I spent three days this week traveling in the interior of the country; not far, the furthest place we visited was about 3.5 hours away from the ship, but far enough to feel really disconnected from the ship. As we cruised along, I could feel my blood pressure go down while gazing across green shrub forests and fields as far as the eye can see, occasionally dotted by lone baobab trees and small villages with mammas bending over their open fire cookstoves in front of their red mud huts. Children barely clothed if at all, running and playing and laughing and stopping and waving when they see the pale faces in the branded vehicle driving past. I love this country.
We were visiting some of the hospitals we had visited previously as a part of the Checklist project. I’ve written about this project before; it’s by far my favorite, where we go to hospitals across the country and teach about how teamwork and good communication, along with verifying together that critical steps for patient safety have been completed, and has been shown to dramatically drop death rates and complications in the operating room. For the most part, the challenge is not the clinical skills; the challenge is convincing people they should talk to each other, and ask for help when needed. It’s convincing them that if they forget something it’s not a terrible reflection on them and something to be ashamed of, in fact, it means they are human, and we all forget things occasionally. It’s convincing them to adopt something that seems far too simple, that it’s not about fancy drugs or equipment but teamwork and communication that can make their hospital safer and their patients healthier, quicker. It’s really a challenge in this culture, but I love a good challenge, and our team is incredible.
So they’ve already visited most hospitals across the country that do surgery, and now we’re at the stage of re-visiting them and seeing how they’re getting on. This is how I will spend much of the next three months, and I’m really excited about that! This type of visit presents a whole new challenge; they know they should be doing it, they all agree that it’s a good thing and many people try, but behavior change is hard and they are often fighting against hierarchy and egos and difficult working conditions with broken equipment and not enough staff. So these visits are so much more than just seeing how they are doing; they are for encouragement, for acknowledging that it’s really hard out there, and that we see that and are for them. We aren’t evaluating them, we’re evaluating our teaching program. We have to break down that wall, that shame that they feel in admitting they aren’t doing as well as they feel they should be and let them know that it’s okay. You’re trying. And that in itself is wonderful. Well done.
Once they know we are for them, they open up and tell us their frustrations and difficulties, and then the fun part (for me) comes in; finding solutions. I’m a problem solver, so I want to know the exact problems and work together to find a suitable solution for them. And then follow through on that immediately. Maybe they just need a bit more training, which we are happy to offer, right in that moment. Maybe they need someone else to tell that one difficult person on the team once again why this is really important. Maybe they need some support from senior administration. Maybe they just need some encouragement, and to know that it’s not easy anywhere, but it’s still worth trying. I love that we get to have these discussions, and see a difference in them in the course of a few-hour visit. This is transforming work. Maybe it’s not as dramatic or as visible as our patient transformations, but nonetheless, the team we wave goodbye to is not the same as the team we first visited; you can feel it and you can see it and it’s an incredible thing to be a part of.
So once again I gush along on my blog about how much I love what I get see and do and give in this place. Knowing I’m leaving in just a few months’ time makes me appreciate these visits all the more. It might be my last Checklist project, the last opportunity to see this team transformation, the gift of hope and a lasting impact that we have in these small hospitals and teams that are already doing incredible things in their communities. That does make me tear up a bit, but at the same time, I know we’ve created something that will last, that will make a global impact, that is much bigger than just me and my small team; in that I can trust that regardless of whether or not I ever get to be a part of this again, we have done what we have been called to do, to bring hope to dark places, to be a part of transforming people who can transform nations. May it be so.