result 1: The bandages wore down in no time at all and chaffed her hands even more.

Solution 2: Cover the handles of the crutches with slipper socks.

Result 2: While they were soft, their bulkiness widened the span between her thumb and forefinger, and with having hypermobility, this caused more pain in the tendons and ligaments in her hands.

Solution 3: Ask my friends on Facebook!

Result 3: I was told to use the wrapping for Hurley sticks –  but this too caused chaffing on her hands – much like the bandage did.

Solution 4: Ask the pharmacist!

Result 4: Get pipe insulation – now, this at long last, worked a treat – and was cheap too!

  • The second issue was the stairs. An easy task for most but when you add a heavy cast and crutches to follow – not so easy!

Solution 1: Go up the stairs on her bottom.

Result 1: She found it difficult as she had to put more pressure on her hands while lifting her full body weight for each step.

Solution 2: Go up the stairs on her front.

Result 2: Both her legs would bang off the steps as she moved up each step, causing bruising.

Solution 3: Hop up the stairs on her good leg.

Result 3: This caused pain in her right hip – where her hypermobility affects her the most – and we were afraid she’d fall.

Solution 4: Have mammy or daddy lift her legs as she went up the stairs backwards.

Result 4: Even though this was the solution which worked the best, as it eased the pressure off her hands and hips. – Mammy and Daddy were both wrecks from trying to carry crutches while lift her legs at the same time – and her independence was taken away from her.

  • The third issue was bath time! Wrapping up the cast in plastic bags and sealing with cling film was the easy part, but we still could not submerge that leg…

File 27-08-2016 9 03 22 a.m.Solution 1: Bring a small stool (or stepladder as we did!) into the bath and have her sit in the bath with leg elevated.

Result 1: Her leg got tired from being lifted AND as she is of the age where she doesn’t like anyone to see her “in the nude” anymore so we also had to put her swimsuit on, meaning she didn’t get a proper wash.

Solution 2: Sit at the side of the bath with her head over the bath to wash her hair.

Result 2: Her neck got tired easily and again, she wasn’t getting washed properly.

Solution 3: Bring a chair into the shower, along with another chair outside of the shower to elevate leg.

Result 3: This worked best (even if half the bathroom got soaked!) But again, her independence was taken away from her

Now these were just the top three issues – we also had to find ways where she could open doors on her own; brush her teeth while balancing on crutches and the joys of having to keep the crutches standing together and not fall over when she sat at the dinner table. We had to find ways where she could carry things in her hands while using the crutches – and with school starting next week I’m sure we’ll find more fun things to get innovative with!

So, I suppose my question is – why are devices, like crutches, not built with the patients whole needs in mind?

Yes, they serve the purpose of keeping the weight off the injured leg, but they do not help with other issues that are part of daily life – and they put weight and strain on the rest of the body. Additionally she needed more pain relief for her tired hips and creams for her sore hands.

Also she is lucky that she is a child – and has us, her parents, to care for her – what happens with the poor adults who are living on their own?

Researching online showed me there are such innovations available across the seas – but they come with a high cost – and with her more than likely going to be taken off the crutches in a few weeks time – this is not something I am going to invest in (though I am still really tempted!)

I really feel our health services should invest in these solutions – not us, as patients.

Solutions:

  • A helpful booklet could be given to patients with ideas on how to do daily tasks – not just outlining what NOT to do
  • “Insulation” type covers given at the point of care for the handles would help ease the pain on hands
  • Giving out a waterproof cover for the cast would prevent patients having to come up with ideas all on their own
  • Having a little bag which attaches to the crutches could help people carry items with them
  • A simple little elastic could “stick” the crutches together temporarily so they don’t fall over, or fall apart

Or even better health services could research new crutches which aide in even distribution of weight, and then invest in same!

Yes, the pink cast makes having a cast more fun but this is only a short lived experience – the real experience is just trying to get on with it!

So have you ever had to be innovative while being a patient or carer – or even a health care professional?

If so, I would love to hear your stories…

The Christmas Retail Saga: Exploiting consumers experience rather than creating it.

Yet again another Christmas shop opens. A video posted shows a large retailer in Ireland selling its Christmas decorations – in August.

Yet again, I sigh.

I sigh not because I have yet to pay upcoming fees for my children going back to school (and I don’t want to be hounded about Santa just yet) nor do I sigh because I am still in my positive summer mood (and don’t want to think about hats and scarves just yet!)

I sigh because I think it is just bad business planning.

Now before people think I am the ominous Grinch – please let me explain…my absolute favourite time of the year is Christmas. It is a huge part of our family tradition. Truthfully, the presents, the decorations and the continual flow of food are part of this, but they are only one small part of it:

The real reason I love Christmas is because of the anticipation, the excitement and the entire build up to it.

I know what Christmas means to me.

I know what it means to others. And after reading the comments posted after the video of this retail store was posted, I captured their thoughts too…

Meaning…

“It’s ALL about the money…The true meaning of Christmas is being RUINED by retail fat cats.”

“For us it would be after Thanksgiving, but I’m with you. One holiday at a time. Christmas is way too special to be overly commercialized.”

“Christmas should not be in the shops until 1st December. Children don’t understand the long wait. Appreciate and enjoy your life from now until December. Don’t wish your life away. Crazy stuff.”  

“It’s August, talk about ruining Christmas. Absolute disgrace that shops are displaying Christmas stock and the kids haven’t even gone back to school not to mention we haven’t had Halloween yet.”

 Fears…

“Too, too early, it’s only going to worry people and put them under pressure.”

Awareness…

“Inherent capitalism, Turning a week long holiday into a shopping frenzy for shallow and mindless zombies. Witness the result of humanity’s greed. We no longer live in the here and now. What a bunch of k******ds.”                             

Brands Broken…

“OH MY GOD, only talking about this yesterday …. “Wouldn’t have happened in Switzers back in my day I tells ya” 

Loss of Consumers…

“BT you are out of your mind!!! Insane and shocking! You are definitely losing some customer over this! Ridiculous!”

“Totally off putting, ridiculous to see this in August. I shall be avoiding the shop so, thanks for the heads up!”

Customer even jokingly see the trends…

“I must say I’m a bit disappointed. I was hoping to see the Easter Eggs 2019 😂”

You see, there really is such thing as bad advertising. Especially when consumers outwardly say that they are leaving.

I too am an aware consumer.

I am also an experienced business person. I understand what customer service is – and it has everything to do with the products and services I supply, plus the feelings they have when dealing with my and my company – and equally my understanding of my customers needs.

For me I think about my market both holistically and statistically – locally, and collectively as a nation. Learning about what my targeted customers tend to do in their daily life; the various levels of disposable income they may have; the factors impacting on decision making; the things in life they love – and hate; their values, beliefs – and most importantly their culture.

Culture is not just about where you are from or what religion you practice. It is also about how you were brought up.

It is not that hard to whittle this down, even though it mind sound so. It is all about listening, reading between the lines and responding. Profiling your ideal customer. So I thought I might ask you , my readers, to see if you could profile me and think of a little marketing strategy to make me want to buy in your shop this Christmas, based on my own little story…

“Every year I love the experience of watching my children counting down the last days for Santa to come. I get excited thinking about all my family getting together again. I love the searching online for the date when the Christmas grotto will open at the pet farm we have visited since my children were babies. I enjoy the organising of our annual family day trip in to Dublin city to see the window displays – a tradition given to me by my mom when she brought us in to see Cleary’s and Switzer’s windows as young children. I love watching my children’s faces on our annual horse and carriage ride around the city looking at all the lights, while all wrapped up in warm, woolly blankets. I love being in my element browsing around the shops to pick gifts, clothes and purchase our newest special ornament to add to our Christmas collection, which we then date underneath upon arriving home –  and proceed to decorate our tree with together, always on the 8th of December.

I feel warm inside thinking about my mum and brother coming to stay with us for the holidays. Knowing every Christmas Eve, myself my mum and my girls walk up to our local village in the dusk, leaving my husband and brother at home wrapping up their last minute presents for me and my mum and putting them under the tree (they still think we don’t know about it!). I love the feeling I get when we reach our village on this Eve – reveling in the fact that all the shops are closed; soaking in the peace; knowing that there is no more that can be bought or got, and that I can just enjoy the Christmas from now on. Walking by these shop windows and visiting our church; which is lit softly and so, so quiet; awaiting the midnight ceremonies. After saying our prayers, remembering those who we have lost and lighting a candle at the crib, we then wander into our local pub to get hot chocolates and muffins at the fire; afterwards heading home just in time to see Santa leave the North Pole on the Six O’Clock news. My girls allowed to open only one Christmas present that evening – always pajamas from my Mom. And finally settling in for the evening with neighbours and friends calling – waiting for my girls to go to sleep before Santa arrives.

Waking up the next morning blurry eyed and heart racing as my girls wake the whole house waiting for Nana and Uncle Stephen to wake up. Grabbing my phone to capture the moments of surprise. Oohing and aahing at all the presents. My husband putting on cooker for breakfast and the kettle for tea. My brother finding batteries and screwdrivers for toys.

My mum knowingly looking at me as we think how much we miss my dad on these days especially. Getting interrupted by more excitement as new presents are found under the tree. Followed quickly by grumbles as I say we have to get ready for mass. I take a deep breath – delighted that Santa had brought the girls what they wanted and now looking forward to us all going to my mum-in-laws for her amazing Christmas dinner along with all my extended family. I now know Christmas has arrived. I can now relax.”

To convert my story into sales is not that hard to do. Many retailers could pick up on my ideals, family values, imaginative and romantic ideals to create a simple little special event which could make me feel like I want to go there. By default, I know I would end up purchasing goods there, simply because it made me feel excited.

I would also probably make it a new Christmas tradition, if it were special enough.

My little story as told above are our little family traditions, amongst many. They make me who I am – it is part of my culture.

We also have many other traditions that we love too at different times of the year – including the Easter Bunny hunt; my children’s “back to school parties” and dressing up the house – and ourselves – for Hallowe’en. Each of these as important as the next.

So who gives retailers the right to overshadow these in favour of Christmas?

I often wonder do large retailers have any sense of what tradition means to people?

Or know how important it is to not destroy the exciting rush people get leading up to certain events?

That it can benefit them – benefit their businesses. The anticipation and excitement in the few weeks building up to the Big Day is usually so intense simply because of the short time that people have to get their shopping in, post Christmas cards or decorate their homes. All while doing so in really cold weather and wrapped up in hats and scarves. A time of the year where most people wouldn’t venture out to do shopping for hours – but do – because they want to capture the Christmas spirit. And even though people may complain about the rush – it does all add up to the overall positive experience – retailers listen up – setting up Christmas shops with decorations is not a priority, it’s a nice to have, for those niche few who have time to window shop! And they would still happily wait until November to purchase same – and probably more eagerly too. Early innovators and adopters will drive the market, and it will naturally reach it’s point on the curve on Christmas Eve. Timing is everything.

Summer is not associated with Christmas. Cold weather is very much part of what it is all about. Budweiser, Coca-Cola and Guiness ads are an example of this showing in their campaigns. And when we see these ads, we do feel Christmas has really begun.

We appreciate the warmth of shops, restaurants and often  stay that little bit longer to browse before we go out again.

But when something is disassociated with what it is culturally supposed to be, it can change our perceptions, thus changing the experience. The same as when something is long drawn out it can take away from the value offering. Have you ever been to an amazing conference with excellent speakers, but the day goes on too long and you leave feeling drained, not inspired, forgetting the good you had witnessed? I feel we appreciate the time that follows a short rush of adrenaline – much like after winning a race of sorts. We relax way more. We often feel proud of our achievements.

I love having a date to look forward to – for me it creates anticipation and excitement – and a crazy element of sheer panic! Even a wedding day can do this – though booked a year in advance – many things are still often left on the long finger, and it is then people often buy things they just don’t need – and quite often even can’t even afford. But they do it because they want to make sure everything is just right.

Even the most organised people in the world will do the same thing.

Is this not good for enterprises?

From my own perspective I feel that many people spend less in “window shopping” mode, and it makes me think why do businesses aim for small purchases and waste their valuable staffs time (and company finances) all year round with Christmas shops for example, when they could cleverly capitalise (if I am to use the word!) on an anticipation and excitement which could potentially bring people from all corners of the country to be there. And repeat the same year after year.

Why not focus on what the market need, instead of presuming what they want? People emotionally purchase non-essential products.

I wonder do many enterprises understand the benefits of creating an outstanding customer cultural experience where their consumers could potentially make their store part of their family Christmas tradition, like I do with our little pet farm in Athlone? I question if retailers survey their communities (not just their current consumers) to capture what potential new markets really want?

It seems to me that the very thing that society wants (and needs – i.e. looking forward to good times) is dying out because of constant reminders nearly all year round that “such and such” is only around the corner – and by doing so, overshadows or ignores important times such as Hallowe’en – all of which could be capitalised on more by retailers if they had enough savvy.

So, as I said earlier, a video was posted via a national Irish newspaper on Facebook showing a large retailer opening it’s Christmas shop in August. I decided to see if it was just me who was feeling so negative about it. I went through the comments and came up with some statistics based on my findings:

510 comments were made in total (at my time of reading it).

248 people expressed dislike at the store opening it’s Christmas shop in August.

130 people expressed positivity at the store opening its store in August.

132 other comments were variable and included the tagging of people, for example.  

Many people said they loved Christmas, and the shop looked nice but still said it was too early. 

From the negative undertones captured many were concerned that the “spirit of Christmas was being destroyed”.

So no, it wasn’t just me. 

“As slow as Christmas” is a saying that I sadly think will itself slowly die out, if it to be an all year event.

I feel consumerism is pushing the boundaries of time. Is this why we feel time is going so fast? Is it because we are constantly being made aware of the future by tactics like this, with no focus on what is happening right now?

Call to Action:

I ask our commercial entities to stop changing what works and start focusing on it; incorporating it into your strategies. I think businesses should pace themselves and take recount. Maybe think of a kick-ass marketing strategy that will bring more new customers into YOUR shop during the Christmas period – use your money, your staff and time wisely. Capitalise, if you must, on the EXPERIENCE that Christmas and other events are all about – do not choose one over the other as your priority; nor just think about the materials that are associated with these events. I advise retailers to read Fred Lee’s slide share on the importance of focusing on experience over outputs, and you will get even better outputs than you ever expected.

I know that I for one, have now made a decision to not visit the store who set up this Christmas shop anymore – which is particularly sad for me as this store was previously known as Switzer’s and was one my mom brought me to at Christmas time as a young child.

I was this stores market.

And sadly, because they are ruining what I see as a huge part of my experience, they have just lost me, and many more, through their pushy, materialistic marketing campaigns.

Camping Showed me the True Spirit of Community

I started packing bags, folding sleeping bags, filling flasks, writing lists of things I needed, topping up the car with Diesel and checking our travel emergency bag to ensure it had every medicine known to man in it – just in case.

Yes, we were going camping.

On the spur of the moment, I had decided that I was bringing my three daughters on a camping trip. My husband, who couldn’t take time off work, was staying at home, but I was determined that I could do this on my own.

So off we went in the car up to the beautiful mountainous scenery in the heart of Co. Wicklow, all the while my heart pounding thinking about how I would be setting  up the huge tent we had bought; how would I manage lighting the fire; where would we go to the toilet; and would we be okay sleeping at night – would we be safe?

13892069_1297446566962875_5678641007724371496_nUpon our arrival at the campsite, I was pleasantly surprised to meet the staff – answering all my questions and telling me that the site had 24 hour security and that they had onsite facilities such as toilets, showers, kitchen cleaning areas and loads of things for the kids to do such as kayaking, movie nights, archery, rock climbing, and even really funky bumper boats!

But just as I entered the tent zone, my heart started leaping again – would I manage to set up the tent?

The wind was howling, the lovely Irish rain that we’re all accustomed to was starting to pour, and I had to find a place to pitch. My girls, oblivious to my concerns, happily plodded behind me laden with sleeping bags, gas stoves and even their comfort teddy bears!

It was only when I eventually found a big enough space to pitch our tent and proceeded to take out the instructions – that the real panic set in – I didn’t have a clue what I was at.

Being in the Scouts for years, and even being a Scout Leader myself, you would have thought I knew what to do – but I didn’t! I had always left the crucial tent building exercise to those who knew how to do it best!

I started putting down the base, only to realise that the outer cover should go up first, all the while asking my girls to stand on each corner because everything was blowing away. It was probably quite comical if you were a bystander nearby!

And then, just like that, 13906978_1296768227030709_4360134836710592910_ntwo lovely Malaysian men (who I now know as Roger and Paul) came to my rescue. They quickly took all of my pegs and covers (which were now sprawled all over Ireland it felt- thanks to the wind!) and they proceeded to pitch my tent – in no less than 10 minutes, I might add. I (to my shame) had even forgot to bring a hammer, but these guys did not laugh at me like I thought they might, instead empathising, and telling me they had done the same many years ago.

I was just so grateful to them – they didn’t have to intervene, but they did.

This was the start of me feeling an overwhelming sense of community on the campsite.

13939466_1295641480476717_1404820719818770017_nThe first night we headed over to the log cabins where friends were staying and we all proceeded to work together to cook food, mind each others kids and wash up afterwards.

On the second night we then met with a couple and their little girl who were staying in another tent and we decided to set up a fire on the beach at the river. We were finding it difficult to start our fire but our excuse (that we still stand by!) was that it wasn’t because of our lack of skills in fire-lighting but because the wood wasn’t dry enough 😉

13932785_1296691063705092_2119393846058158528_nAnyway, just as we were giving up hope, a lovely family beside us were heading off to bed and then offered us their bonfire of a campfire for us to use for our hot chocolate and marshmallows.

We were in our element!

13903434_1296768440364021_6528789431899105121_nOn this same day earlier in the afternoon our girls saw a tent with an inflatable boat and we’re skirting around to see if we could get them one. The lovely owner of this dinghy then kindly came over and offered it for the girls to play in – not long after four teenage girls are deep in the river, with full clothes on, rowing their boat gently down the stream!

13921109_1296768497030682_6139150757624559849_nAll the while our smaller kiddies were catching tadpoles with paper cups and buckets!

I also saw one situation where a daddy was concentrating on his barbeque and his toddler had wandered a little away from the tent – another daddy quickly guided the child back, and the two dads then proceeded to chat and even open a beer together.

Over the next few days, I would hear random people shouting out asking for forks, coal, lighting fluid – and even nappies! You’d suddenly hear a voice come from nowhere offering what they had to help each other out.

13895527_1296768287030703_2712056114857432844_nHonestly, this was the most wonderful experience I had when camping – the sense of kindness, teamwork, and overall sense of community.

I thought to myself how lucky I am to have fantastic neighbours on each side of me at home in Mayo, and that I knew I could call on them at any time if I ever needed anything. But I also knew from my days living in Dublin, in large estates, that this was not always the case.

I think communities working together is so, so important.

Kindness can go a long way and it doesn’t always take a lot to show it.

In the healthcare arena there is a much need for a joint community approach, and sometimes this is very evident that it is being done – many times, not more so.

whis pictureLast year the World Health Innovation Summit launched into a global mission to bring local communities together to address healthcare issues that affected their towns, villages and cities. In the heart of Cumbria [UK] in a beautiful city called Carlisle, a collection of local and global leaders came together to discuss the various matters that were affecting their communities. Since this Summit, Carlisle as a community have pulled together, shared work, communicated effectively and now, just one year later, are experiencing this similar community spirit that I witnessed at this little campsite.

Working together to inspire, to share, to be kind.

With the community at the heart of it all.

Not just giving a person a fish, but teaching them how to fish for themselves.

13902617_1297841270256738_3992260243216495574_nSo at the end of my camping trip, so inspired was I to see if I could pitch my tent on my own after watching the lovely Roger and Paul do it for me, I went into my back garden and set up my tent again – I lit the barbeque, put down a fire and invited my family over for some sausages and burgers. I decided to bring my community around me, in my own little garden.

I also learned that while I was scared initially to go on my own with the girls, without my husband, that there was this whole other camping family that were there to help me along the way.

And it drove a simple message home to me – it really does take a village to raise a child!

Authors Note:

I couldn’t write this without referring to the campsite I stayed at – it was just so beautiful. In the heart of Co. Wicklow, in a village called Rathdrum, lies the wonderful little Hidden Valley campsite. It was extremely cheap to stay there (€33 a night in a tent) and there was just so much to do with the children.  It was clean, safe- and even had a restaurant on site where you could fill your flasks and get pancakes for breakfast!

Highly recommended by myself – an amateur camper – and now expert tent pitcher 😉 

13876116_1297446810296184_8436661219048574049_n13912713_1296768377030694_4860877926337489397_n13892094_1297446616962870_6596769898978594404_n13892069_1297446566962875_5678641007724371496_n13912891_1295594387148093_583429127887249013_n13939561_1295594397148092_1233047248214308052_n13879356_1297446420296223_9149307166243246264_n13962748_1297444730296392_1759554404007627939_n

Speaking at the National Patient Forum 2015

At 7.30am last Tuesday, I found myself talking aloud in my car, en route to Dublin, practicing for a presentation that I would be delivering at the National Patient and Service User Forum that same morning. Looking back,  I was really getting into it and I quite animatedly corrected myself when I went off track by shaking my head and frowning– I’m sure if anyone saw me, they surely had an early morning laugh on my behalf!

Anyway, it was just as I said the words “collaboration is key” that my GPS decided to gently interrupt my thoughts to let me know that I was coming off the motorway unto a national road. I suddenly realised where I was and was surprised because I didn’t recall the two hour journey I had just made, being so caught up in my thoughts about the oncoming day’s events.

Now I realise this isn’t just me that goes on autopilot when behind the wheel– so many of us on a daily basis put the key in the ignition and off we go – allowing one part of our brains to change gears, indicate, look in mirrors, check on the kids in the backseat, chat to the passenger beside us, merge across three lane motorways – while the other part of our brain is thinking about what we’ll have for dinner that night.

But every day, regardless of whether we’re “in the moment” or not, we have to rely heavily on collaboration to get to our destination safely.  If you ever drive along a busy dual carriageway it can be fascinating to watch cars move in and out between the lanes and synergise with one another, as if each knows what the other is doing.

Added to this, more often than not, we presume that everyone will always abide by the rules.

Red lights, stop.

Bus lanes are for buses.

No mobile phones.

Stick to speed limits.

Now some of us stick by the rules, and some do not. We can question why and how some of these rules came into play in the first instance and can often forget the collaboration that is required to ensure millions of road-users can use the road at the same time…safely. Because we actually don’t know the next move of the driver in front of us, a proactive approach is required (like the seat-belt for instance), and many’s a time this comes about because of a reaction to a negative incident.

We need engineers for planning and to ensure our traffic lights are working smoothly; we need mechanics to ensure our cars are roadworthy; we need our council for sign and road markings; we need our Gardaí for governance; we need provisions made for accessible communications and we need educational campaigns to increase awareness.

Collaboration is the key to getting to our destinations safely – and all of these same structures, teams and approaches are required for a safer health care service too. It can be extremely difficult to understand and manoeuvre between all of the different services and teams but one thing is for sure –  we all need to take responsibility for ourselves and for every other road user too – always remembering to expect the unexpected.

So how do we keep on improving on services while preventing possible accidents along the way? And when accidents do happen, is it good enough to just put a “Danger Accident Black Spot” sign up and not actually change the structure of the road?

It’s simple – we need listen to what every stakeholder needs. We need to learn from the negatives and the positives – and then improve on the quality of services based on these needs.

So this is what the HSE’s Quality Improvement Division are aiming to do. One of the priority focus areas of this division for 2015 is person centered care and they want to ensure that the voice of patients, their advocates and representatives are heard, and are central to how they design and deliver their services.

Now with this being the first meeting of the Forum, I was quite fascinated to see so many diverse groups willing to give up their time and work together on behalf of their users, to help improve services. I felt it was good too, to have this first initial meeting to give everyone a chance to meet one another and to discuss what expectations the organisations themselves had of the Forum. The Quality Improvement Division’s hope going forward is that organisations can discuss and provide feedback on a range of issues of national significance that have an impact on the experience of patients and service users accessing our health services, and then this feedback, can be communicated to the relevant HSE divisions and clinical care programmes.

To open the day, the National Director of Quality Improvement, Dr Philip Crowley started talking about the importance of kindness in our health care services.  Yes, he said, there were many, many things that needed changing and the past few years of austerity had had its toll on health services across the country but that each and every one of us can still play our part by showing just a little bit of kindness to one another.

I sat there listening, meaning to take notes because I wanted to remember everything that was being said, but I stopped what I was doing because this is exactly what I think person centered care is all about.

Remember those rules on the road from earlier that we should all abide to? Now what would be the harm, if we just added a bit of kindness to them?

I know I am always grateful when the tractor pulls in to let myself and other drivers by. Or when a car flashes to allow me to cross the road safely. Or when someone offers to fill my tank at the petrol station. Or when the truck driver allows me to pull out of a busy parking space.

Kindness always restores my faith in humanity – and simply makes me feel better.

If we were to combine this simple approach with the right structures, teams and collaboration, in our health services, I really feel we could be on to something.

And this is what the Forum was made for. During the meeting we all broke into groups to discuss the expectations from the representatives and service users from the various organisations about the Forum and even though each table had different ways on how they approached the discussion, every one of them still had many of the same visions and hopes. This outbreak session was then followed by Public Health Doctor, Dr.Carmel Mullaney and I both showcasing separately, the different self-management projects that we are working on – thus showing how we can ourselves both work together in the ideal “patient plus professional partnership”.

After an interesting morning of discussions, Director of Advocacy, Greg Price, then closed the session and thanked everybody who attended, including his team in the Quality Improvement Division for their support.

At this moment, I looked around and realised that if everyone could really pull together on this one and truly collaborate then they would be showing our whole health service a level of kindness that could be truly outstanding.

Yes, everyone has their own or their organisations unique health issues to advocate for, but the reality is, no matter what type of patient you are, a lot of the time, the same issues come up, again and again – for each and every one of us.

And so as I always say–

We’re all here to either get better or to help someone get better…

Collaboration is Key.

(And kindness is an added bonus!)

 

[This blog was created on the June 6th 2015]

Overcoming Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD]

This is how I told my story at Heart Children Ireland’s National AGM…

“Hi my name is Olive, and I am a mum of three girls; Micaela Nicole and Mackensie.  I was going to tell my story spontaneously , but every time I practised doing it this way, my emotions took over and I forgot where I was, so today I am going to read it out to make sure I don’t skip over anything.

We, as a family, come up to Dublin quite often as each of my girls see different specialists in Crumlin, including their cardiologist, Dr Coleman. Thankfully they’re all doing great at the moment but it wasn’t always that way. About a year and a half after my youngest girl, Mackensie was diagnosed with her congenital heart defect, I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Now I know you’re just in the door and probably wondering why are we starting with such a sensitive topic but we felt it would be good to do it now just in case any issues arose and people could chat to each other or ourselves about it at lunch time. Deirdre, our psychologist is thankfully here today also and is happy to talk to anyone that wishes to do so.

I myself am here today in the hope that my story can help others. I wish that another parent had told me back then that we all react differently to our situations, that it was okay to feel the feelings I was having , that I wasn’t alone and that that there was loads of help available out there for when I was ready, not just to talk, but to even admit something wasn’t right.

So here we go: before Mackensie was ever born I was worried that things might not be okay. I couldn’t say what exactly was wrong but my gut was telling me to stay alert. Anyway the labour was difficult, it took what seemed like a lifetime for her to cry and she wasn’t as pink as my other girls had been when they were born. I was worried but was told over and over again she was fine and that I probably just had the blues. So we went home but my anxiety rose as she couldn’t take her bottles for a very long time at a go, was sleeping nine hours at a time and wasn’t gaining weight. I brought her to A&E three times before she was twelve days old but both they and our health nurse at home said that it was me -that I just over-anxious, had possibly got post-natal depression and even that I was molly-coddling her. But something inside me told me something wasn’t right and so I fought my corner on the last go and eventually got her admitted. The next morning we were told that she had a slight heart murmur but they still sent her home to await an echo for six weeks’ time. Straight after being discharged I brought her to my GP (who was back from his holidays) and he knew something was seriously wrong. So he picked up the phone and sent her straight to another hospital which was where we were told she had three holes in her little heart and that she would need to have heart surgery in Crumlin.

In a state of shock and panic, when we got the call up the next day,  I ignored my gut instinct and instead took advice not to upset my other two daughters by saying goodbye to them. And so we just left, just like that. The poor little things, trying to adjust first to a new baby and then mammy, daddy and baby just disappearing. When we got up there I felt so bad for them and I wanted to ring them all the time but I was afraid I was going to upset them. I missed them so much but couldn’t say it out loud because I knew I had to stay strong.

So in this tiny cubicle on St. Theresa’s ward we stayed; staying strong and hoping, praying and wishing without realising how long we would eventually be staying for.   I had to stay strong before her surgery, during her surgery and after her surgery. The two things that stick out clearly in my mind were getting Mackensie baptised in this little cubicle before her surgery and having to learn how to do baby CPR on her before we got home.

It didn’t take long to meet other parents in the parents room, and it was surreal how we all learned the lingo quickly and were able to talk like doctors and nurses: conversations would go anywhere from discussing surgeries, types of heart valves to tube feeding and medications. But on the inside we were all feeling different emotions at different times; we were so tired, we were scared, we were frustrated and even sometimes guilt ridden – was it our faults our babies were sick, how are the other kids at home, how will we manage financially, why did this happen to us, why amn’t I worrying like all the other parents are? Our worst days were if a baby had lost their battle. No-one wanted to look at each other in the eye, because the fears and pain were too raw. And we had of course, to stay strong.

The day before Mackensie’s surgery, a great friend of mine now, that I got to know because her little baby girl was there, decided with my husband not to tell me about a little baby that had died that day, as she knew it would terrify me.

And she was right, it would have.

We eventually got home after a long six weeks stay and I soon realised very quickly that my safe haven of Crumlin was gone. I remember panicking on the first night because I wasn’t sure if the nib in the syringe actually counted as a milliletre of Frusomide or not!  I worried about who would be able to mind Mackensie if I got sick.   I had lost trust in so many people because of the so many battles I had initially to get her diagnosed and because my husband and other family members believed the doctors too at that time and not me,  I had lost trust in anyone else to mind her or my other girls too. I was so scared being so far away from the security that if anything went wrong we didn’t have specialists to hand.

I soon learned a few months later though in one of the fastest journeys of my life those ambulances can get there fairly rapid if they need to!

But I also realised I didn’t have the security of the parents in Crumlin to talk to. I remember one day when we had to be moved to another ward temporarily it had made me so upset that the kind nurse moved me back. I was so lonely and missed everyone so much that I needed the security of St Theresa’s to keep me sane. Back home I knew that people were trying to be positive by saying that “she didn’t look sick at all” or that “sure she’d be grand”, but I used to feel like screaming at them  because I had so many fears for her future.

And then my lovely friend that had protected me from my pain, before Mackensie’s surgery, rang me to tell me about her pain.

Her beautiful baby girl had died.

Words cannot describe the hurt, pain and utter heartbreak. My friends had lost their only baby during heart surgery. It was just so, so sad. And frightening.

So you would have thought after that a few months later, when we were told Mackensie wouldn’t need her next open heart surgery that I would have been so relieved and happy.

But no.

The silent fears suddenly came to a head. I went home, I closed all the blinds in the house, turned off the phone and for three days solid, I cried.

I had no idea what was happening to me and I felt so, so guilty. Why was I crying? Did I want my baby to be sick? What was wrong with me? I couldn’t talk about it to anyone because I felt like such a bad mother and my anxiety started getting worse until soon I couldn’t tell the difference between my gut instinct and worries. I didn’t want anybody to mind the girls and I started staying in, even quitting my job in the midst of it all. It all came to a head one day when I couldn’t get my husband on the phone and I had convinced myself he had been in an accident. One of my closest friends, Linda, came in to the house to calm me down and it was that day that I knew, I needed help. Because of my anxiety issues around the girl’s safety and that I may not hear them at night I refused anti-depressants or sleepers, which probably would have been a great help, so instead, I sought out counselling.

The first day was the hardest; my counsellor was sitting talking to me and I suddenly heard an ambulance in the distance. I made a bolt and just jumped out of my seat and ran out the door. He ran after me not knowing what was wrong and I explained that I felt something was wrong at home – he reasoned there and then that I would be quicker on the phone if I rang, and I did. Of course my poor husband, Fintan, asked why was I not in counselling and I told him about my fears. So for the first six months of counselling, I sat with my phone turned on, the door left ajar and the promise that Fintan would ring me if anything was wrong.

So, for the next two years, every Monday night, I met my counsellor.

And it saved me. It saved my family.  It saved my marriage.

I will never be the person I was before Mackensie was diagnosed but to be honest I wouldn’t want to be.  I still do get the odd twinge of anxiety every now and then, but I now have the tools to cope with it and so much more now. And I know blaming hospitals or anything else for that matter does not help…it only builds up the anger inside. Being proactive and making wrongs right does help though and it is this reason why I am sharing my story with you.

Recognising you may not be okay is the first step. For me it was the anxiety, anger and guilt but for others it may be the complete opposite. Talking is the next step. Talk to a friend, family member, GP…you may be surprised that they already know that you are in a bad place. Next get help – figure out which is the best way for you to get treatment by talking to your GP or psychologists like Deirdre. Know that the reason you are feeling this way is because you are trying to stay strong in a really stressful situation and sometimes when the calm after the storm comes, the real storm is only starting for you. My counsellor always told me not to be too hard on myself and I’m here today to say the same to you guys – Go easy on yourselves, know it’s ok to feel the way you’re feeling and talk to one another.

Thanks so much,

Olive x

 

 

The Stigma: Anxiety Caused by Disclosing Anxiety.

Please Note:

I will be disclosing personal information in this post. I am terrified in doing so, but here goes anyway. I care too much about breaking the stigma surrounding the mental health agenda. This post was originally posted on LinkedIn for professionals.

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Always.

People think I’m always happy. Bubbly, outgoing, fun. People think I’m always strong. Hopeful, helpful, inspirational. People think I’m always smart. thinking, strategic, clever. People think I’m always grateful. Praising, delighted, unwanting. People think I’m always motivated. Busy, hardworking, driven. People think I’m always there. Caring, kind, mindful.

Always.

That one word that flows throughout.

No one thing in this world is stagnant.
No one thing in this world is unmoving.
No one thing in this world is always.

People change. Circumstances change. Perceptions change.

At any one time the core of a humans being can be shattered beyond repair.
And all good things can come to a sharp halt.

Hope, joy and optimism replaced with:“What’s the point, we’re all going to die anyway?”

Kindness, mindfulness and caring replaced with:“I don’t care about myself so why should I care about others?”

Outgoing, bubbly and active replaced with:“I’m staying away from people and the world, I only make things worse.”

Working, educating and learning replaced with:“Where has it all got me so far?”

Strength replaced with tears. Hope replaced with fears.

Love replaced with hate.

Illnesses, grievances, accidents, finances, schooling, housing, community, relationships, careers, politics, colleagues, family, friends.

All interconnected, changing.

All factors which can change of how one is, and how they have come to be.

Always.

A strong word in a world that has no always.

A very thin rope holds the happiness of a human within its loop.

Perceptions that emotional stress or illness does not affect every one of us causes great barriers on the road to the prevention of such.

Preparation for the probability of stress caused by natural life is the only proactive measure.

Acceptability that life has happened to others is measured through the reactions of society and the eyes of the perceived.

Disruption to stigma is the only way forward.

Every being in the world will witness and go through stress.

Be it physically, emotionally or both.

Let everyone accept this.
It’s called life.

Let everyone change the perception.

Let’s be ready.
Let’s be thoughtful.
Let’s be open.

And most of all, let’s be kind.

Always.

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This post is addressed to professionals, and to everyone else for that matter. So before I hear “this content is not business related” in the comments,  I am addressing this now. This poem, by yours truly, is written for, and about, a very close friend of mine. The below article, based on this work, is completely suitable for posting here on this, a professional platform.

Why?

Because, it is people, not products which change the world. Behind every product, behind every business, is a person with an idea, a thought, a vision. Upon building upon this dream, other people become involved. And those people are connected to more people. And all of those people, to many, many more. Which is what this platform is all about. Connections. Every person along this journey each have their own dreams and visions. And lives.

Lives which can be full of happiness, full of aspiration, full of love. Full of travels, full of eating out with friends, full of shopping. Full of sports, full of arts, full of music. Full of relationships, full of family, full of friends. Full of career prospects, full of academic achievements, full of achieved bucket lists.

Lives full of, well, stuff.

But one day, that same life, in just a heartbeat, can suddenly become empty.

Just like that.

Much like a computer which turns on and lights up, everything externally may still remain as was upon first glance, but it’s only upon closer examination you find something just isn’t right anymore. The internal system is just not syncing correctly, there has been some memory loss and it doesn’t really know what to do anymore. The hardware is fine, the software isn’t.

You look for the signs. You backtrack. trying to figure out what caused the problem. Still unsure, you tentatively reach out to others for help. An online help service, a phone call to a friend, a dusty PC manual stuck in it’s box.

You do everything to fix it. All your work is stored on it. Photos of your children. You might even hear yourself say, “my whole life is on it.” It’s connected to loads of other PC’s. You’re afraid it might affect them.

It might have just been that a wrong button was pressed; it might be that a wrong code was input; a drink spilled – or worse somebody hacked your system.

All very logical reasons for how a perfectly perfect  system could suddenly crash.

Much like when a human being crashes.

A high energy, fun loving, positive person you once knew, is suddenly, gone. Eyes empty with an over coated gloss to hide their pain, shame or anguish. They can’t keep up, can’t work like they did before, talk, chat or respond in the same way. They try to find the root cause. Ring a helpline, talk to friends, read self help books. Their changes are affecting those around them. What happened?

Life. Life is what happened. Life happens to all of us.

Life challenges everyone’s mental health.

Every single one of us have experienced stress at some stage. Even our birthing process is a physical stress our bodies go through. Think of a time you were worried about exams, health, finances, peers, family, relationships. Afraid of an injection, a spider, flying. Afraid of what your friends would think, your boss would think, your neighbors would think. Afraid of the past. Afraid of being ugly. Afraid of embarrassment, failure, guilt. Afraid of losing your job, your home, your dignity. Afraid of dying. Afraid of losing someone you love.

Yes, all stress inducing fears. And very real fears to the person who has them.

Yet, sometimes there are no fears.

Sometimes stress is caused by circumstances or situations. Break-ups, job losses, health issues – all can contribute. Bullying, be you an adult or child, can have the most detrimental effects.

The loss of your home. The loss of a loved one. The loss of a child.

The yearning for a child, not yet conceived.

There are no words.

No one knows what tomorrow may bring and this sometimes causes stress brought on by anxiety worrying about the unknown.

We all, at some stages in our lives, will go through some sort of stress. We have to break the ignorance that is stigma surrounding mental health “issues” as if it is something we have not ever experienced. This agenda needs to be addressed at a professional level.

People from all status’ and hierarchies need to start speaking up. We all need to admit to one another, and the world, that we all have experienced stress, and at times even, depression or anxiety. And then we need to learn from one another as to how we got past those feelings of despair or emptiness.

It is normal to feel empty sometimes. Completely and utterly normal.

I have felt empty.

But as soon as I started feeling fulfilled again, I knew I wanted to help others.

In 2012 I joined a new group on Facebook called EasySpeak. This private forum was founded by Dublin man Mark Dolan and he had just lost two of his best friends within a few weeks of each other through suicide. Devastated, he never wanted to see anyone have no-one to talk to and so he took action. It was a year or so after, and thousands of members later, when Mark decided to take a step back from this forum so that he could try and make sense of what had happened to him, and so since 2013 I have watched, minded and safeguarded this page for him, and for our 10,000 strong members, of which we call, EasySpeakers.

EasySpeakers comprise of people from every single background and walk of life. Business people, parents, grandparents, unemployed, students, politicians, teenagers – the list goes on – from all over the world.

EasySpeakers mind one another. They share stories, both anonymously and openly, to help each other heal and not feel alone. They share information about local resources and professionals. They share what worked and what didn’t. They share their good days and their bad days. EasySpeak has helped so many.

I know this, for a fact.

I know…because it helped me.

I was one of the first people to share my own personal story on EasySpeak. I spoke of how I had got through some extremely turbulent teenage years of which I very nearly didn’t survive. I spoke about the regrets, sadness’s and hurts that I had gone through, and that I had felt I caused along the way too. I spoke about my fears of my past. I spoke about how I then overcame PTSD and severe anxiety after my daughters heart surgery eight years later. I spoke about the moment when one of my closest friends helped me admit that I needed to talk to someone. I spoke of the most amazing two years I went through upon starting counselling. I spoke of how it was the most important thing I ever did.

For me. For my family. For my friends. For my life.

Sharing my story, helped me heal. Hundreds and hundreds of comments, private messages came soaring in. Old friends made renewed contact with me and I made peace with my past.

It helped others heal too.

The first night after I shared my story, I got a message on Facebook which made the hairs on my neck stand up. My friend wrote to me telling me that he had a bottle of vodka and pills beside his bed and that he was just about to take them, with the intention of overdose – but upon reading my story, stopped. That amazing person is still alive today, and I’m so glad to say, is happy and well.

Since 2013,  I have since answered thousands of messages from others in bad situations. And all I do is listen.

I know people might want to know what my original story is and why I don’t share this story here, or publicly. But sadly, I am not yet ready to share it this way yet. The world isn’t ready. I am not so famous that I could get away with it.

You see, the stigma is very much alive and well. As I share this with you now, hundreds of people are posting their stories on private forums across the world. Desperately wanting to talk to someone who understands. Who can help.

Why do they not reach out to those they love?

I know why. Because as I write this, I feel the symptoms of anxiety creep up. Anxiety from knowing I have now opened up, and the world can now judge.

A world full of “professionals” that I now might have blocked myself from potential opportunities because of peoples perceptions of mental health “issues”. For those professionals that I have met and shared my story, they have often seemed surprised because I don’t seem like “that type of person”.

I have often wondered what is “that type of person”.

I often think of Robin Williams after such reflections.

I wonder now will people reading this suddenly think of me different. Perceive me as a “victim”. Or treat me like they have to “mind” me. Think I’m “not able to do my job” or that  I would “look bad for business”. That I am a “risk”.

I wonder.

We’ll see.

But one thing is for sure. I cannot put up an article or blog raising awareness about breaking stigmas if I don’t stand by it and speak up too.

I imagine a world where one day a boss or manager will sit down with a new staff member and have an open and honest conversation about the normality of “stress”. It can be something as simple as letting them know that everyone has a bad day every now and again and that the best thing to do is talk to someone about it. To ask questions if they’re unsure or to tell them if the job is getting too much. Start the conversation, and not be scared. Empathy can go a long way.

Believe me, I know. I have always done this with my team. It works.

My final message is this.

Think about who you are.

Think about how you treat others. Think about the stresses in your own world. What might seem trivial to you, could be huge for someone else, and vice versa. Think about how you reacted when I admitted I had been through my own difficult times. Especially if you already know me. And that you may have perceived me initially like that as in the first few sentences in my earlier poem.

Change your reaction to hearing someone has depression or anxiety. You’d be surprised to see that often, their reaction won’t be what you expect. Let us not be so egotistical to think that we will “never be like them”.

Fancy cars, houses and clothes one day. Recession; homeless.

Great health, social life, dances. Car accident ; wheelchair.

Dream vacations, romantic dinners, roses. Cancer diagnosis; respite.

In a heartbeat our world can be changed. Our mental health challenged.

All I ask from this blog is for people to be kind. Not superficially kind, but really kind. From your heart kind. We do not know what others are, or have, gone through.

Think of me as your daughter, your wife, your sister. Your son, your husband, your brother. Your lover. Your best friend.  Your pet even. 🙂

If you can’t think of me as that, think of me as your business. People change the world, not products. Think of your staff, your colleagues, your bosses. Think of the potential just kindness alone can have in your workplace.

It’s only one little thing, that can mean so much.

I am only one person. I am only human. I am a survivor.

But I am not a survivor of  a “mental health issue” –  I am a survivor of life.

And I know, I am not alone.

Because you are too.

#playyourpart #alltogether #breakthestigma #kindness

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For the record: I have learned enough tools through counselling to help me get through crisis moments and because of this I am doing great. I have bad days (don’t we all) which are most often caused by normal life hiccups and bumps in the road – amongst many health care appointments with the kiddies! I have learned one simple technique that if I make myself smile even if  I’m having an “I’m late for work, have a headache and can’t find the paracetemol” type of days, people will respond to me positively which rubs off on me and actually makes me feel better! Talking is key, as is eating good food, exercising and keeping a balance in life. I personally love my work, I love my Zumba dancing and these have been my saviours to keep my head space happy – along with the love from my many family and friends, of course!

Wishing you all good coping skills for this thing we call life!

Thanks for reading! O x

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If at any time, you or someone you know is in a crisis situation please go to your nearest A&E, ring 999/112 or got to nearest Gardai /Police station.

The following are some helpful numbers/websites in Ireland:

www.samaritans.ie The Samaritans 1850 60 90 90 Nationwide helpline and 24:7 text support service, 365 days a year, for anyone in emotional distress.

www.1life.ie  1Life 1800 247 100

www.grow.ie  Grow 1890 474 474 – helps people who have suffered or are suffering from mental health problems

www.pieta.ie Pieta House – Email. mary@pieta.ie Phone. 01 601 0000 –

Pieta House offers a specialised treatment programme for people who have suicidal ideation or who participate in self-harming behaviours

www.aware.ie AWARE 1890 303 302 Email. info@aware.ie

Support email.wecanhelp@aware.ie Phone. 01 661 7211 -Aware is a national voluntary organisation providing support through depression.

www.reachout.ie  Reach Out Ireland – Email.info@inspireireland.ie

Reach Out is a web-based service that inspires young people to help themselves through tough times, and find ways to improve their own mental health and well-being.

 www.headsup.ie HeadsUp – information on where to go for help in a crisis is now available through your mobile phone. Text the word HeadsUp to50424.

www.headstrong.ie Headstrong – Phone: 01 4727010: Headstrong works with communities to ensure young people between 12 and 25 are better supported to achieve mental health and wellbeing. It was set up in response to an identified need to address the issue of youth mental health in Ireland

www.heads-away-just-say.com Heads Away Just Say For young people in Northern Ireland, covering common problems to do with home, school and friends

www.ispcc.ie  or www.childline.ie ISPCC Childline 1800 66 66 66  Confidential helpline for children up to 18 years of age

www.parentline.ie Parentline Phone: 18901 927 277 Confidential helpline for parents and guardians

 www.teenline.ie Teen-Line Ireland 1800 833 634 Email. info@teenline.ie

Phone. 01 4622124 Helpline. 1800 833 634

www.spunout.ie SpunOut – Email. info@spunout.ie Phone. 091 533693

Spun Out is an independent, youth powered national charity working to empower young people to create personal and social change

www.aoibhneas.org Aoibhneas : Phone: 01 8670701 Provide facilities, professional help and support. Helpline offers a FREE professional counselling service to men and women who are suffering from violence in the home

www.cari.ie  Children At Risk Ireland CARI  Phone: 1890 924567 Provides many services, among them is the provision of therapy for children, young people and families who have been affected by child sexual abuse.

www.womensaid.ie  Women’s Aid Phone: 1800 341 900.  Offers confidential info, advice, support and understanding to women who are being physically, sexually or mentally abused in home

www.amen.ie/ Amen Phone: 046 23718 Support and information for male victims of domestic abuse

www.drcc.ie Rape Crisis Network Phone: 1800 77 8888 Provides support around any concerns you may have in regard to issues of rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment or childhood abuse

www.drugs.ie Drugs.ie Phone: 1800 459 459 Drugs and Alcohol Information and support

 www.dap.ie Drugs Awareness Programme Phone: 01 8360911 Provides info, support and counselling in relation to drugs, substance misuse or addiction

www.al-anon-ireland.org/alanon Alateen Phone: 01 8732699 Support for young people aged 12 to 20 who are affected by a problem drinker

www.positiveoptions.ie Positive Options Provides info and contacts for organisations that may be able to help if worried about pregnancy

www.life.ie Life Helpline Phone: 1850 281281 Provides counselling to women with crisi pregnancies

www.belongto.org Belong To Phone: 01 8734184 Supporting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGDT) young people

www.shineireland.com Shine Phone 01 8601620 Helpline. 1890 621 631 – services for autism

www.hse.ie/en/HealthServices HSE Infoline Phone: 1850 24 1850 Find out about many different services in HSE Mental Health Sector

www.mabs.ie MABS Phone:0761 07 2000 Offers free, confidential, independent and non-judgmental service for people in debt, or in danger of getting into debt, in Ireland.

www.sosadireland.ie

SOSAD (Save Our Sons And Daughters) is an organisation with five main goals:Raise awareness of suicide in Ireland, Break the taboo surrounding suicide, Provide support and direction to those feeling suicidal, Provide support and direction to those approached by someone feeling suicidal, Provide support and direction for those bereaved by suicide.

SOSAD Drogheda. info@sosadireland.ie Phone; 041 9848754

SOSAD Navan. navan@sosadireland.ie  Phone 046 9031855

SOSAD Dundalk. Dundalk@sosadireland.ie Phone 042 9327311

SOSAD Cavan. cavan@sosadireland.ie  Phone 049 4326339

OTHER SUPPORT SERVICES PHONE INFORMATION

 BodyWhys: Phone: 1890 200 444 Service Centre for providing confidential, non judgemental support for people affected by eating disorders.

ISPCC Teen Focus Phone 041 9833406 Youth mentoring and counselling for young people at risk (13-18)

Aisling Group International Phone: 046 9074300 For parents and carers affected by drugs and alcohol use by young people

Do you judge peoples ability to do their work by their tastes in clothes, hobbies or music?

“It was during an informal conversation over a cup of tea with a business associate that led to a discussion about our various music tastes. I confidently declared that Beyoncé was one of my favourite artists. I was immediately taken aback when I was met with an arched eyebrow; a patronizing smile and the statement – “Oh really, YOU listen to Beyoncé?”

Would you judge my ability to do my work based on my tastes of clothes, hobbies or music?

When I say the name Beyoncé do you think of a famous pop singer – and just that?

What if I told you one of my inspirations for my work as an entrepreneur were this same lady?

Would you be surprised?

If you’re wondering why I ask this, please read my open letter to you, as a society, as addressed to Mrs. Carter…

 

“Dear Beyoncé,

 

I walked into my bedroom after kissing my three beautiful young daughters goodnight, and saying their bedside prayers. Sometimes it takes my breath away when I see their little faces. As I contemplated on how blessed I was to have them in my life, I reflected on their lives.

I reflected on my own life.

And as your music was playing softly in the background, I reflected on you too.

Your life.

Our differences.

Our similarities.

Even though we are worlds apart by our careers, finances and locations, we still are not all that different.

We are both the same age, you and I. My husband too, the same age as yours.

File 24-07-2016 1 39 25 p.m.
Speaking at the World Health Innovation Summit 2015

I have stood on international platforms telling my story, to hopefully help others, and me, heal. And in doing so, know the feeling of being judged.

I have gone through the unexpected shock of miscarriage. Personally know the pain of separated parents. Resonate with the many confusions, conflicts and closures a family go through together – all the while recognizing positively the strong values they too have instilled in me.

Much like yourself, most of what I’ve gone through has been done while a vast village has watched on through lenses unbeknownst, and yet too well known, to us.

As my life journey has been progressing, I have watched yours from afar.

My heart ached deep with empathy at times for you as the picture painted of your world is often tainted by viciousness, through others delight in negativity. Celebrity status, be it local or global, does not take away internal pain. If anything, it restricts natural healing processes.

I smile, I get on with it.

Closed, yet openhearted. Wanting to speak out, yet knowing I sometimes have to wait until the time is right before I can do so.

And when those times become too tough,  sometimes wondering what it was all about.

Life.

Until I remembered. Your words. We were strong women. We were not born weak.

I was not born weak.

I thought about how I was just a little older than my eldest daughter when I first heard your music. Instantly, my soul synchronised with your styles, sounds and stanzas. Your hidden messages that others may not have grasped, often resonated with me on a level that I could not articulate.

As this young teenager, you influenced me. I always had a profound interest in entrepreneurs.

I thought of you as just that. I imagined how hard you had to work, how you had to ignore the negativity and how hard you had to push your body and mind to reach your goals. How you and your family sacrificed to make ends meet. Pushing your own boundaries time and time again. Pushing societies boundaries. Creating your brand. Recreating your brand. Creating your life. Recreating your life.

Becoming resilient.

Your music was always a form of escapism for me. Even though I had never been able to sing, my body had no problem tuning in at all.

You see, I had always wanted to be a dancer.

But I was never brave enough to tell anyone.

Fear of worrying about what people thought of me always stood in my way. I took one dance lesson as a child. And stopped. Too scared I wouldn’t be as good as anyone else. It was only as I was old enough to go to clubs with my friends, that I would take every opportunity to be first on the dancefloor –  inhibitions quickly fading as was the way with the consumptions of one too many.

My mirror too, in the privacy of my bedroom, often got a glimpse of my dreams.

Then, just as I was entering my twenties “life” happened very quickly for me.

Young love, marriage, three beautiful children.

However it wasn’t long before serious health complications ensued on all three of our daughters – myself and my husband did not escape it either. Heart surgeries, strokes, chemotherapy treatments. A personal recovery from post traumatic stress disorder took its toll. Financial difficulties. Twists and turmoils of which no-one knew about affected our marriage. The loss of hope to go to college and get my degree. The loss of loved ones through death. The loss of friends through bitter realisations. The loss of a youthful body, and mind. The loss of dreams.

Along the way somewhere, I had stopped dancing.

Serious life issues took hold of me. I forgot who I was.

I found myself in the darkest of places.

I searched for hope. Everywhere.

And then, one day, it appeared.

I saw that hope in my daughters’ eyes. I realised that I needed to find my passion again. They needed me to be happy; for them to be happy. This became my drive to find myself again. I so badly needed to live again.

File 24-07-2016 1 48 31 p.m.
Caught on camera practicing my Zumba!

And so, I joined a dance class.

Went to counselling. Even set up my own social enterprise to help create equality in healthcare. I started to feel an inner contentment that I hadn’t felt before. I felt valued for the first time in my life. I felt I was making a difference to peoples lives.

I started to feel the old young me emerge.

That was until, I was told to stop.

When I danced, I was told to “act my age”.

When I worked, I was told “I wasn’t an expert”.

It stunned me.  I was left reeling. Suddenly feeling trapped, like a hand had tightened its grip around my neck it told me I could not be me anymore.

Told to “fit in”. Told to be “passive”.

Suddenly I knew I was expected to act a certain way now. Expected to meet the expectations of civilizations standards. Apparently it was presumed that my personal life should have been as serious as my daily work. This was an emotional roller coaster that I did not expect to feel – my mind still pined for a rhythm, a beat, a heartbeat, in my life, but my society told me it was best to do it behind closed doors…

I was grieving. Grieving for my lost youth. Grieving for my career, my calling, even. Grieving for the could have beens.

What would I do now? Who was I?

Had I not been acting “grown up” enough going through all of the trials and tribulations in our little family? Had I not been educated enough for my career having dealt with five members of our family having serious medical issues? Had I not proven that I could do my work, and have fun too in my spare time? Did I not look suitable enough to wear what I wore; to still dance?

Why did I not fit in? What did I do wrong?

I was shutdown.

But it took that to awaken me. It was only when I shut down, I decided to shut out the noise. I shut out the pollution.

I again submerged myself in your music.

I started thinking.

Who put limitations on when I, or anyone else, had to start acting a certain way? How did someone my age even act? Was there a rulebook somewhere I was unaware of? I was always there for my children, my family, my friends. I spoke on behalf of local, national and global communities via universal podiums. I had won national awards, been celebrated even, as an outstanding young person. I had a beautiful home. A beautiful family.

I fought battles no one ever saw. And overcame them.

I worked hard.

Hell, I slayed hard.

Wasn’t I allowed to now just be me? Be I a woman or a man? Be I young or old? Be I rich or poor? Be I black or white? Be I fat or thin? Be I educated or not? Be I a lover of opera or heavy metal? Be I a dancer or an academic?

I figured that the restrictive statements said to me about my age or my dreams were all just about people’s perceptions. Rules inflicted by jealousy or vindictiveness or power. Or own internal issues, that had actually nothing to do with me at all, at times.

I always knew that much of the time in the work I did I was judged – though not might I add, always negatively. People told me it was exhilarating to see someone so positive and optimistic. That I lit up a room when I walked in. That my vision was so cleverly simplistic. That my ethics shone through in my actions. What people didn’t realise was that my real life was not always positive and optimistic – the reality sometimes far from it. Life throwing curveballs could alter the very core of a human being and suddenly someone who wore their heart on their sleeve, wore themselves out.

And then there were the moments when people did not always perceive me so positively.

I always remember the first time I was really made aware of this.

It was during an informal conversation over a cup of tea with a business associate that led to a discussion about our various music tastes. I confidently declared that you were one of my favourite artists.

I was immediately taken aback when I was met with an arched eyebrow; a patronizing smile and the statement –

“Oh really, YOU listen to Beyoncé?”

I didn’t expect it. Because of my music taste I realised that I suddenly didn’t meet their expectations of what type of person I was. I knew instantly it was because my work in healthcare was so “serious” that I wasn’t deemed as a person who would listen to “your type”.

I was judged outright to my face, simply just because of my personal choices. You were judged too.

Completely aware of what had happened it was at this time when I decided that I would not respond like I would have done when I was younger. I did not backtrack and say I liked lots of others artists too. I had had enough. I actually didn’t care anymore about what people thought of me.

I defended my choice. I defended you.

It drove me insane; closemindedness. I often wondered why did people stereotype others by the music they listened to? The clothes they wore. Their religion. Their tattoos. The colour of their skin, even.

I wondered would they think to question me in the same manner if I had said I loved classical music?

And so in this conversation I purposefully did not go on to explain that I actually had a vast interest in all music genres, influenced by my family, friends and upbringing. Nor did I explain that you too delivered many music variances through your own work – switching from pop to rock to country instantaneously, without ever breaking the flow of the story you were telling.

I chose not to inform them of same because I knew their decision was already made about the type of person I was in their eyes.

I wanted to change their perspective.

I had a point to make.

I challenged their preconceived notions about me – and about you. I held my ground. Calmly.

I asked how easy would it be for them to make the million dollar industry you had created? Asked them were they judging you solely on “mass media” reports? Asked them had they been working since they were a child? Or did they even know who or what you represented – did they know how much you cared about the equality agenda?

“Working to make those inequalities go away is being a feminist, but more importantly, it makes me a humanist. I don’t like or embrace any label.”

Beyoncé, Elle Magazine 2016

Asked could they stand in front of millions and perform the way you do – literally flawless? Remember every dance move and lyrics for your shows? Asked if they could lead diverse teams to work with you, the way you do, to see your vision through? Asked if they knew the many charitable organisation’s you supported? Asked could they run international clothing companies, write poetry, always look good and be a parent of a toddler all at the same time? Asked how they would feel not being able to go down to a local shop without being bombarded by cameras? Asked how they would feel being judged by just looking at someone sideways at a football game? Asked if they could keep their head in someone else’s tennis game knowing you had to catch a flight to another country a few hours later to perform a live show that same night? Asked how they would feel if every little mistake they made was circulated globally? Asked how they would feel being judged by every little thing they did?

And do all that while going through a public forum about parents breaking up, internal family conflicts, miscarriages and speculations of whether their marital relationship would survive or not?

I asked if they thought they had the same type of resilience that you have?

I asked if he knew now why I was inspired by you.

Yes. The answer was yes. The gentleman in question was really interested in what I had to say. We swayed in and out of a dual conversation long after.

I knew I could not take anymore judging of me, or you, and I had had a chance to put it right.

I knew in my heart too that this wouldn’t always be the case.

I knew I wouldn’t always be able to change someone that didn’t want to be changed and knew too that I could only change myself, and how I reacted to someone else’s actions or words. In this situation I simply wanted to shed light on the bigger picture, hopefully with the long-term outcome that they would maybe not judge people on their personal interests, be it music, or otherwise; but take them for who they are. At face value.

Ignorance is an extremely dangerous weapon that the “other side” still hold on to.

And I thought about it for a long, long time after the fact.

I asked myself are these the same type of people who would say I had to “act my age”?

Are these the “they” in society when we start statements with “They say…”?

Are “they” the cohort of individuals in our society that dictate how we look, dress, talk, walk or write? Are they the type of people that can shut down your business? Ruin your reputation? Destroy relationships?

Or worse.

Are “they” the type of people that say “all lives matter” and not research or try to understand why certain advocacy groups for minorities are founded to speak up against statistical wrong doings?  The type of people that don’t understand why we get the bigger picture and see things from a humanist perspective? Striving for equality for all, and understanding that to reach this goal sometimes those who can’t speak up for themselves need people like us to speak up for them.

And knowing too that sometimes people like us, need someone else to speak up for us, at times when we can’t.

I want my beautiful daughters to not worry like I did about what society thought of me. I want them to be themselves. I want them to have respect for themselves and others; to be kind and compassionate. To be honest, empathetic, caring and passionate. To think of our world as a global village.

To be strong. At all ages in their lives.

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My three beautiful girls…

Pretty really does hurt. It has hurt me when I have compared myself to others; trying to be thinner, less talkative, more intelligent. I now instill into my girls that beauty is on the inside; shining through the eyes of the beholder as they show their inner beings through their actions and words to others.

My brain now has matured through knowledge, my body has matured through childbirth and my heart has matured through healing.

But my soul, I am finding is forever young.

I do not intend to replace the old, I intend to make something more beautiful than the original – taking the art of Kintsugi which shows beautifully in your pictorials, to my real life.

Your music is my therapy. You make me feel like I am not alone. I feel I can be who I want to be.

I have watched your work of art in silent awe. Not listening, but HEARING what it represents.

Optimistic by nature, and resilient by choice – turning fruit into juice is what I have always tried to do. Sometimes just adding more sugar to eventually get the taste just right. And upon running out, just seeking out the right ingredients and filling the glass up again.

Even before I heard you, I resonated.

Nothing prepared me for what your most recent vocal and visual story would bring to me. Each and every word brought personal images of my own life, to mind. Tears rolled down my cheeks as memories of this journey invaded my present being. The curse of the past that blended into present tense, impacting on the future. Broken trusts. The changing of me to suit, to fit in, to be perfect.

To be the only one.

I sang out of tune, yet very much in tune, to release an anger I had forgotten was still there. Remembering the prayers that it was “just me” and not my intuition. The realisation of truth. Emptiness engulfing me. The wide open hole in my soul that I thought would never heal.  The learning of what my true values and beliefs were – and listening to my inner self, the quiet…not the noise.

The apathy. Oh, the apathy. I didn’t actually realise that is what it was at the time.

Accepting that I knew I made the right choices in who was in my life; accepting their choices in their lives were not always the right ones for us. Knowing the choices I would make to stay were the right ones, for us. Promises broken, for wrong – and right reasons. Redeeming new found deep infatuation from its hiding place. The forgiving of the past and the formation of new foundations from broken sandcastles.

I am now 35 years young.

I have, and still am, on a journey of which no-one has, nor ever will experience; yet still know so many others haved lived this life, just in so many different ways. I have had to let the past go. I have been judged, compared, knocked, hurt. Nearly suicide before tears rolled down my face. Tears of which would eventually lead to my freedom.

My Freedom.

I will “dance” again, and graciously so. This dance will show through a new found inner confidence – an assertiveness which when eyes open for the first time in disbelief their mouths may twist as per their need to wreak havoc on my character. The “They” in society may openly sneer to suit their own agendas, especially if they are used to a stifled voice – those who speak the truth can be seen as a threat to those in power.

I am writing this to you with the hope that people’s eyes will open, in a positive light. To educate themselves and accept differences are a good thing.

I am standing strong for myself, and for those who can’t stand strong for themselves.

You stand strong now and in the direct eyes of the world you ask for peace, truth and equality.

You are putting yourself in the firing line – because you have had enough. You care. Not just about your family or your friends. Not just about your marriage. Or your beautiful little daughter. Not just about women, race or culture – but all humans.

You do this with your husband by your side, Mrs. Carter.

I do too. I embrace marriage. He embraces me. We embrace the past and know it has made us stronger.

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Myself and my husband renewing our wedding vows on Cocoa Beach, 2015

My husband knows I am on this journey to help me find who I am again, and it was he who surprised me with the gift to see you in person. He knew I needed this, in this particular moment in my life. He knows how you helped me through my darkest of days as I sat in my car alone. With just your music on and tears streaming down my face.

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The last picture I would ever take with my dad

Crying through the grief of losing my dad, and my unborn baby. Realising heaven needed them more.

He knows how you made me feel it was okay to be a curvaceous woman as I nervously got ready on a night out and tried to pick outfits to fit me after each of my pregnancies. He knows it was you who helped me dance when I really didn’t feel like it. He knows you helped to restore hope in myself.

Hope.

I again saw that hope in my daughters eyes for a second time, when I returned from your concert. She looked at me and told me she felt she had her old “young” mom back again. I went back to me and I wore my favourite clothes – baseball cap and all.

Removed the “serious suits” from my life.

For that, I am so grateful.

I’m sorry it took me nearly twenty years to see you perform. You the same age as I proudly did your thing. You the person I had grown up with year for year, had owned your vocals, your body, your dance. Each and every woman on that stage owned themselves too. Each and every person in your audience felt your presence. You made me realise age is only a number.

It was the singularly most empowering thing I have ever witnessed.

beyonce 1
My hand beside your vocals at your concert in Dublin

I danced right in the gold circle with my eyes closed. I danced on the outside, and on the inside. I am still dancing today – and the people in the room don’t even know it.

You showed me that you can wear what you want, dance like you want and be who you want to be. I was not judged. I was embraced. I felt my heart light up again. I felt all past pains slip away silently. You saw me through; through your own words. I was not stifled anymore. I could tell you too were not stifled anymore either. Stifled by others visions, others fears.

I, like you, do not like to be boxed with labels.

So, I am finding my way again. I am starting to now believe again that little “old” me can make a difference across the world.

Redemption is too powerful a weapon.

So from one mom, one woman, one wife to another – I want to let you know that you have inspired, and still are inspiring me.

I believe dreams can come through. I am sure when Martin Luther King spoke about his dream there were times in his own life when he wondered why he could not just sit back and get a 9-5 job like everyone else. But he knew he had a job to do on this earth.

He knew that winners didn’t quit on themselves.

Yes, there are haters. But it shows their true colours, not ours. And not the colours on the outside, but their colours on the inside.

Scars can heal, and crimes can be kissed – but only if the truth is set free.

I dream to change the status quo. To break down uneducated preconceived notions. I dream to be part of a global movement for equality for all – not just in public policy, but in peoples hearts. I dream to be part of a crusade towards empowerment, freedom and truth – no matter what sex, race, culture or age you are. I dream to not worry about what others think anymore. And to help others feel the same – no matter what age they are.

I dream for my daughters to have that inside happiness and contentment that I am still working on achieving.

I dream that they dance. I dream that I dance.

What is my aspiration in life? To be happy.

I aspire too to one day meet you in person – not in a “I want your signature” kind of way, but moreso in a “how can we make sure people never stop dancing” conversation. But you are you – and I am me – and realistically oceans apart I know our paths may never cross.

So I wanted to say thank you –  just in case I never got to say it. I wish you inner peace and contentment throughout your life. I’m sorry it took me this long to write to you. But I am hoping everything happens for a reason. You have opened my eyes again, to life. To dancing.

I am going back to the place, park even, that gave me the courage to keep on going.

Your message resonates with me.

And I am so glad you have resurrected. It is this what makes you the leader that you are.

And I hope from this open letter to you that others open their minds before they judge.

Always,

Olive

Us two thrity something moms living it up getting ready for what would be the concert of a lifetime!
Us two “thirty something” moms getting ready for what would be the concert of a lifetime!

 

Full Interview with Beyoncé, Elle Magazine 2016: http://www.elle.com/fashion/a35286/beyonce-elle-cover-photos/

Virgin Awards: First update – I have entered! Can I do it?

I have over 4,000 connections and interested to see what percent of you will engage…

Okay so two days I eventually got the courage and I submitted my social ethical enterprise into the @Virgin Media Business VOOM IMPACT Awards!

Okay so I know I should have started it a few weeks back but honestly this was a really a big deal for me to do. But why would entering a competition be difficult? Was it for lack of time or resources? No. It was only when I really thought about my hesitancy to do it, I had to think. What was really holding me back?

Eventually I figured it was for two reasons:1) I am not a natural competitor and 2) I am a natural worrier!

So regarding the competitive side – I honestly find it hard to go against other businesses! Awful right? How can I be in business if I can’t compete? Well the thing is I genuinely love to see people succeed. I’m not in the game to “win”. I hate to see people lose and be upset. I just like to see things work and for projects to be successful. As a natural collaborator I love to see people work together to achieve their goals. So sometimes when I have to go into competitive mode, I struggle a little.

But this changes when I am reminded about what it is I am doing too – I am IMPACTING on patients, carers and health professionals lives every single day. And to ensure I can continue to do this, I need to sit up, dress smart – and pitch! (And after all – if I do well, I can help others too when I’m rich and famous – much like Sir Richard Branson!)

So regarding the worrying – yes anxiety can sound like such a weakness, but really it isn’t always that way! Yes I worry about what people think; yes I worry about what people say; and yes I even worry about what people do. But because I worry about these things, I also make sure I set an example of how to treat people.

I care about peoples feelings. And because I care, I am always making sure that I am kind, positive and supportive of others – and this is not just because of a fear of “karma” biting me in the butt-  it is because I know what it’s like not to be treated that way.

So when entering into this competition I have decided now also to put my worries aside and put my “caring” hat on – and not worry to much about what could go wrong – but think of everything that could possibly go right – because I care about changing our health system for the better!

So I am asking of you, my 4000+ followers – will you give me your vote?

If I only got 1% of you to VOTE for me, that would be so amazing. I have only 10 days left and so would love if I could start moving up the ranks. I am currently at 113th place and need to be in the top 60 to make it to a possibility of pitching in front of Sir Richard Branson on Necker Island.

I promise to help you out along the way if you ever need it.

Thanks so much,

Olive

#VOOM #virginmedia #virginbusiness

Please vote: https://www.vmbvoom.com/pitches/whats-your-medistori-2

It takes less than a minute and costs nothing (though if you want to pledge that’s okay too!)

Please share with as many as you can, far and wide – THANK YOU SO MUCH!

Engagement – don’t talk the talk; walk the walk…

Now you would think with the eagerness of people sharing, exploring and connecting information that it would be relatively easy to find government employees work email addresses, phone numbers or even basic work locations. But this is not always the case, and most of the time, I feel this is okay, as it is after all, up to themselves as to how they share their information.

However, what I do have an issue with is, those who preach about “engagement”, “communication”, “partnerships” and “collaboration” with customers, patients, carers, service users and so on…and then choose themselves personally to, not only disengage, but not even give the people they’re preaching to, a chance to start the conversation.

About two years ago , I made a decision that I really wanted to help the most vulnerable in our society first, through public health services, and so I went online and tried to figure out who best to contact. I made countless phone calls and sent numerous emails to different areas in the health services but over and over again, I either got no response, or a diversion: “We’d like to help, but…”.

After a year of this happening, I decided to give it one last go, and so I chanced my arm at trying to connect online with a very senior person who was working in the HSE, as I really felt he would help me move forward with my mission to try make a positive impact on our health system. With slight hesitancy, I closed my eyes and clicked send – and off my correspondence went. With that,  I purposefully decided to put it to the back of my mind, because to be honest, I wasn’t very hopeful of a positive outcome, and I didn’t want to get my hopes up.

Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not a negative person by nature and it wasn’t through any lack of confidence in the way I had communicated my query that I was feeling this way. It was simply because so many people in the industry kept telling me that there was no way that the “big guys” would talk to someone like me. Additionally, I admit, my previous experiences of being ignored and sidestepped in this arena, by individuals whom would have had similar status’ or roles in their areas, had scarred me.

But lo and behold, within a week, this person responded to me.

And not only with a “thank you for your mail, but…” reply either. He actually forwarded my request unto the Primary Care division, which then led to me meeting teams in the Quality Improvement and Acute Hospital divisions, and together they helped me move forward with my mission to improve the quality of lives for patients and carers.

And it just took one influential person, in power, to listen!

At the time I had felt both privileged and excited that somebody of this status had further engaged with me. I suppose I had had a predetermined presumption that I would have no chance of getting a response! On reflection though, these initial feelings made me question myself  – was I subconsciously undermining my own self worth? Why did I feel it was a “special right” for someone to simply reply with an opportunity to open doors for me? Was it because I had so many doors closed in my face? It was simple – I had been made feel this way by others, not him, as I had been ignored so many times before this. I had not been seen as an equally important stakeholder, whom could potentially add value and even solutions for our health service, until this time.

Since realising this, I made a conscious decision to try change the status quo.

  • Firstly, I think it important for people to reflect on how equally important others can be to them; as opposed to how important they are to others.
  • Secondly, I think in healthcare, especially, I don’t feel it right for anyone in “power” positions to dictate to front line healthcare professionals about the importance of engaging, communicating, partnering or collaborating, unless, they themselves, at both personal and organisational levels, are doing it themselves. The values of an organisation need to be top down, bottom up and everywhere in the middle. I would like to think that the majority of front line health care professionals already know how to do all of the above, and quite well at that, as they have no choice but to meet people face to face. Effective collaboration is when people or organisations practice active, as opposed to passive communications, which can be deemed as acts of tokenism.1
  • Lastly, and personally (and based on all of this and my own experiences) I myself vow to never sidestep anyone that I deal with, in or outside of my own organisation, no matter how big or small it (or I) may get. Of course, as life gets busy, I may forget to get back to someone straight away, but I can guarantee on a second reminder, I’ll be on that case!

At the end of the day, I am obviously very grateful for the opportunities that have been given to me, and I am completely aware how busy, busy people, are. The person who responded to me, I know, would like to see a health service that follows this lead. And I have, since that time, met many others in similiar positions who practice this same way of thinking. But there are still those that don’t, and this needs to change. Until they do, people like him, will have to respond to people like me, taking him away from other important conversations.

Yes, it is sometimes impractical to meet everyone that gets in touch; yes sometimes it is impossible to know how to help – but if there was one simple thing you could do today to change how you do things, at least have the conversation. A simple change of mindset can help you achieve this.

See how you can help; as opposed to hinder. Change your attitudes towards people who you feel are wasting your time; are competition to you/your job or your preconceived notions of “who do they think they are?” or “this doesn’t belong in my department”. These are simple solutions to change a way of thinking, and these can make a big difference.

And not just to their lives…but to yours also.

 

[Unless I am told otherwise at a later stage, I will not include the name of the person who initially responded to me [as he really is a busy man!] but I would like to say a big thank you to him for doing so, it certainly changed my life]. 

Yes, I challenge society as a whole. Yes, I challenge you as a person.

I challenge you.

I challenge you to not be ignorant. 
I challenge you to inform yourself.
I challenge you to think of people, not in their masses, but as individuals.

I challenge you to take this thought and apply it to yourself.

I challenge you to think what it might be like to have people in your own community look down on you. I challenge you to think what it might be like to have societies across the world look down on you. I challenge you to think about how many of our people are across the world who may represent us in a negative light.

I challenge you to think what it might be like to have the media report to the world about this minority of your society that represents you in a negative light. I challenge you to think how you may come across to other cultures, even without negative representation. I challenge you to think how you may come across to other people, in general.

I challenge you to change.

Yes, you.

I challenge you to stop saying “can’t” and “won’t”, and start learning and doing. I challenge you to dispel your fears of other cultures, religions or belief systems.

I challenge you to think with your head…and with your heart.

I challenge you to do your little bit.

I challenge you to stop saying you’ll look after your own before others, when this doesn’t show in your actions. I challenge you to sit down with our own homeless, before giving out that no-one in your “country” does anything about it. I challenge you to not leave it up to “someone else” to do it.

I challenge you to talk – and listen –  to someone with depression. I challenge you to work with health professionals to change our health system. I challenge you to think outside the box. I challenge you to start thinking of earth as one land that we can all move across. I challenge you to stop being selfish.

I challenge you to not put politics before people’s lives. I challenge politics to put lives before wealth.

I challenge you to wake up and see what difference you, just you, can do today to change someone’s world.

I challenge you to think small.
I challenge you to think big.

I challenge you to look around and see what your communities and people are doing to help, and not just give one person, party or leader who got the attention of the media, the credit for changing the world. I challenge you to change the world.

One step at a time, one person at a time and one smile at a time.

I challenge you to be kind; compassionate; empathetic – to be knowledgeable, open-minded and aware. I challenge you to teach your children the same.

But most of all I challenge you to stop living in a culture of blame.

I challenge you to ask yourself when you say your government have to look after their own first, what do you do personally to help “your own”? I challenge you to assess your actions – do you look the other way when passing our homeless?

Do you mute the call from the person who suffers with depression because you don’t want to hear them “moaning” again? Do you spend monies on holidays abroad and complain about being broke? Do you gossip about the local family who’ve lost their home or business and do nothing to help them?

I challenge you to change your mind-set about the “they” and start thinking about the “us”. And when we, as a society, start thinking like this, great things will happen.

I challenge you to think what it might be like to live in fear – real fear.

I challenge you to think of you and your family and think how you would feel if the world turned its back on you because they thought you would be a liability, and not an asset, to their society?

I challenge you to ask yourself what would it take to dispel your fears of change?

I challenge you to think about the fear of dying by the hand of someone else, at no fault of your own.

I challenge you to not be ignorant. I challenge you to inform yourself. I challenge you to think of people, not in their masses, but as individuals.

I challenge you to take this thought and apply it to yourself.

I challenge you to challenge me on anything I’ve said that you feel is not valid.

And I challenge you to care.

#changetheworld #onesmileatatime #whatsyourmedistori

We all have a story. This is mine.

 

Hello, my name is Olive.

Tonight (or today in some parts of the world) I share with you some precious moments of my life over the last four years, since founding my social ethical enterprise, which was born out of a pure need to just help other people.

I’m not going to fill you in here what my background is, but if you watch my video above in full, you will find that I know too well the difficulties that is that of manoevering through health services. But, and there is a but…

I am determined to make a difference.

And not alone, either…but with everyone, together.

I hope by sharing my story here, I will open up peoples minds about their perceptions of patients, carers and healthcare professionals.

Their perceptions of people. In general.

I want to lift the stigmas attached to those going through health issues, relationship breakdowns, financial difficulties or anxiety and depression.

I want to join the gaping holes that exist in health services that patients, carers, families and health care professionals can all too often fall into.

I want to educate everyone on what it is to get stuck in a never ending well of appointments, medications, conversations, complications and admissions.

I want to share my journey from the patients perspective.

I want to share my journey from a persons perspective.

A mums perspective.

It’s not an easy thing to do though. People can often make their mind up about you before they meet you.

I may come across as “naive” because I am honest enough to ask questions and not pretend I know what is being talked about but what I am really doing is making sure I have a clear picture of what is being said.

I may come across as “unfocused” because I talk about so many things at the same time, but in my head I am just joining the dots as part of the bigger vision.

I may come across as “too nice” when I talk about patients not paying the price for services, but in my head I know the value offering for the service this culture changing model will bring.

I have been told in a nice round-about-way that I would be better to stay at home or get a part time job, as I have “so much going on in my life”.

I have even been told that I’m a “risky” hire – “Oh, but what if the kids get sick!”

Oh, but what if.

Anyone at anytime in their life can become unwell. Without notice.

With one third of the globes population currently suffering from chronic conditions, the stats speak for themselves. And don’t get me started on road accidents, suicides or workplace incidents.

I am no riskier than the next person.

And nor is the woman who suffered from post natal depression two years ago and wants to go back to work now. Or the homeless man on the street, with a small dog by his feet. Or the family who live in a hotel because their house got taken from them. Or the single dad with three children.

You might find, if you give us a chance, we can actually be your best assets.

We work with passion.

I hope to inspire others to share their journey. I so deeply care about making our world a better place. I am a smart, proactive, solution based thinker and I know the key to success is through collaboration…and kindness! I hope to raise my beautiful girls to think the same.

I am so grateful for those that opened their eyes, ears and hearts (and sometimes even their wallets!) to help me on my journey to clearer, safer and healthier health services across the globe.

And I am looking forward to those who will help me now going forward.

My video above is a reflection on what have been some of the most happiest, and saddest days of my life. I hope it will inspire you to share your journey.

Thank you…

Olive x

 

For more on yours truly visit…

Website www.medistori.com
Twitter @medistori
Facebook www.facebook.com/medistori

I am also the Patient Lead for the World Health Innovation Summit

#WHIS16 #WHISCumbria16 #WHISLondon16

www.worldhealthinnovationsummit.com

Please also use #hellomynameis whenever you get the chance, led out by the inspirational Kate Granger who has since sadly passed away.

Virgin Media Awards: Update 3

Who would put a Boeing 747 on a river? Who’d design paper health records in today’s world? None other than 2 Irish entrepreneurs in the #VOOM awards!

***HUGE NEWS***

**Quirky Glamping and MediStori – Community Collaboration at it’s Best!**

Quirky Nights Glamping Village [yes the crew who brought the Boeing 747 unto the River Shannon!] and ourselves, the MediStori team [the crew who are changing health care globally!] are working together to support each other in the ‪#‎VOOM‬ awards!!!

We want to put Ireland on the map and show how two Irish companies join in true community spirit and work together to do this!

Quirky Glamping are now NUMBER ONE in the start up category of the #VOOM awards (YAY!) with over 5000 votes! They are a currently a startup company and need that much needed injection of investment to turn into a GROW company! Can you pledge TO HELP?

More than ever, Ireland needs this international tourism attraction like this so badly – especially after the years of recession we have just gone through!! We at MediStori support people, we support family, we support community and we support health – and as we also know happiness increases endorphines.

Having fun makes us healthier!

Quirky Glamping do just this – they bring the “happy” element into our community thus improving health for all!

So what is our CALL to ACTION on this update?

Well we at MediStori really need to get into the TOP TEN in our category. Quirky Glamping really need to now hit their CROWDFUNDING target.

We have only 24 hours to go before closing date on Monday 23rd May!!

Can we both do this??

Silicon Republic show us both as Number 1 Irish companies in our categories!

YOU CAN HELP!

To share the MediStori link to encourage friends to vote:https://goo.gl/CPzHzN

To vote or pledge or share Quirky Glamping: https://goo.gl/mOi2KJ

Let’s do this guys – let’s show what true community spirit is!

Thanks so much,

Olive and MediStori Team with David McGowan and Quirky Glamping team

#VOOM #whatsyourmedistori #quirkyglamping

Updates…

We’re now in 11th place as of 12.41am Monday 23rd 2015!!!

THANK YOU!!

Just another big push and we can be in the TOP TEN!!

Many thanks again also to Niall McGarry, and the JOE.ie and HER.ie teams for supporting us. Their article has currently been shared nearly 600 times across the globe in just two days converting to hundreds of votes so far!! #wowzer

Codeine and Cigarettes. Why it’s easier to smoke than get pain relief…

A few weeks back, myself and the hubby decided we’d take a much needed break from all the running around in work and so on the Friday, we jumped in the car with the kids, not minding the oncoming four hour road trip because we knew we’d be able to relax at the other end of the journey. Upon arrival, I was in great form to see our beautiful holiday destination but as soon as I started to get out of the car my mood took a bit of a downturn- my good old knees started giving out their usual creaks, which were then immediately followed by darting pains up my legs.

Now I know at 34 years of age, I am younger than most to suffer from psoriatic arthritis, but to be truthful,  I have learned not to let it get the better of me. I have also learned that the best way to prevent a massive build up of pain is to take my medications as soon as I get the pain – and not wait until it’s too late! So off I went to the boot to get my medications out of the bag, only to realise to my dismay, that I had forgotten to bring them with me!

Immediately, I started panicking.  How would I get through the weekend with no pain relief? And as soon as I started thinking about how I would access the medication that I would need, I started getting anxious.

Was it because I had no prescription? No.

Was it a drug I couldn’t get as it had to be ordered in advance? No.

Was it a Sunday and the pharmacy were closed? No.

So why the panic?

Because the drug I use to help give me pain relief is a well known and well advertised over the counter medication, commercially known as, Solpadeine.

(If you’re a pharmacist or have ever tried to buy codeine based drugs recently you will now know why I was concerned!)

So I found myself en route to a nearby pharmacy and just as I got out of the car, my husband seized the moment and quickly asked would I pick up a packet of cigarettes for him in the shop beside the chemist. Now he knows I hate the thought of him smoking considering he had a stroke only one year previous [aged 42] but I reluctantly agreed because to be truthful I wasn’t going to start nagging about it while we were on our much needed break away. And I was already anxious and in pain so I didn’t need any more unnecessary tension!

Sighing as I got out of the car, I decided to face my fears and chose to go to the pharmacy first, with that usual thought in my head “brace yourself!”

I knew I was going to get bombarded with personal questions, and only if answered correctly, would the transaction then be completed with the complimentary delivery of an educational safety lecture on the risks of codeine. I continued to wait in the queue, and the more I started thinking, the more my palms were sweating; the more my heart started racing, and the more I started thinking of what to say to the pharmacist.

I honestly stood there feeling guilty of a crime; that I hadn’t committed.

I started thinking would I just ask for paracetamol on it’s own because so many people are given this long term and with no hesitation. But I knew it wouldn’t have the same effect on the pain. Anyway, with paracetamol being the most dangerous element of this drug combination for my liver, wasn’t the codeine just putting on an additional risk for me getting possibly addicted, becoming irresponsible and overdosing on same?

Thinking about this, I knew myself well enough to know that I would never put my life at risk and so vowed to follow through on my request for pain relief.

As I got to the top of the queue, a young bubbly member of staff came over to me. I smiled back at her but I knew her expression was going to change quite drastically when I requested my choice of pain relief.

I was right.

Her smile disappeared, she lowered her tone and got very serious as she asked me what I needed it for. Other customers quickly looked away, but noticeably, still listened in. It was in this moment as she asked me politely what I needed it for, I felt the presence of societal judgement come upon me and without thinking, I blurted out – “It’s for my period!”.

It was now this poor girls turn to look away in embarrassment and she quickly mumbled the standard warnings that she was taught to deliver to customers who requested codeine based medications. As she took them out from underneath the counter and put them in a brown bag for me, I really felt awful for both her and myself for having to go through this process just to ensure that I firstly wouldn’t have pain over the weekend and secondly wouldn’t die of liver failure in the process. She was only doing her job.

I honestly hadn’t meant to embarrass the poor girl – I just wanted to get out of there as fast as possible and I knew I had reacted this way because I was simply embarrassed. I quietly thanked her, paid her, said goodbye and turned to leave.

At this point, I then remembered that I had to go to the shop for my husband to get his cigarettes. Filled with relief that that ordeal was over, I walked over to the shop and calmly asked the shopkeeper for 20 Purple Silk Cut.

She then handed me my change & casually handed me one of the most lethal drugs ever created – without query, question or caution. 

As I walked over to the car, it hit me that something was not right about what had just happened. Upon walking into the shop, I recognised that I had no fears about asking for the cigarettes – knowing the most I’d get asked about was the weather (unfortunately I don’t get asked for ID anymore!)

Yet, in the pharmacy, for pain relief, it was a completely different scenario.

There and then, I wished the shopkeeper would question my husband every time he had to get cigarettes, the way the pharmacist had me, for codeine. 

While both nicotine and codeine are highly addictive substances, this is where the similarity ends.

One has some medicinal benefits. 

The other does not have any medicinal benefit. 

One is advertised on television and radio.

The other is not allowed to be advertised anywhere.

One, taken as directed, does not put one’s life in danger. 

The other, no matter what dose, puts lives in danger, always.

As with all drugs – there are risks. But with some, especially those which have no medicinal benefits – the risks can be detrimental. Cigarettes have to be one of the most fatal drugs on the market, with no proven medicinal benefits, and yet people still choose to smoke. Even after all the packaging is removed; all the advertisements are taken out of shops; the ghost of a kind and brave man, Gerry, talks about the terminal effects cancer has on him and his family – people still choose to smoke.

What drastic measure is it going to take to actually change the behaviours of a smoker?

What would happen if a shopkeeper put a customer through the same rounds of questioning for codeine – every single time they went to buy cigarettes?

Shopkeeper…[changes expression drastically and asks in low tones…]

“Do you know why you’re smoking?”

“Do you know smoking can [and now choose depending on customer…]

  • Give you bad skin, hair , nails, teeth
  • Makes your clothes and breath smell bad
  • Take 10 to 15 years quality years off your life – breathlessness etc.
  • Increase risk of life threatening diseases like cancer, infertility
  • Have a poorer quality of life, fitness and health
  • Be a bad role model for your family and friends/children
  • Cause you to go without nice things because you waste money on cigarettes
  • To lose control over your life – smoking can dictate your daily routine.
  • Increase the work you have to do to keep your home and car clean.
  • Decreases the quality of the air in your home for your family and friends
  • Reduces self-esteem/ impact on how you deal with the daily stresses of life.
  • Make you die before you’ve done everything you’ve wanted with your life

I’m sure the shock factor if this did happen would be astounding. 

I can tell you, if people were asked these questions every time they went for cigarettes, they would soon start reconsidering their requests – like I had done. The feelings evoked in me that day – embarrassment, guilt, fear –  were very negative and I definitely would not want to go through it every single day.

But I completely agree that it is the right thing to do.

Every person taking any addictive substance that can potentially lead to long term side effects or cause irreversible damage, should be advised to on it’s possible dangers. The pharmacists have our best interests at heart and that lovely staff member was doing her job, the way she was taught.

But I do not feel that this should just be limited to codeine or similar drugs in pharmacists – it should be implemented in all substances (especially those with no medicinal benefits) such as alcohol and cigarettes.

I believe if our nation were truly behind the challenge to create behavioral change in smokers – this method could be an option.

But in the real world, when there is the possibility of money to be lost locally or nationally, the challenges to create change in this area are nearly impossible. I think, even if a business case showed significant financial/time/life savings for health services due to a reduction in tobacco related illnesses because of an initiative like this, that it still would never happen – even if the savings were higher than turnover of sales of tobacco!

I do think there is a lot being done to tackle the smoking issue but I truly feel a lot more needs to happen. I am now nine years off the cigarettes myself and it took a lot of effort for me to give up. My husband was forced to quit last year after his stroke, but unfortunately it was just too easy for him to start again.

And I would like to see this changed.

I don’t know how it can be done, but I do know, that if you make someone feel guilty, embarrassed, afraid, sad or irresponsible a lot of the time they will want to stop associating with the thing that caused it in the first place.

As for my choice of pain relief  – I never promote codeine to anyone as a first choice of medication – it is highly addictive substance. I do however always promote the fact that we should always take our medication as prescribed, and on time – and not wait until the pain gets so bad it can’t be managed efficiently. I will always also promote the conversation between patients and health professionals about their medications and whether they work or not.

Pharmacists and other health care professionals are there to help us, not make us worse. But we have to be honest with them, to help them make the best decisions too.

There are of course so many more treatments that don’t involve medications at all and I would look into these too – I myself attend and run self management programmes for instance, and they can help put us in different mind sets about our pain or chronic conditions.

At the end of the day, we’re all here to either get better or help get someone better, and so we all must play our part in being part of the solution, not the problem.

For more information on quitting smoking: https://www.quit.ie

For more information on codeine: http://www.thepsi.ie

[Note: For any medical professional /patient who may want to know why I take this drug. For me, codeine and paracetemol taken together works better than anything else I have tried. As well as my arthritis, I also suffer from long term bradycardia and asthma. Unlike my children, who take Methotrexate and Naproxen  for their own Juvenile Arthritis, I am much more limited in what I can take. Many of the heavier arthritic drugs like Arcoxia, just make me feel way sleepier than codeine does (bradycardia already causes this!) and it can’t be taken with my angina. Anti- inflammatory’s cause me to be wheezy. Because of this, we found a treatment that works – I get steroid injections into the joint from my rheumatologist, as the need arises, and I take codeine with paracetemol [i.e. Solpadeine], if required, 6 hours apart, twice a day at most- thus providing all the relief I need, without having any diverse side effects that impact on my daily life in a negative way. This combination works for me, right now, but I do not promote or recommend it to anyone else  – each of us are individual and that’s why we need to talk to our health professionals about same!]

World Health Innovation Summit: The Platform for Patients and Professionals, with the Purpose to Partner.

With hundreds of health events being launched every single day across the world, I often hear people say, “Oh, conferences – they’re just a money making racket” or “Health professionals feel they have to go to them, to earn learning credits”, or “They’re just excuses to get out of work and go out on the town afterwards”. Often when I talk to patients like me, they tell me that the topics of discussion at health conferences and such, can often be too “disconnected from reality, from a users perspective” or that they don’t benefit personally from such events . Well, after listening to all these type of comments and opinions for the last few years, I’d like to try change some of the mindsets about health events, conferences and summits. 

From a patients perspective, and using the World Health Innovation Summit as an example…

A summit has been defined as bringing together people from “the highest attainable level of achievement”. A world summit brings these type of people from across the globe together in one place, and a world health summit brings together, on one platform, these people, who are working in the fields of healthcare. Innovation has been said to be crucial to the continuing success of any organisation and is defined as “the action or process of innovating” or “a new method, idea, product or process”. It showcases these innovations in healthcare, created and led by people whom have the highest attainable level of achievement in their fields, as proven by their peers, which will be showcased exclusively, together, at the World Health Innovation Summit.

In every way, the World Health Innovation Summit does exactly what it says it does.

As a patient myself; carer to my husband who had stroke at 42; and mum to three daughters whom each have had complex chronic conditions, I have seen everything in health services – from good examples of care, to not so good, to downright dangerous. I personally struggled with the self-management of our little families health needs until one day, by accident, and when caring for my dad who was on 22 medications, I developed a very simple toolkit to help me, as his carer, and him, as a patient, manage medications, health information, communication and appointments.

Little did I know, three years later, how much of a difference my little toolkit, the MediStori would make, to not just my family, but patients, families and health care professionals right across Ireland. 

So what has this got to do with conferences?

Well, I have always said from the beginning, that I only take credit for the concept of my project, but I never take credit for the finished product, or in the way in which it is delivered to patients. This, I can openly say, is down to the many, many people I have met along the way, who inputted into it’s design and development. I can also say that I would never have met most of these people if it weren’t for the conferences, events or workshops of which I attended.  While I was always made feel most welcome at these events, a lot of the time I often felt a little over my head or out of place, because I was the “patient”. I would regularly think that “I don’t fit in” with all the health care professionals and big pharma companies. Quite often I really wanted to comment on some of the stuff being said by the speakers, but didn’t feel confident enough to do so. Eventually, I found some other patients like me at these events and it wasn’t long before I realised that they often felt the same! So I started getting braver and in 2014, I took my first plunge – I stood up at a national conference which was being globally live-streamed; I took a mic and I put a comment to the fantastic innovator Ms. Helen Bevan. She was very engaging and I got a huge applause for my statements, so needless to say, I have never looked back. 

Patient Safety Conference 2014 157 helen bevan

Since this day, both I and many of the health care professionals in that room that day, connected.

I was told how hard it was for health professionals to find innovative and interested patients and carers who wanted to work together to improve services. I thought this was amazing as there were so many patients in the service, but realistically this made sense, as how could anyone ask a sick person to join a working group or a new initiative? It was really up to the patient or carer to put themselves forward. I told them how hard it was for me to attend conferences as they cost so much money and that a lot of the time, unless I was a company, charity or health care professional, I couldn’t attend. It seemed that we were all trying to find one another, to help create positive change, but had no signposts to guide us! 

And so when I spoke to the Founder of the World Health Innovation Summit, Gareth Presch, I knew that he was onto something very special when he discussed a global platform for all health innovators. On this, I not only decided to support the World Health Innovation Summit, but was delighted then to accept the offer of being part of it’s international team. This summit, for me, summed up how to practically address the “Three C’s”  – Collaboration, Communication and Community. It simply aimed to bring everyone involved in healthcare to one platform – to share and learn from one another, with a vision to work together to create the positive culture changes needed in health services across the globe.

As a patient, I felt I was now part of the solution, and not the problem.

So what makes this Summit so unique…for me, as a patient and social entrepreneur?

  1. #WHIS is a community interest company – meaning, after costs, all profits made are put straight back into the local community of which the summit is held. #WHIS is a true social enterprise!
  2. #WHIS is a community focused initiative – meaning there is not just one summit per year in one country – these summits can be held anywhere in the world, a number of times a year – by anyone involved in healthcare! The #WHIS team support communities to achieve this. 
  3. #WHIS is open and inclusive for both speakers and attendees. It brings people from EVERY area of healthcare together – patients and carers, health care professionals, managers, administrators, families, businesses, social entrepreneurs, innovators, experts by experience, non for profits…anyone who is interested in learning about what is happening in the healthcare arena across the world.
  4. #WHIS is for those who want to be part of it – the only “credits” given are that of thanks to all involved and those who attend. The positive outcomes from #WHIS will be the learning from one another. 
  5. #WHIS is led by an international, diverse and inspirational team of health innovators who want nothing else but to make our world a better place. Person by person, village by village, country by country. This network is already there, it’s just a matter of joining the dots and collaborating.

So have I changed any of your thinking about the benefits of going to inspirational events, like #WHIS?

If not, then why not go and see for yourself if what I say is true? 😉

The first of the World Health Innovation Summits global series kick-starts in the UK in the beautiful city of Carlisle, Cumbria, March 10th and 11th of this year. It will showcase inspirational people (including yours truly!) who have been working so, so hard to improve health services either personally, locally, nationally or internationally and who are willing to share their experiences so that a  global audience can watch, hear and learn from those who have already met the barriers, challenges and successes in creating positive change in healthcare. 

These people, and I, only want what’s best for patients, carers and everyone, in healthcare.

If you think you are a person who is a true collaborator and only wants the best for patients and health services personally, locally, nationally or internationally, then I invite you to join us on our journey, because in reality, we will all be users of our health services one day, and we will all have one aim – to either get better, or to help someone get better. 

Looking forward to meeting you all in Carlisle, 

Olive O’Connor

Click on this link to get tickets for the World Health Innovation Summit

Join the Conversation:

Twitter:     @HIC2016

Facebook:  www.facebook.com/worldhealthinnovationsummit

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rj-GXJKW34g

Website:     www.worldhealthinnovationsummit.com

Virgin Awards: Update 2 – Silicon Republic, HER.ie, iRadio and WHIS are talking about MediStori!

So just nine short days ago I bit my lip and thought “Can I do this?”

I was so hesitant.

But then I remembered an image that a good friend had once messaged me:

And so – I did it – I entered the Virgin Media #VOOM Awards! 

Little did I know what a journey it would be in such a short time!

Currently I am now in the top 12 Irish businesses in the running and am now at the top of the GROW category for Ireland. How do I know this – because Silicon Republic told us so! Link here: https://goo.gl/qBKCk3

Additionally national radio station iRADIO came in to show their support and had me on their news bulletins all day Friday!

Over this last week the hashtag #votemedistori has received over 14 million impressions via the help of @mayohour @galwayhour and @irishhealthhour.

The World Health Innovation Summit team have too been a huge support and they are letting all of their networks know that they believe in what I am doing – they are also supporting their local community group We Amplify Cumbria to help those who suffered from the dreadful floods just a few short months ago.

And then to top it all, last night international media platform HER.ie distributed an article about me that honestly brought tears to my eyes. So far it is being shared over 200 times across the world! http://goo.gl/ZTaqaI

 

 

I am in awe of the support I am getting – and the support the work I am doing is getting. I am so happy to see people are not just voting because of my story – but because they see true value in what it is I am doing and that they see how MediStori could help them too. This is the most important thing.

I am so appreciative of all the support I am getting. I have been on Midwest Radio, CRC FM and Athlone FM and today at 12.30pm will be on Erris FM. I have been in the Castlebar Chamber Commerce Newsletters, Look West newsletters and Western People newspapers and international health digital strategist Marie Ennis O’Connor has even sent me out on her weekly updates! My children’s two schools have distributed over 1000 leaflets between them to get people to vote and even our local parish priests are supporting us!

Listen to interview with MidWest: https://youtu.be/QX4WFaVRlvs

So what does this all this mean?

Well, it means it is looking very likely that I will now be pitching in LONDON in the beginning of JUNE!

I am not in this to just win money (though of course this would be a huge help to help me add more people to our team!) I have followed Richard Branson since I was a teenager and learned about him in school. I love his leadership style, his values and his mission to make the world a better place. He is my inspiration.

I wouldn’t be this far in the competition if it weren’t for my other inspirations – my amazing husband, my gorgeous children, my whole entire family – my friends, my colleagues, all of my community – and of course TEAM MEDISTORI. I am so glad to have had this opportunity and am enjoying the experience on the count down to MONDAY.

We are currently in 15th place and would love to be in the top 10 if possible!

We are also at 75% of our pledges so if you’d like to pledge this would be awesome too!

Here is the link to vote or pledge and thank you if you have done so already.

 

THANK YOU ALL SO MUCH!

Kindest regards,

Olive and the MediStori team

The Patient’s Perspective on eHealth Ireland’s Ecosystem.

Last month, I was both delighted, and honoured, to be invited to keynote the 4th National eHealth Ireland Ecosystem meeting, as chaired by the first CIO of the HSE,Mr Richard Corbridge.

When I was told that this particular get together was focusing on an initiative called the “Lighthouse Project” my first thought was – “I can’t wait to see their projects!” and this was immediately followed by – “I wonder how the audience, who are working on much needed electronic health records in Ireland, will react when I tell them I developed paper based health records!?!”

I also thought what an appropriate name for such projects – I thought of being a sailor out to sea for weeks on end, and the feeling he might have upon seeing the first light shining across a powerful ocean that could change it’s mood at any given time – much like a chronic condition. This light must signal hope, reassurance, security, safety. And it was universally recognised.

Yes, what an appropriate name for projects that would sit within a national recognised electronic health record system. The Lighthouse Project.

So before I go into the actual days events, first let me explain who I am and why, I feel, I was asked to speak on the day. My personal journey is one that most patients and carers still resonate with today in Ireland.

One cannot know how to solve a problem, unless they know what the problem is.

I am Olive. I myself am a patient, a carer and a mum to three beautiful daughters who have each had different complex health conditions. But it wasn’t until a few years ago, when also caring for my dad who was on 22 medications, I had no choice but to develop my own little booklet to help me manage his multiple medications, appointments and health information. This was because when I asked the registrar in the hospital did he have anything which could help me with same, he apologetically said he didn’t, but kindly suggested that maybe I could go online and look for an app, or maybe try the pharmacy. As I sat there on the side of my dads bed, worried about how I’d cope when we got home, I realised, not for the first time, that there was no Wi-Fi in the hospital. When I got home that night and went on my PC I then found that there were over 40,000 medical apps available – how would I know which one to use? I didn’t have time to pick one, never mind learn how to use one! So the next day, on the day of my dads discharge, I went to the pharmacy and they offered us a great solution called a pillbox. But it was only as we went through my dads medication list with the pharmacist , did I realise that this little pillbox would unfortunately not be able to help us manage the drugs which were in liquid, gel, inhaler, injection or powder format. It also didn’t address the issues such as his appointments or health information. Nor did it educate him on the “why” he was taking his medications, and what would happen if he stopped. And so I felt a need to develop this booklet, not just for him, but for me, as his carer. I needed something to help us all, as a family, to better self-manage his health needs, communicate to one another easily, and also to his health care professionals regarding his medical history. I just wanted my dad to get better.

So roll on four years. The same problems still exist. But I was trying to fix them.

I found that this toolkit had also been a great help to health care professionals and the more I asked people about it, the more positive feedback I got. It eventually got to a stage where I felt it was ready to be validated and so in 2015, it was externally evaluated by NUIG through two national hospitals and eight national charities, as funded and supported by the HSE.

And the results were phenomenal.

Every single patient who had completed the study wanted it rolled nationally.

But was that the most important outcome in all of this?

For me, it wasn’t. 

For me, it was the way in which it was developed, designed and delivered with all stakeholders involved in each process, which was the key learning.

And that is why, I felt, I was asked to speak at this event.

Because the eHealth Ireland Ecosystem does exactly the same thing – it develops, designs and delivers its solutions, with all stakeholders together.

It was this that became immediately obvious to me upon arrival in the beautiful Ballsbridge Hotel last Tuesday morning. Just after I registered, I walked into a room that was so full of energy and enthusiasm, that I became nervous – I didn’t want to bring down that mood!

Everyone was buzzing. Like, I mean, everyone.

People seemed relaxed, no-one was eyeing anyone else up and as I walked through the crowd to figure out where I should sit, I was greeted with positivity. I knew everyone in that room, wanted to be there.

It was refreshing.

And daunting. I now had to deliver the goods!

I flicked through my presentation. Forever aiming to have an unbiased viewpoint on the topics on hand, I didn’t go to the eHealth Ireland website first for information – I went to my best buddy Dr. Google. I looked up the definitions of “eHealth” and “Ecosystem” separately, and then as put together as one term. I thought this would be an easy find, but amazingly I found one paper from 2005 showing over 51 definitions of the term “eHealth” and there were over 50 million searches on the term “Ecosystem”!

So I knew before I even arrived on the day that the only way I’d truly know what the definition of an eHealth Ecosystem was by finding out for myself – and I’d just have to be there, to see what it was they did that was different to others!

Bang on time at 10am, Richard Corbridge opened the meeting with over 200 delegates and went through the days agenda. He highlighted the importance of working together and that a national integrated electronic health record system was in the best interest of everyone involved in health services. He gave short descriptors of the Lighthouse Projects, and then, before taking his seat, he took a quick glance down, smiled and introduced “his good friend, Olive” to the stage.

Ah, panic stations! How do you follow the CIO of the HSE!?!

I took a deep breath and off I went.

Now as you got a brief glimpse of what I do already, I’m not going to delve into any more detail about what I presented (and truthfully, I kind of go blank afterwards, probably due to nerves haha!) I did however get to capture some of the slides from the Twitter feeds on the day by searching under #eHealth4all if you want to see some of it [see attached video below]. And so, it was from both this Twitter feed and the energy in the room that I found the audience extremely engaging and supportive.

It was so obvious that everyone was so willing to learn and work together. I had had nothing to be nervous about. I now could breathe again. I sat back looking forward to learning about the Lighthouse Projects and who they would help.

I learned of a little boy who had a debilitating form of epilepsy which took a million dollar technology to eventually diagnose.

I learned of the daily struggles patients with hemophilia go through and why open data was so important to them.

I learned about the difficulty in storing and communicating health information for those who have mental health conditions, such as Bipolar Disorder. 

I listened. Once or twice, I found my breath catching as I resonated with similar situations, even if I had not had the same conditions.

Each of the teams, Dr. Colin Doherty, Epilepsy; Dr. Barry White, Haemophilia and Mr. Mel McIntyre and Dr. Seamus MacSuibhne, Bipolar Disorder showcased their solutions, and they talked about the barriers to same. They were all open, honest and ready for the challenge. They were all willing to work together, not only with each other, but with everyone in the room.

I was in awe of the work that had been done. The thought that was going into each project. And the people who were involved in them. But it didn’t stop there.

We were asked after each of these presentations to pick one of these projects to give feedback on, and each had a number of tables with different topics to be discussed. I picked Bipolar Disorder and we were to discuss confidentiality and consent. This was all facilitated in a way in which we all got a chance to speak and express our opinions. And this was a tough topic to discuss!

I was learning so much! Not just about the issues, but about how this was all being done.

We were then told that during the lunch one of the team members would be summarising of all of our findings from the focus group sessions – in the short span of over 30 minutes and over two hundred peoples opinions!

I didn’t think this was possible!

But it was.

Richard went back up on stage and he proceeded to read out the findings from each of the teams, asking each group to clarify on any areas of which seemed grey. We were all given a chance to speak.

I have to say, I didn’t expect this. It was truly an active listening group.

And this was the moment when I knew what an eHealth Ecosystem was.

For me, the eHealth Ireland Ecosystem is exactly what “healthcare” should be – a partnered, proactive, personalised and practical environment, with patients at the centre of all it does. It was refreshing for me, as a patient and carer myself, to be in a space where everybody had their say. There was nobody in the room who didn’t want to be there, and all wanted the same outcome – to help make our health service the best it can be, with technology as an enabler, and people as the engagers.

Okay, so it’s not the definition that you might find on Google or in an academic paper, but it is one patients perspective anyway. It is my perspective.

And I for one, am now delighted to be part of such an exciting initiative so thank you all in the eHealth Ireland team for having me!

#eHealth4all

Watch a little slideshow I put together of eHealth Ireland Ecosystem Twitter Feed Pictures here – [Be sure to tag yourself or your buddies!]

 

Please also check out http://www.ehealthireland.ie as there are many initiatives seeking public consultation that you can input to!

I’m Not Driven by Profit – I’m Driven by Cause. I’m a Social Entrepreneur!

Who is a Social Entrepreneur? 

Social entrepreneurship is what lies between the two poles of government-led and business-led transformation.  The authors present a framework for thinking about social entrepreneurship as a process with four stages: 

1: Understanding the world. The paradox of social transformation is that one has to truly understand the system as it is before any serious attempt can be made to change it.

2. Envisioning a new future. To make a positive difference, every change agent, whether a social entrepreneur or not, needs to set a direction. Successful social entrepreneurs set the bar high, envisioning fundamental equilibrium change for specific, targeted constituents.

3. Building a model for change. To bring a vision to life, social entrepreneurs must apply creativity and resourcefulness to building a model for change— one that is sustainable in that it reduces costs or increases value in a systemic and permanent way that can be quantified and captured.

4. Scaling the solution. Scalability is a critical feature of successful social entrepreneurship. Models that require constant reapplication of the same level of investment regardless of scale will commonly fail to produce sustainable equilibrium change. Such an approach may be too expensive to achieve transformational scale, especially when intended beneficiaries are unable to pay for the benefit.

Getting Beyond Better: How Social Entrepreneurship Works  (HBRP, 2015) Roger Martin and Sally Osberg

 It took me a while to figure out that I was a social entrepreneur.

This wasn’t because, as many might think, that I was trying to figure out what my business model was, but it was simply because I didn’t know there was a definition for people like me. In the beginning of my entrepreneurial journey, I often got myself into many heated debates with (well-meaning!) mentors, and was regularly told to ” just start selling it online, or in shops!”

All too often, in these discussions, I felt as though nobody understood what it was I was actually trying to set out to achieve. Confused, broke and two years into my start-up, I came too close to caving in to everyone else’s vision and I was on the verge of selling out on my dream, by commercialising only through retail.

But just at the last hurdle, I stopped. Of course, I needed money to survive, surge and strive, but this wasn’t my reason for doing what I did.

I paused. I thought about what it was I really wanted to do.

I wanted to remove the two tier system that existed in health care services. I wanted to reduce unnecessary waste and costs. I wanted to educate, empower and embrace all stakeholders in health care environments. I wanted to disrupt unhealthy competitive cultures. I wanted to create a truly collaborative, positive behavioural culture change in health care.

And I wanted to do this not just locally – but globally.

I wanted all promoters, engagers and innovators to get in on the action and educate others on what it was that was being done. But most of all – I simply wanted to help patients, carers and health care professionals have the best experiences, with the safest and  highest possible outcomes.

And I wanted them to do it, together.

When I would explain this to potential investors, it was often hinted that I was a bit “naive”. Surely one person, or product even, could not do all that?

My answer – why not?

I had thought up of a very simple toolkit called the MediStori to help patients and carers with the self-management and communication of health information. Taking credit for the concept, but not the end product [as it was developed with over two hundred patients, carers and health care professionals together] this little project was receiving extremely positive feedback from those that would need it most. But all too often, many potential partners would take one look at it and think – “your product is so outdated” or, “I know (or have!) something that can do even better!”

But that is, therein, where the problem was.

Unhealthy Competitive Cultures. And of course, Ego.

They were of course, right in many cases – this little toolkit of mine, was NOT the solution. It was, however, one part of a greater movement.

It was the enabler to bring about the bigger culture change that I so yearned for. As a paper based personal health record, it was probably more disruptive than any technology available. The collaborative way in which it was developed, the way it was designed, and the way in which it was delivered were what made this “product” become a “project”. I knew that if my solution was just another “product” on a shelf made available to just those who could afford it, I wasn’t changing a damn thing – I felt I was actually going against exactly what it was I set out to do.

It was these moments that made me realise, I was a social entrepreneur.

You see, I myself am a cardiac patient; I am a mum to three beautiful daughters who each have had complex chronic conditions; I am a wife to a husband who suffered a minor stroke at age 42 and I was a carer to my late daddy who was on a whopping twenty two medications. I knew the problems. I lived the problems.

I also knew the key to fixing them was through collaboration, not competition.

All too often, I had to keep on pitching to business mentors and coaches that I cared more about the cause, than the coins. Regularly, I ended up refusing to engage further with people if their proposals meant I had to challenge my value system. Regularly, I ended up in conflict with myself as I tried to justify my reasoning for not just “taking the money” when offered investment opportunities. But I just couldn’t do it. If I felt their “core” interest was not ethically right, I could not partner with them. I had to believe that they believed in what it was I was setting out to achieve.

It was at times like this, I often felt that I should have changed from being a limited company to a non-profit charity. But I thought about the limitation this might cause for international growth, and potential investments, and I remembered why I didn’t do this in the first instance.

The main benefits, that I could see, of being a non-profit was obviously the tax break, the awareness, and the many grants and public monies that could be raised to help fund the solutions to tackle the issues. People like charities.

But, I didn’t want to do this.

I wanted to work with other charities – not compete with them.

Additionally, from a business perspective, if I became a non-profit I felt I would be limited in how I raised private investment in return for equity – from people who had money and wanted to invest it to make profit for themselves. I didn’t want to limit my business model to just potential givers who may invest emotionally because of the cause, to just government agencies or from those who felt they had to, because of corporate responsibility for example. I felt I would be limited in where our monies raised went – if I wanted to put my money into research in another country, or pay for services abroad such as a mentor, or even reinvest that money into a brand new social project, this may have been frowned upon by the regulators. I felt I would be forced into having a particular type of executive board and because of pressures to become a registered charity to raise funds, I may choose the wrong people, at the wrong time, out of sheer pressure. I felt it wasn’t always in the best interest of society as a whole, economically, that I would not be paying back tax. I felt that I could be limited with regards to innovative transformation change in my company and if I wanted to grow internationally this could present with problems down the line. I also felt worried that the public [again] would have to donate, to essentially, themselves. I worried about the fact that I wanted to collaborate with many in the charitable sector, but that many of these (of course, not all), didn’t want to collaborate with one another, as they were all competing for funds in the same pool. [Interestingly, on this, I do want to add, what I did find throughout my journey, was that peer led charities, most often always, seemed more eager to work together than those that weren’t – and for those reading this – you know who you are! 🙂 ]

So after laying out all my feelings and concerns on paper, of course it might have seemed that I did not approve of the non-profit sector – and this is what I wanted to make very clear – this was absolutely not so. I raised money for years for amazing charities that have all helped me and my family personally – and I still donate and support same. I definitely think there is a place for non-profits and there is nothing wrong with their business model, at all. It’s just that I didn’t think it would work for my business and what I wanted to set out to achieve, on a global level.

I simply had a dilemma. On one hand, I potentially could receive funds from private investors who had money that they wanted to share and could get a return on investment, and on the other, I could potentially have to say no to such, but be potentially funded by getting grant aid and/or raise funds from the public.

Decisions, decisions.

You see, it’s not all dandy on the other side of the street either – there are many issues too with being a for-profit organisation, especially when you are a true social entrepreneur.

Firstly, we are often classed as “profit driven” – this personally drives me insane! [Excuse the pun!]

I am driven by the cause. End of.

And, I hate to say it, but I will address the elephant in the room –  I know that greed for money can be the only drive in the for-profit world – but greed for money also exists in the non-profit sector too!

But how I, personally, raise money, spend money or even share money shouldn’t be the decider as to whether I am a social entrepreneur or not. I am driven by what I do and why I do it, and not by how much money can be made by it. [Additionally, for the record, that doesn’t mean either, that I’m not smart enough to make profit!]

Secondly, don’t even get me started on procurement!

And then my third, biggest issue. Always  trying to raise funds from potential investors, who had loads of money, access to experienced teams and who could probably copy my idea in a heart beat, if they really wanted to. All too often though, as soon as I would meet them, I would know if I could really talk about my “global vision” or not. Quite often, as I learned, if I did, they would subtly indicate that I was unfocused or a bit delusional or better again, told in a round about way that I was “innocent”(#truestory). Trying to pitch was always difficult – on one hand they wanted me to make international sales, and on the other, they wanted me to scale back!

One example of this, was when I applied on seven different occasions for a chance to raise €50,000 in a competitive start up fund with a government support agency. Not once, in any of these rounds, was I ever brought to even interview stage. Over the years, I knew many start-up companies who had won this same funding.

And over the years, I also watched many of these same companies sadly cease trading.

But, I remember exactly, when the moment of irony hit me.

It was the day when my very first sale exceeded the annual turnover limits they had set themselves to be allowed to apply for this funding. This first sale made me become exempt from applying again, simply because, my customer, our public health services, believed more in me than our support agency for enterprise did!

And so, did I go shouting from the rooftops gloating, “Ha ha – in your face!”

Okay, (honestly!) a little part of me wanted to do this (I am after all, only human!) – but really and truly, what I wanted to shout to the world was that I felt there was no actual place for us innovative social entrepreneurs that didn’t fit in the non-profit sector. I wanted everyone to know that be we “for-profit” or “non-profit” that we both equally could add value to society – both economically and socially.

For me, personally, I also learned that it’s okay that I don’t tick everyone’s boxes. Because what matters now is that I choose to hold steady with my choice.

As an innovator and true social entrepreneur, I know now that I fit somewhere in between the “for profit” and “non for profit” sectors. My ideal investor is most likely to be a philanthropist – someone who just wants to see good people, do good things, with good people.

Personally, I truly feel the key to successful sustainability, for each of us in the health care ecosystem, is by proving the benefit, value and cost savings of what we have on offer for every stakeholder, and committing to reinvesting a percentage of funds raised, back into the services who pay for it.

I also believe the real way to do this properly is through collaboration, innovation and determination.

Because for me, everything I do, will always be, in the best interest of patients.

Social Entrepreneurs Ireland

Ideology for Awards Programme

Ultimately at Social Entrepreneurs Ireland what we care about is that the best ideas for social change get the right support to help them to succeed. That is our vision. And in that context it doesn’t really matter to us whether the organisation is a charity, a social enterprise or a for-profit. Each of these models have different advantages and disadvantages associated with them, but all three models have the potential to make a positive social impact in Ireland. So at an ideological level we have no particular favourite model – we just want to see great ideas for social change succeed in Ireland.”

 

“Don’t hire him – he dropped out of school.”

Everyone at some stage will have a regret in their life. It could be something they said or didn’t say; or something they did or didn’t do. It might be something that happened in their childhood, their teens – or even just a few weeks ago.

Touching base with the past can help us move forward – no-one should have to live the rest their lives in regret. Awareness, acceptance, apologies and forgiveness can be keys to moving on in life – on both a personal and professional level.

In the business world, this too, needs to be remembered.

If one slips-up in the workplace we need to take a time out, reflect and communicate. Is the problem really so bad that the person is shouted at, or worse, fired?

I remember a few years ago when one of our team members got such a fright when our whole website crashed – with one little push of a button, three years of hard work was gone – in just a split second.  I remember walking into the office to a white face of terror. It was all made worse for her by the fact that I was being assessed that weekend for a national award and our website would be the go-to for the judges to learn about the business.

Upon further learning that the website could not be retrieved, and would have to rebuilt, I was obviously shocked, upset and worried, but I did not once shout, roar or have a hissy fit.

I simply said everything would be okay.

I felt it a good idea that we took a time out and get a cup of tea to calm ourselves.

When we recollected ourselves we started brainstorming our possibilities. We had extremely limited funds, the server wouldn’t allow us access our backup in case it was infected, and we were not techies! However, we weren’t going let that defeat us. We both took a deep breath and over the next 48 hours the two of us locked ourselves in the office and rebuilt the entire website on our own!

(PS – Thank you YouTube vloggers for all your tips and advice!)

The outcome? We actually felt our new website was even better than the original; we had learnt a whole load of new tricks along the way and we had even strengthened our working relationship! I didn’t even win the award in the end but hand on heart I can honestly say that that was not down to a website crashing – it was simply because I wasn’t ready. Simple as that.

So why did I react the way I did upon hearing the bad news of the website crashing, even though I had witnessed many employers from previous jobs explode over less?

This was simple. I had led a life full of challenges. We had personally faced death in our family. We had seen our extremely close friends lose their beautiful child at 11 months old, two weeks before her first birthday. Watched our own family members lose their tiny babies through cot death and still births. I had lost my little child through miscarriage. Our children, myself and my husband had complex health conditions.

Really, was a website crashing, really that bad in comparison?

In work, and in life, I use a very simple, but very serious, motto when things go wrong. I always ask, “Has anyone died?”

If the answer is no, then it’s not that bad. It can always be fixed. There is no point in screaming at people when they make mistakes. Much of the time that person learned the lesson as soon as the mistake was made. In the cases where the person maybe didn’t see they had done anything wrong, then a calm two-way conversation (not confrontation!) needs to happen. Of course, there are those people who don’t learn; don’t want to change; don’t want to try – but that’s a whole other conversation.

I just think of my own life before I judge others. I can admit I have made mistakes in my life. Can you?

Have you ever had a blazing row with a friend, family or loved one and said things you didn’t mean? Have you ever cheated on a girl/boy friend in your teenager years? Ever taken a “sick” day from work because you were hungover? Or lied to your parents about where you were going/what you did? Told your partner that clothes were cheaper than they actually were? Been arrested or in court for something which you regret now, or something insignificant when put in perspective with the greater scheme of life? Or got the “shudders” when thinking back on an embarrassing (even drunk!) moment? Have you nearly flunked college because you were too busy going out all the time? Or ditched school – and got caught!

Think about it. We are all prone to saying or doing things that we might later regret. I suppose what I am trying to say in this article is that we should all think twice before we jump to conclusions.Give people chances, ask questions. In interviews for jobs, for instance, make an opportunity to discuss challenges.

Reconsider the person who may have been fired from their first job for being late all the time. What age were they when that happened? Did they have money to pay for the fuel or bus to get them there on time?

Reconsider the person who dropped out of school. What if, in their final exam years in school, there was a family bereavement?

Reconsider the person that a colleague told you were “wild in their day”? Eh, weren’t we all?

Reconsider the person with no college degree. What if they weren’t academic by nature, but more hands on, with lived experiences?

We need to remember we were all young once, and that we’re all built differently. We need to remember even as adults we can get it wrong. Should we really block peoples futures because of past mistakes?

I don’t think so. I feel people should be given chances and opportunities to learn from past errors. Remember – it’s only a mistake if you don’t learn from it. Allow people the chance to say sorry, forgive them – help them be better people.

As I said at the beginning – awareness, acceptance, apologies and forgiveness can be keys to moving on. It’s a two way conversation – we can all play our part in helping people, not only accept that errors are in the past, but for us to accept too that they want to change for the better – and that we’re not all that perfect ourselves.

Olive Blog Image 1

The Farmer and the Sheepdog [aka the CEO and the Manager]

Throughout my various careers I have both experienced, and come across, some interesting scenarios in relation to that of the perceptions of front line managers and their overarching bosses.

Much of the time (and especially in times of dilemmas/difficult decisions/delicate situations) the manager is the person out front dealing with it.  Unfavorable presumptions and accusations about this person can often be heard whispered between colleagues in the canteen after such events, but I have often wondered are these negative undertones being directed towards the wrong person? Sometimes when you’re involved in a situation you can find it hard to see what’s actually happening in your workplace.

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While there are many analogy’s like”Are you a sheep, sheepdog or wolf?”1 I like to think of it in terms of the Farmer and the Sheepdog…

A large herd of sheep are all placed in the field doing their job as given to them by the Farmer – eating grass. But one day the Farmer gets a call from the local butchers about the quality of some of the produce being supplied and so he has a discussion with his wife about what to do. They feel that it could be that the grass the sheep are eating isn’t nutritious enough, or that maybe some of the sheep need to be replaced. So they make a decision to move some of the sheep out to another pasture; and bring some of the others to the local market for trading. 

On this, the Farmer, calls on his loyal sheepdogs to help him with this process, while the Farmers wife stays at the farm and proceeds to bottle feed some of the baby lambs that are in the barn with some older lambs.

When the sheep see the Farmer at the gate they all run over excitedly as they think he will have food for them. But this mood quickly changes when they see the sheepdogs jump out of the tractor. The sheep start moving together as one – they are scared. The sheepdog, an animal too, empathises with the sheep, knowing they are afraid, but he knows he has a job to do. The Farmer steps inside the gate with the sheepdogs and starts blowing a silent whistle, which only the sheepdogs can hear. The sheepdogs start barking at the sheep and moving them in the direction the Farmer wants them to go in, but the sheep do not see or hear the Farmer give directions. The sheep are confused, and huddle closer as a group. A few of the sheep see a small gap in a fence and they try to see if they can run a different way. But one sheepdog is watching and he snaps at their heels until they move where he wants them to go.

The Farmer watches this process, and goes over to open a gate to the new pasture. The sheep run towards it wide-eyed, with the sheepdogs following closely; and listening to the instructions of the silent whistle, they separate the sheep into two groups as they move closer to the farmer. Five of the sheep are forced by one of the sheepdogs to go into a small enclosure to the left, and the remaining are escorted in an organised manner by the other sheepdog into the new pasture. The Farmer closes the gate behind them – separating the sheep from the sheepdogs. All of the sheep, in both enclosures, are relieved that the Farmer saved them from the sheepdog, but the smaller group are a little worried about the fact that they’ve been separated.     

 The Farmer calls his sheepdogs and they get into the tractor. The little “enclosure” the sheep had gone into was actually a trailer attached to the tractor, and the Farmer drives them away from the field. Unsure as to what is happening, they arrive in the courtyard of the farm, where they meet the lovely Farmers wife who had bottle fed them as babies too. The sheepdogs get out of the tractor. They are fed and watered and sniff around the sheep quietly – they have no interest in hurting them now. The farmers wife then puts some of the lambs unto the trailer with them, and keeps a selected chosen few behind. The Farmer starts his engine again and the lambs in the trailer bleat after the Farmers wife. The sheepdogs stay alert as their job is to protect the farm.

Not long after, the sheep and lambs arrive at the market and meet loads of other livestock and farm animals. It is not long after when they look around for their beloved Farmer and see that he has now new sheep beside him. They soon learn about their fate. Some are taken by other farmers, and the others, well…

Too little too late, the sheep and lambs realise that their enemy was never the sheepdog – but instead was the Farmer and his wife who had planned their demise all along.

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Okay so I am no farmer and maybe not everything is correct in terms of what happens on a farm (!) but I’m hoping the comparison between it and that of the CEO and the manager in the workplace comes across. If we take the Farmer as the CEO; his wife as a company partner; the sheepdogs as managers; the sheep as the employees and the butcher as the customer, I think it’s fair to say that this sequence of events has probably played out at some time or other in many large organisations.

Obviously (we’d hope!) in the real world that staff aren’t produce, and the outcome of the poor sheep in the end isn’t the same,  but I can guarantee if you’ve been through something like this, it can certainly feel like you have been sold out; and that it is the end of the road for you, in your career.

You may almost certainly did look upon the sheepdog at some stage as the enemy, and may still feel quite unsure about the Farmer and his wife, even now.

CEO’s and their company partners have one mission – to make money: this is the sole reason they are in business. If there are loss of earnings and/or the customers become unhappy, then changes have to be made, and quick. Staff costs are most often the first investigated in situations like this, as they are usually the biggest outgoing expense in businesses. If this is the area chosen to “quick fix the problem in hand” then CEO’s can choose to pick the strongest of their teams and give them more resources to improve; and/or they can decide to pick the weakest and remove them from the organisation altogether. I am in no ways saying that it is the right thing to do, it is simply stating what does happen in the real world.

It is important that the CEO is able to run his business smoothly and so he employs people to keep the business running smoothly and manage difficult processes,  like this for him. In this case, the CEO listens to the opinions of his managers and watches for staff who have the most potential; making decisions then on who should stay or go, behind the scenes. The company partners usually stay out of this process as they focus on seeking out new ventures to grow the business (much like the farmers wife with the lambs).

The managers are then called in and told what they have to do.

They too are employed by the company and they often empathise with their colleagues, but know they have a job to do and so must get on with it. They have to build themselves up and put a mental barrier around them so they can go through with it, and because of this they can often seem harsh (much like a sheepdog barking).  If staff kick up about the decisions made, quite often managers can seem like they too are snapping at heels, as they become defensive and stubborn, as they have to follow through on the task on hand. They know they will only get fed and watered (paid) if they do their job right.

Once the news is delivered, initial sniping in the canteen is usually geared at the manager, and little is said about the CEO, until the rest of the organisation find out what has happened. It is then that the reality of the bigger picture is seen. It is at this point that the manager tries to finds a way to work with colleagues again, leaving the dust to settle until the next season.

My reason for writing this, I suppose, is that I have both experienced and witnessed this first hand. I have been shocked when a seemingly “nice” manager “turned” stern and cold with me. I questioned myself, doubted myself and also questioned the situation. It was only on looking back did I realise that it wasn’t me, it wasn’t even them, it was actually the bigger forces from the top level of the company.

So as I move forward in my new organisation, I as CEO, am making an informed decision to face the music myself; say it as it is; and to stay fair when making choices – even if the news isn’t the best in the world. If I have to get managers in the future to help me, I will help them too.

Because at the end of the day, the sheepdog is also part of the team, and if everyone is against him all of the time, then it just opens opportunities for the wolves to come in, disguised as the sheep.

[Of course the CEO might be a woman, but for simplicity in writing I’m choosing one and it’s a man (the company partner is a woman, if that helps!)]

Reassurance – Often written, rarely verbalised.

As I came in from another long day at work, my three girls (and three dogs, I might add!) all came running at me – just before I got a chance to glance at the post that had arrived that day.

After seeing their happy faces and hugging them tightly, I felt so reassured that they were so happy, and that yet another day had gone by where I had gone to work and that they were still okay by the time I got home (don’t get me wrong my babysitter is amazing – it’s just a thing I think all moms have a little anxiety about from time to time when they leave their kiddies all day with someone else!)

Anyway, my kids (and dogs!) quickly forgot about me as they knew it was near to bedtime and so they scarpered off to get in their last few minutes of play and television watching. It was then that I took the opportunity to give my attention to the mail, as I had noticed that one envelope had a stamp from my children’s hospital on the front, and I was waiting every day for six long weeks for it to arrive.

However, as soon as I started reading it, my previous feelings of reassurance were soon replaced with feelings of dismay.

The letter started with the usual opening statement outlining how my daughter presented on the day and then went on to discuss her medical history. There were, of course, references to the concerns I had as a parent which were followed by this sentence…

“I have reassured mother that [my child’s name] was doing very well on the day and that we will give a follow up appointment, as required.”

So why did I get upset about this? Wasn’t it great to hear she was doing well? 

Well first of all, of course I knew how my daughter was the day of the appointment – I was after all, in the room with her. I didn’t take her out of school nor me out of work to seek reassurance about this. Nor did I go to seek reassurance that she would be followed up on (I had taken this as a given.) 

I had gone there with a specific agenda.

I wanted a proper plan to be put in place for her, for when she wasn’t doing “okay”. With three years of my daughter living with sporadic high blood pressures, a huge fear had settled on me that one day something terrible would happen to her – and all because we had no clue what to do or where to go when this happened to her.

Now please don’t classify me as a neurotic mum yet…please hear me out.

We had been told by specialists that there could be a possibility of my daughter having phaeochromocytoma or carcinoid syndrome, but that sometimes it is only when puberty starts that a true picture would show itself. My daughter also was diagnosed with the same hole in heart that her daddy has [PFO], of which he suffered a stroke from at age 42.

So, for three years our “emergency plan” was to go to A&E every time her blood pressure spiked, to get her urine catecholamines done. This quickly fizzled out because firstly, it wasn’t good for any of us (especially her) to be made more anxious by being in hospital; secondly her blood pressures were spiking all the time and it wasn’t feasible to keep travelling up and down, and lastly, I swore that if I ever heard the term “white coat hypertension” one more time, my own blood pressure was at risk of going through the roof!

So all I wanted out of this appointment was to be reassured that nothing bad was going to happen to her, that I wasn’t “crazy” and that we could have a proper short term and long term plan for her. But by the end of the appointment (and the letter) it was obvious to see that we weren’t going to get this at all.

It also occurred to me upon reading the letter that the other health care professionals that were cc’d into it, could make the possible presumption that I, her mother, was feeling reassured and not, which was the reality, still stressed. With “presumption” in itself a whole other conversation of which I regularly refer to in way of a proverb [in a language I couldn’t possibly share on this blog!] ” I started to think more and more about the safety issues of using this terminology.

In this case, however, I think it could be fair to say that the health care professional reading this letter could have been led into this presumption because it clearly stated how I had felt (even, if it were in someone else’s opinion).

So what does the term “reassurance” actually mean, and when or where should it be used?

Interestingly, reassurance is defined as an action of which removes someones doubts or fears, or it is even a statement that does the same.

An action? Really?

By now, I’m sure you can say that it was quite obvious that my doubts and fears were not acted upon. 

So my question is, should correspondence between health care professionals include the term “reassurance” unless the same has been specifically asked of the parent or patient? An excellent blog by Bronwyn Thompson, editor ofHealthSkills discusses the benefits of reassurance in patients and she refers to Linton, McCracken & Vlaeyen (2008) who discuss whether reassurance is actually, reassuring. 

Simply put, for someone to reassure someone else, shouldn’t they both be discussing the topic of which caused the fear or doubt in the first instance? And surely a reassuring statement (such as in the letter) can not be given unless it is in fact agreed upon, with the person who had the feelings of anxiety?

Maybe a simple solution to my daughters letter would be to replace the noun “reassured” by the word “told”, for example – 

“I told mother that [my child’s name] was doing very well on the day and that we will give a follow up appointment, as required.” 

 

Why?

Because if a health care professional perceives a patient to be reassured then there is a possibility that that next appointment will be pushed to the bottom of the pile. The urgency of such a situation may not be deemed as so, because the parent “feels” okay at this time…and the child is doing well.

Now, I do want to make one thing clear.

This issue I have is only around the way in which health professionals may communicate. It does not reflect whatsoever their  ability, skills or professionalism. Believe me, if I don’t like or trust a physician – I move.

Simple as that.

We are very lucky to have the health care professionals we have, although on the same note, quite unlucky that we know them because of the health we do have!

This blog is just a reflection of how communication could be improved upon in relation to medical data. To be honest, if I had my way, I would love to see all parents cc’d into every letter that go between health care professionals as they are, after all, the child’s primary carer. But for now, even if we just change a word or two, it can really help bridge the communication gap that seems to be getting bigger and bigger.

And if that word were only “reassurance”, I feel I myself would be reassured.

Reassurance is a feeling.

I think a patient or parent should always be asked at the end of their appointment do they feel reassured about the initial concerns they had. But I don’t think it is necessary, appropriate or even safe to include such “feelings” in a medical document.

Unless of course it is around the feeling of “concern”.

And that, dear reader, is a whole other topic. 

Presenting and attending at the National Medicines Forum 2015

Last Thursday, on the 30th April 2015, the 3rd National Medicines Forum was held in No.6 Kildare Street, Dublin 2 – also known as the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland.  Upon walking in the doors of this truly remarkable building, you honestly feel like you’ve stepped back in time – you can feel the depth of history and can imagine the learning that was absorbed by medical practitioners gone by. Ironically this same sense actually ran as a theme for a lot of the day as many of the speakers reflected on past eras to compare to present activities.

As I walked into the great Corrigan Hall, I felt that usual flutter of nerves in my belly, as I started thinking about my own upcoming presentation. As a non-health care professional, I was very aware that I was in the presence of extremely skilled, educated and knowledgeable persons from the medical arena, but thankfully, as soon as the speakers began, I soon became absorbed in the topics being discussed and my fears quickly disappeared (until it was my turn that is!).

Now I realise that if I were to write in detail about each and every presentation that was delivered from this enlightening eight hour forum, I would have a short novel written, so instead, I will just do a quick skim over from my perspective as a patient, on what I felt was an extremely educational and inspirational experience, from beginning to end.

Thinking back to when Dr. Helen Flint, National Lead for Medicines Management [ONMSD], kindly invited me to this event, I remembered my initial reaction upon hearing its title, and I was a little apprehensive about whether I would be able to comprehend all the medical terminology during the day.

But to my surprise, when I heard the chairs, Dr Helen, plus all the other speakers present their findings, I not only understood [99%!] of what was being said, I also found myself relating to nearly all of the drug names, their classes and what they were used for! Upon realising this initially, I was delighted as it meant I wasn’t sitting there clueless – but a split second later, I recognised that in the reality of my life, this of course, was not a good thing at all because I had either taken or given many of these drugs to different family members over the last few years due to all of their different chronic illnesses.

It was after Ms Mary Brosnan’s (Hon President IADNAM) opening remarks and during Professor Michael Barry’s presentation that many of these medication names were mentioned. Amongst other findings, he was able to showcase some possible projected financial savings if a switch from branded medicines to generics were to happen. Now this topic came up again later during the day when GP, Dr Brendan O’Shea and his team, implemented a study which was able to test the reactions of patients when the branded was changed to a generic by their health care professional. While the majority of patients had either no change, and/or positive outcomes, there were patients who were not happy and even some frustrated or angry with the changes made to their drugs, even though they agreed to partake in the study.

As I listened to these outcomes, I couldn’t help but contemplate how I myself would feel if my children’s drugs were changed to save money, especially if the drugs had been working perfectly fine.

I’m sure I would have asked…

Should I change their medications just to save the “health service” money?

Can a price be put on life or well-being?

And so I thought back to earlier in the day when Deputy Head of the National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics (NCPE) Dr Roisín Adams demonstrated the tough job her team have when recommending what drugs should be put on the reimbursement scheme. Dr Roisín told us how they had to use as much evidence as they could find, from across the world, to weigh up the effectiveness of a drug in comparison to its cost. She explained the difficulty in getting good, quality, measurable data and asked us all to participate in making a decision as to whether we would buy in a drug that could add six months extra to a person’s life. We all found it very difficult to make a decision without more information and she demonstrated that one of the important things they needed to learn was what the quality of life for that person would be in that six month term. Obviously so many other factors came into this process, but she spoke in a way that even I could understand – considering I even found it difficult to pronounce the word “Pharmacoeconomics”!

The tough job Dr Roisín had when making these decisions was made even clearer when inspirational patient and advocate for Cystic Fibrosis Ireland, Katie Murphy, spoke about what her peers had to say about a drug that had worked wonders for them.  Katie showed us the many testimonials from CF patients who had been affected in the most positive of ways by this miracle drug, noting that this type of “quality” data is what needs to be captured and used, to help the likes of Dr Roisín and her department make more informed decisions.

Now in the last few years, I had heard this term “informed decisions” being bandied about but I had often wondered if everyone knew what it meant. So when Professor Laserina O’Connor, Prof. of Clinical Nursing (MMUH, UCD), came on stage, I immediately took a liking to her as she showcased some of the one-to-one work she had been doing with patients in the community setting. She was able to validate that by understanding the daily life experience of the patient she could then assess the situation realistically and determine best treatment methods for that individual. She also acknowledged the importance of educating the patient, and their family, about their chronic condition and recognised the difficulty they can have in managing medications and treatments on a daily basis.

But we found that another group of people were also affected on a daily basis by medications and treatments – and these were our prescribers. After a warm welcome from Dr Maura Pidgeon, Chief Executive Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland; Professor Peter Weedle, School of Pharmacy UCC,was able to showcase his innovative technology to help health care professionals manage medication reconciliation. He spoke about how to “SIN with EASE by KISSing” [an apt analogy you had to be there for!] and continued his presentation by showing us a very funny YouTube clip [watch it here, it really is very funny!] where a psychologist tells his patient who is afraid of being buried alive to just “STOP IT” over and over again.

Now, of course, everyone can take their own message from this video but for me I feel that there can often be a lot of frustration for health professionals when patients don’t change their behaviour, and as a result, they can either continue to just say the same thing to everyone or go into complete reverse and say nothing at all, putting all patients in the one bracket. I think the same goes for health care professionals who also don’t want to change their behaviours when prescribing and so the message in this video goes both ways. But one thing is important for all stakeholders in our health system – education is fundamental. Health care professionals have an extremely difficult job – every day they make decisions about people’s lives – which can be the difference between that person getting better…or the complete opposite.

So when Dr Mary-Jo McAvin, from the National Medicines Information Centre in St. James Hospital spoke about how their service aims to promote the safe, effective and efficient use of medicines for health professionals, I was delighted that they had somewhere to go to help them continually make better decisions. I learned on the day that through their clinical enquiry answering service they provide evidence-based information and advice to healthcare professionals/agencies on all aspects of the therapeutic use of medicines including indications, drug interactions, drug use in pregnancy and lactation. I have to say I really was so glad to know that professionals had such a great “go-to” service for medical evidence!

Evidence I’m sure some of which has had to have come from Dr. Tamasine Grimes, Associate Professor (Pharmacy) TCD & Tallaght Hospital whom presented a variation of possible ways in which to tackle medication issues.

When she told us that more than 8% of emergency department admissions were due to drug related issues I immediately thought to myself, that if for every 100 patients, 8 of them were not in A&E, this could help tackle the huge problem we have of people lying on trolleys for days on end! 

Dr. Tamasine demonstrated the importance of collaborative team efforts in hospitals regarding reconciliation and told us that 6% of all discharged in acutes had a potentially severe drug error. She revealed how a study, named PACT [Pharmaceutical Care in Tallaght Hospital] was a collaborative model of pharmaceutical care involving medication reconciliation and review. She told us it was delivered by clinical pharmacists and physicians, at admission and during inpatient care, and at discharge was shown to be protective against potentially severe medication errors in acute medical patients and also improved the quality of prescribing in older patients. She went on to describe their launch of their Zero Harm Initiative just last month, an initiative I’m proud to say, I also enjoyed helping out with.

After her presentation, I got a bit brave and took the microphone to openly commend Dr. Tamasine and the team in Tallaght on their collective approach and hoped that more in the room could take part in trying to disrupt any unhealthy competitive cultures and replace them with collaborative, nationwide initiatives.

On this, Professor Michael Barry closed the day remarking on the innovation and enthusiasm that was shown throughout. As he spoke however, I couldn’t help but think again about his presentation and about how I would feel if my children’s drugs being changed to save money.

And I thought – what if my children were started on generic drugs from the very beginning of their prescription?

Would I be asking these same questions?

Probably not.

So what if prescribers just started giving the newly diagnosed generic drugs  to begin with– thus avoiding the upsetting of those already on drugs which are working for them?

I thought of my children’s physiotherapist – if his hours were cut because the HSE had less money due to unnecessary overspending on medications, then my children’s health would be at risk.

And then yes, there would be a price to pay for their well-being.

So maybe if more patients were educated on the implications of the costs of branded drugs versus generics, then we could all  actually help our health care professional and health service, by requesting generics ourselves?

And so, happy that I could take so much away from the Forum, I looked around and again thought of the building we were in and how many others, just like myself, had gained insights from inspirational speakers, in this very room. I reflected on how I had felt when I saw the beautiful staircase as I walked in the doors and I recalled Dr Helen Flints presentation,  showing us how the role of the nurse had changed a lot in many ways, but not so much, in many more.

Change, of course, will always be a challenge but remember anything can be achieved if we don’t mind who takes the credit. We should strive to change what needs changing, but be smart enough to leave well enough alone.

Much like this big, beautiful building.

My dream in life? Not just world peace, but inner peace.

As I drove home in the car with my three beautiful girls last night in the back seat, I felt that little feeling in my tummy – that feeling that we all experience every now and again – that little moment of sheer inner childlike happiness.

I had put on a Disney CD as we set off on our journey and after we had tried our hands at guessing which movie each song came from – we all (including yours truly!) proceeded to sing along to every song at the top of our lungs, which then led to us all reminiscing and laughing about when we had met our favourite Disney characters, on what became the holiday of a lifetime for us, as a family.

A holiday that was just so much more than just a memory for us.

This was a holiday that I never thought in a million years would ever happen…a holiday which only happened because of the amazing family and friends we have (and of course, Santa Clause!)…a holiday which happened with the help from so many kind, caring and experienced health care professionals to get our family up to full health…and most of all, a holiday which was an absolute dream come true for us as a family.

So as I pulled up my car in the driveway last night, feeling calm and happy, with three bubbly girls in the back, I started thinking about what each of my daughters dreams, aspirations and goals in life would be as they got older. I was thinking about my own bucket list, and what else was on it.

And a thought suddenly struck me…

What if, one day, I achieved everything on my bucket list?

What would be the outcome? Would it only be then that I would have gained this “much talked about” and “sought after” thing called  “inner peace”?

Would I, at long last, not have a need to keep on striving to do “things”?

I started thinking. If we all had inner peace would we want for anything more than we already have? If we had inner peace, would we not feel scared, lonely or frustrated? We may not have the need to have tons of money; to be popular with everyone; to be successful in careers, or try to keep up with everyone else in society. We may not have anxiety or fears about our future, or our children’s or loved ones futures for that matter. We mightn’t be angry or cross or bitter.

We may be so content with all in our life that we may be happy to just, “be”.

To just exist. In utterly quiet contentment.

Imagine?

Okay, so I don’t know how I personally would be, to just “be”.

I am already getting bored thinking about it (sorry, but it’s true- I’m quite an energetic person!) and so of course, this got me thinking. Surely, if we had our own inner peace, in our own personal lives, we would have no need to do anything, for anyone? Or maybe we might want others to feel good, and so we go out to help others on their journey to receiving their inner peace?

Or even better – world peace.

Mother Teresa and Ghandi are some of the worlds icons for “inner peace” and they always had the need to do things for others.

“Each one has to find his peace from within. And peace to be real must be unaffected by outside circumstances.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

It takes a huge amount of courage, strength, commitment and determination to create positive changes in the world – even if they’re only tiny changes, for even one person. There is also great potential in disrupting, and even destroying, our own peace from within ourselves in trying to achieve this.

I know myself I get so much out of life by giving, by helping, by working with others.

Sometimes though, it is to my own detriment.

Being talked down to, laughed at, sneered at and back-stabbed is not always easy to handle. And it does happen.

Sometimes it brings me down, makes me paranoid, creates sadness, hurts me.

And yet when it comes to my children, I never feel this way.

The inner peace and happiness I felt last night came from knowing that they’re happy, safe and healthy. They are also so wealthy and beautiful in all aspects of their life. A wealth not in the form of finances or assets – a wealth of family and friendships; knowledge and education; creativity and personalities; memories and laughter. And a beauty on the inside, not just the outside.

My aim in life is to fill their little hearts and heads with the belief they can achieve inner peace and anything else they want in their lives and so every day, as we set off on the school run in the car, I say out loud:

“We’re happy, safe, healthy and wealthy”. They all shout back to me,”We’re happy, safe, healthy and wealthy” adding”…and beautiful!” I then say, “Thank you God for everything in our lives” and they repeat this back to me. This is followed then by me asking them “Who do you love?” of which they all reply “Me!” And last of all, I ask , “Who else do you love?” and they all say:

“You, and everyone else who knows and loves us”

Of course, I tell them I love them too and we all finish with Amen.

I know it’s only a simple little thing we do, but for me, the message I am trying to get across to them, is to not strive or wish for happiness, health, wealth and safety, but to instead believe and affirm that they already have all of those thingsnow.

I want for them to be grateful for all they have in their lives already and to say thank you ( gratitude and manners are so important – as a good friend once said – be mom first, friend second – it’s okay to be firm!) In this message I also want for them to love themselves first, and to love others back who love them; to always know that they are all so beautiful, both inside and out – and to enjoy life to the full, and fill it with precious memories.

Our memories of our holiday in Disney were, and still are, so raw to us. They were made so much more special by the staff there – from giving us free tickets to their outstanding Halloween show when we couldn’t retrieve our wheelchair for Nicole, and posting us new, fully signed, autograph books all the way to Ireland when Daddy left them behind in Orlando in a taxi by mistake! I remember watching an inspirational TedTalk by Fred Lee titled “If Disney Ran Healthcare” and the differences between patient experience and satisfaction – the difference is the feelings that are evoked.

It is these experiences that matter in life, and all of these memories that lead to that feeling of happiness and contentment.

I cherish the lovely little things that happen in my life, and my daughters lives, and I do believe that by having balance, laughter and love, that inner peace will come all on it’s own, and probably without me realising it at all.

To create world peace, I do think that inner peace comes first.

It comes from kindness, compassion and love.

And so maybe, on reflection, I should now rethink my future and turn my bucket list (and business plan) on it’s head – I think from now on, I’ll put inner peace first – and maybe meeting Richard Branson one day as my very close 2nd!!

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[Below is a short video of when we told our girls we were going to Disney World Orlando (they had actually thought they were going to the UK for three days!) It was 6 in the morning- they were exhausted and were waiting to be brought to the airport in the hotel- they thought I was going to an awards ceremony in London as I had bought new dresses for them, but myself and their daddy had planned to renew our wedding vows on Cocoa Beach as an extra surprise, and they were our gorgeous bridesmaids!]

#littlethings #dreams #innerpeace #europeanpeacesummit #worldhealthinnovationsummit