Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Man among Millions

Today was my last day as a Specialist Leader at Deloitte Consulting. It was a special day. I got to be the emcee for ONC's all-day session on health information exchange at their annual meeting in DC. It was a day spent with people with whom I have been working for the last three years from all over the country -- many with whom I had worked shoulder to shoulder as I traveled to more than a dozen states to help them develop and execute on their strategic and operational plans for health information exchange. 

More and more I'm being asked to facilitate meetings. I try to bring some energy to the day and add some of my creative juices to the conversation -- through a song or a story or something new. These last few weeks, I've been so busy with Kym's health and my transition from Deloitte to AMIA that I didn't have time to think about doing something special for this meeting.  

Then last week, I had the privilege of spending three days with members of our armed forces at Aberdeen Proving Grounds on the Maryland coast at an "Innovation Deep Dive" session to develop innovative strategies for targeting tobacco use among our enlisted ranks in all the branches. There I met HN Taylor Mickal, a young hospital corpsman in the Navy who also happened to be a spoken word poet. We asked him to write something for the meeting and he shared an amazing piece with us the next day called Dive Deep. His poem inspired me to try my hand at free verse -- something I'd never really approached before.

Over the last 24 hours, I wrote this piece and was honored to be able to share it with some 200 HIE warriors at the end of the day. I am so grateful to ONC leaders Claudia Williams and Erica Galvez for giving me the opportunity to share a day with people I hold in such esteem. And am even more grateful for the way they received this piece.

Thank you for doing this important work.

A Man among Millions

tick tock
check the clock
it's moving faster
in its quest 
to stop us in our tracks

can you hear it?
faster than my beating heart
thumping with anxiety
checking for the reaper
over my shoulder
who's on a bender
hell-bent on the hunt
to take down those I love

tick tock
time won't stop
or take a break or hesitate 
to cut us off at the knees
yet here we stand
for what we believe 
can make a difference 
if we only make it flow

today we stand for flow --
for what we know is essential to the health
of this thing we call a healthcare system

we stand for flow
for overcoming the inertia of standing still
pushing information out 
transforming it from solid state to liquid gold
letting it go where it needs to go
...flowing into the chasm separating us
from the quality we pay for but don't receive
...flowing so the liquid data 
cascade and echo 
making ripples of insight
that concatenate to create tsunamis of knowledge

and so we organize ourselves
into exchanges
every state and territory
building its own story 
of how to make this work
in local circumstances
taking chances with taxpayer dollars
that we could never afford 
on our own accord
trying to fix on a massive scale 
the brokenness of our system
that we in our confessed complacency 
have grown to see as normal

millions --
nameless, faceless
suffering under the burden
of a system uninspired 
to go the extra mile --
are saying enough
I have a name
I have a voice
I have a face
I take a stand

here I stand
just one example 
of a man among millions
with a family lost in this maze
with a father who died
from cancer of his phantom prostate
that had been removed twenty years before
no PSAs for twenty years
why test for something long removed?
maybe because there's a chance it's not all gone
maybe the data are all there to know the answer
of whether it would have made a difference
this one simple test

here I stand 
just one example 
of a man among millions
with a family lost in this maze
with a mother slowly losing her way
keeping the memories of her youth
but forgetting those formed an hour ago
her children 
long away from their hometown
trying to connect the dots of her care
by remote control
"help! I've fallen and I can't get up"
doesn't reach to Atlanta or DC
so we rely on old technology of phone and fax
which isn't up to the task
as she rides 
from assisted living
to hospital
to rehab
and back again
while her medical records struggle 
to keep up the pace

here I stand
just one example 
of a man among millions
with a family lost in this maze
with a young son who enjoys good health
but has already faced the surgeon's scalpel 
at an age too young for his memory to recall
exactly why he has that scar on his back
or how his kidneys lack the full capacity
others take for granted
how will he know 
when he comes of age
what this means for him
his records passed down
from his elders
like an oral history
told around a campfire 
after a hunt for mastodons

here I stand
just one example 
of a man among millions
with a family lost in this maze
with a wife who bravely faces
cancer number three
in thirty years
who alone carries the burden
of coordinating care 
among the dozens and dozens
of providers who focus on
the particular part of her they understand
who alone carries the records
from place to place
from year to year
from diagnosis to diagnosis
hoping she can keep it all straight
so at the very least they do no harm

here I stand
one of the lucky ones
a man of means
with coverage
with knowledge
with friends
who stands helpless
to make the system work
for those who are the world for him

here I stand
in a room of my heroes
who possess amazing superpowers
to bend maze corners
into straight corridors
and change the flow
from a trickle 
to a torrent

I don't presume to know what drives you
what compels you in the morning to forego
another fifteen minutes sleep
and return to the battle
to do the heavy lifting
to add another line of code
to write another line of policy
to sign up one more to join the exchange
to solve one more problem
to make one more connection
to make it flow

but if you need a story to motivate
to steel your resolve to press on
mine is here and free for the taking

still better
forget my story
and tell your own
shout it from the rooftops
or whisper it only to yourself
but keep that picture
sharply focused in your mind
to give you the inspiration
to do the work
so we all can be 
one among the millions
whose information flows


  1. Thank you for your continued Evangelism towards making this a reality for us all one day! Congratulations on your new role at AMIA.

  2. That was a piece as lovely as you are Ross.

  3. Thank you for sharing this beautiful work. As we have shared before, timing of stories can be such an inspiration. We have shared "dad" stories and how music impacted our lives. My father is now hopeful to come home from a Rehab Hospital after health difficulties during which time he quit his Saturday AM radio show after a 19 year run. He will be 81 next month, is receiving wonderful care (!), but my mother will be calling me from her cell phone from the physician's office this afternoon so I can help manage from 7 hours away, (although I continue to push for digital coordination.) We have to keep working on this critical path. Congratulations on your new job! Keep writing and inspiring us all; love and prayers to you and Kym.

  4. you so good. I miss you. Thanks for your big heart.