Women & Infants Hospital

My Bona Fides. 

Yes, I am the Eric Olson in the article, and yes I am the 2014 non-clinical recipient of the Richard P. Welch Award for Continued Excellence in Patient and Family Centered Care, and yes the reason I’ve started writing for, and posting to, the blog again was because last week when I was told this was printed in my hometown newspaper the East Providence Post, I wanted to make sure that I didn’t make a liar out of whoever wrote “He regularly updates his blog,” since they were right about everything else in the announcement.

Yes, I won an award. I’ve never won an award before, and I am really proud of this one. Even now, a month and a half after being presented the award (and that was a month after I was told I had been selected the winner), I am still kind of amazed and speechless that I was even considered for this honor, and there are a bunch of different reasons why.

1. Reason the first (not in ranking of importance, just a listing). This award, as the article mentions and as Mrs. Welch noted in her speech during the presentation in January, was not about my work, at my “work”. Yes I work IN the Women & Infants Hospital but I work FOR (meaning who signs my checks) a large management subcontractor managing the kitchen. I am decent at my position but in my day job I have little exposure to the care of our patients other than providing safe and tasty meals while they stay with us (although, as I tell my staff, whether or not you have direct patient contact, ALL hospital employees impact patient and family centered care). Instead this award was for my work on the hospital wide advisory council for patient and family centered care, where the perspective I bring is more often as the father and husband to former patients, rather than a department manager. It was for my presentations and speeches to Pediatric Grand Rounds, and the Follow-up Clinic conference on NICU dads.  It was about the work I did attending the Institute for Patient and Family Centered Care National Seminar last year. It was about the work I do sharing Liam’s story with you. Right here. Because without this blog and all of your responses to it, I don’t think I would have had any idea that Karin and Liam and I had a story worth sharing, a point of view that had any value, or that our experiences could help people and systems of care for anyone else out there with a family member with complex medical needs.

2. The second reason that this award is so cool and I’m so proud of it is because it isn’t just about me. I of course would have no story to share, No motivation to help, and no confidence to stand and speak were it not for my amazing wife and this incredible little boy that we are lucky enough to have in our lives. I often say at my speeches that I had never been able to speak in front of groups before Liam was born but get me bragging about that kid and I could speak to hundreds, Thousands! And I would do it for hours. I’m not the award winner, we’re an award winning family.

3. Third, the award came with a little money, and as soon as Karin heard that she insisted that I use it to get something just for me. Not to use it all for heating oil and car maintenance but to splurge on something that I’ve been talking about getting for the past 6 years but could never justify the expense. Even though most of it did go to those bills, I was able to save enough for my own award and it means so much to me.

Finally I was able to get my next tattoo. And every time I look at it or show it off I remember where the money for it came from.

If you need a tat in Rhode Island go see Greg Arpin at Unicorn Ink, he does incredible work. This came out better than I could have imagined. Works out pretty well when your kid has a badass nickname.

 

4. But I suppose the biggest reward of receiving this award is that I’m beginning to actually believe that I am an advocate. That I’m legit. Ive got my bona fides.

The award is knowing now that I can do this. Not only because it’s what I am so passionate about, but someday, if I can figure out my way in, because someday it will be the way I make my living. This award is recognition that I am on the right path for that.

Recognition that I have a story, the skills, and now the confidence to tell it, only it isn’t my story,

it’s Liam’s story.

I’m just the guy who he awarded the opportunity to tell it.

A Big Day for the Olson’s.

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It was a month ago now,(I know, I know, I’m sorry) but there we are, only a few minutes before taking the “stage”. The Schwartz Center Rounds at Women & Infants Hospital. After my 20 minute speech, Karin, Liam and I would move to the big comfy chairs for a half hour of the Oprah treatment with a moderator and then open the floor to more questions and some discussion from the audience.

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The event was marketed in flyers and emails around the hospital as

Liam the Lion: Quality and Innovation in Nursing Care, One Hospital Family’s Story and even went on to promise actual “Learning Objectives” such as

  1. Discuss the challenges faced by caregivers when colleagues become patients.
  2. Identify strategies to protect and preserve the confidentiality of a hospital employee or family member who is a patient.
  3. Identify the aspects of care that are most effective in helping families cope with a difficult diagnosis and lengthy hospitalization.

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And if you think that isn’t intimidating enough, imagine how I felt when we arrived and I found that there was an evaluation sheet for each attendee to fill out in order to receive their continuing education credit.

“Better bring your A game Bubba.” I turned and said to Liam when we saw them. “Looks like we’re being graded.”

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As it turned out, I had nothing to worry about. Once I got started and was a slide or two into my presentation I started feeling very comfortable despite a packed room that even included a few people standing since we had run out of chairs (which I know the room started with 75). I don’t have much public speaking experience but on that Tuesday afternoon I felt like it may just be something I could get pretty good at with a little more practice. I think it was the first laugh from the audience, at a time where I had hoped they would laugh, and the nervousness of inexperience started fading away.

The only fear left to overcome was my own feelings of illegitimacy. What business did I have to be speaking in front of such a large crowd of Doctors, Nurses, and Hospital Administrators with any kind of authority? All I had to do to get over that silliness was take a quick look to my right at the real star of the show.

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Liam was incredible. He stayed awake and alert throughout the presentation and seated between his mother and I he really did steal the show which I’m sure will surprise none of you. Karin was equally impressive and gave thoughtful and insightful answers to difficult questions about so many of the layers of complexity to our family’s relationship to that hospital.

Liam’s story has value. Our family’s story has value. I’ve learned this through the outpouring of support and friendship from people, literally, all over the world that have reached out to me because of this blog. This blog and all of your support is what gave me the crazy idea that I could even do that speech. It’s what gave me the confidence to throw my name into the ring when the hospital Patient and Family Centered Care Advisory Council put out a call for  new applicants. It’s what has opened my eyes to the possibility of using our experiences in the health care industry, in the special needs community, and our new journey into special education to share, to advocate, and to speak out for the countless other families like ours who don’t have a voice, or the energy, or the confidence, or the time to do it.

It may sound like I’ve gotten a little full of myself here, and I suppose I have. I have to, because if I really am going to make things like patient advocacy a bigger part of my life (and someday hopefully turn this passion for the subject into a future career) than I need to go into it knowing and believing that I can. To give myself legitimacy in my own head before I can expect it from others. Until the reaction I got from that presentation (including more than one request for a repeat performance) I wasn’t sure in my own head that it would be possible.

But, now? Well, a few weeks after the presentation the Schwartz Center emailed me the results of those evaluation cards. Turns out Karin, Liam & I got all A’s!