Thanks to all that have helped!!!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Medicine X: You Belong Here

That blur of a weekend in the California sun has came and gone. With it came tons of laughs, learning, and stories of learning to live with life's hurdles. The big theme this year was empathy. A topic I'm honestly not very good at.

You see, while in paramedic school you are taught to disregard your empathetic leanings and act according to the instinct that is drilled into your head for the next two years. Don't get me wrong, empathy has it's place in emergency medicine. I've held the hand of many a patient who were at their worst the very moment they met me. The difference is that in the moments of a true emergency it's easier to treat a disease process or injury than it is to treat a person. Sure, I may be working to save your wife's life, but to me she isn't your wife, she's the head bleed from a car wreck. It may be your grandfather, but to me it was the cardiac arrest and the accompanying rhythm I was treating. It's a harsh way to look at the world, but it allowed me to do my job. Clear the hospital and pick up the next patient in the quickest time, without dwelling on the life that is in my hands. There were times where empathy got in the way. The pediatric patient who happened to be wearing the same shoes I had just bought my son made it impossible to not realize I was working on a child. I was able to resuscitate him, but it interfered with my ability to return to work immediately. In the world of Public Safety that can be construed as a sign of weakness. Yes, in the "Hero" business of saving lives, caring too much can be viewed as weakness. Then came my accident. I traded places with the many patients I have treated over the years. I was now the one lying on the backboard getting a guided tour of the sky and ceiling of the ambulance. I now had first hand experience of the fear of being a patient. Empathy now had a permanent place in my heart. 

Fast forward to this years Medicine X conference. I had just sat down for breakfast in the ePatient lounge and it happened. A pop. Just loud enough for me to hear. I quickly scanned my prosthetic leg and noticed a missing screw. The screw to my rotator had broken, this allows the socket to rotate left and right to be centered to the prosthetic knee. It's a piece that I never think of, because I have rarely had to use it. In fact, I had never heard of anyone having this piece break. And now here I am, struggling to walk, each step I had to fight my prosthetic to keep it remained centered. I had to use my hip and back muscles to constantly, all while keeping an eye on each step to keep from falling. I explained my issues to one of the physicians who helped get me to Medicine X Dr Kadra (sorry Bassam if this is spelled wrong). Immediately, the Medicine X support staff began finding me a prosthetist to get the problem fixed. The difference here is that they all had empathy. No, there were no other amputee's at this conference. Yet, each person there pictured what it would be like to be in the position I had just found myself in. That's the difference empathy can make. They only wanted the best for me, and although they had never experienced my fear, they placed themselves in a position where they understood. They worked tirelessly to find a solution, and thanks to one of the staff, found a prosthetist that was willing to come to me and try to fix the problem. Although we weren't able to find a permanent solution to my broken screw, we managed a temporary fix that would get me through the day. This fix gave way as I stepped on stage to give my Ignite Speech. I was panicked as I delivered my speech. I had planned to walk around the stage, show my advanced prosthetic in action, instead I was left to stand front and center and face a crowd of faces. 

As I looked around, I was shocked to notice so many of my fellow ePatients staring up at me. Wanting nothing but for me to succeed and deliver the message I had prepared. The speech went off without a hitch. I was able to get my point across, although not as I had planned. It was a spiritual experience. That's the only way I can describe it. 

In fact, that's a great way to describe a weekend spent on the Stanford University campus; Spiritual. It's a utopia of sorts, no, you aren't going to get along with everyone. You won't connect with each person, but there will be a group that you do connect with. You will feel at home. You will be welcomed. No matter what is going on with you. If you're a diabetic, have Rheumatoid Arthritis, MS, Cancer, or a disease so rare that you are the only person in the US with a documented case...YOU BELONG HERE! You will be welcomed with open arms. You will be taken care of, no matter what that may mean. They will help you overcome your problems and help mold you into a better version of you. Even if it's only for a weekend. 

Medicine X's tagline is that "This is where technology and medicine intersect" and to a point that is true. More true is that Medicine X is a place where You are more than a sum of your parts, you're more than your disease, and they want to help you celebrate that. Don't believe me? The next round of applications are coming up this winter. Apply, prove me wrong. Last year, Medicine X taught me the power of the Patient Narrative, and how your words can change how medicine is practiced. This year, I was able to learn the power of embracing who you are as a person. How powerful it can be to say My Name is Joe Riffe, I am a Left Above Knee Amputee, and I want to change the world for other Amputees. I am more than my situation. I am more than my physical malady. I AM JOE RIFFE, THE PROSTHETIC MEDIC, AND I AM A HUSBAND, FATHER, SON, BROTHER, FRIEND, AMPUTEE, PARAMEDIC, AND I CAN HELP YOU, BECAUSE I WILL BE EMPATHETIC TO YOU AND WHATEVER YOU BRING TO THE TABLE. I have been on both sides of the stretcher, and can honestly say You are more than the sum of your parts, you are not your disease or injury, or pain...NO, you are You and there are no other you's out there. Celebrate that! I will help you as much as I can along the way; and if I can't...I know someone who can, just let me call on my fellow ePatients. We will welcome you as you are. You Belong Here!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Why Stanford Medicine X is Better than Your Conference

I've had an absolutely terrible day. Honestly, today has been one of the worst days I have had in a very long time. My bad day started last night when I fell in my hotel room. I had taken my leg off, as usual I didn't bring my crutches with me (they're too bulky to travel with), I decided to take my clothes for today into the bathroom so I could just get dressed in there. I hopped my way into the restroom. Here's where the bad day starts, I had forgotten to take my sock off, this resulted in me trying to hop into the bathroom on the tiles with a can see where this is going. I slid and fell, striking the end of my stump against the hard rim of the toilet, then the ground. You know that feeling you get when the end of your femur pushes down into the muscles that have been stretched over the end of the cut bone? No? Well, it's excruciating. Imagine the worst toothache you've ever had and put it into bone. That's the best way I can describe it.

Now I know what you're thinking, what does this have to do with Med X being awesome? I'll tell you. Last night, @ChronicCurve came to check on me. Just to make sure I was OK. This led to me being checked on by @AfternoonNapper. I convinced them both that I will be fine and called it a night. Honestly, I lied. I wasn't OK. I was in immense pain every time I moved. I pushed through a sleepless night and got ready for the pre-conference course I had signed up for.

Now, here's where things get worse. Kate, my wife, messaged me from Louisville with a health issue. One that could possibly end up with her being hospitalized. This poses a problem. If Kate get's hospitalized then who will take care of the kids? What if a surgery is needed? I'm literally on the other side of the country and feeling quite helpless. I explained to @AfternoonNapper and @HurtBlogger everything that was going on. They were more than helpful; offering to move my presentation so that I could leave if need me and still complete my requirements of the ePatient Program. Kate refused me leaving early. She's a trooper and knows how important this conference is to me. All was going well, Kate had gotten in touch with her mother and worked out that if something happened she would come down to take care of the kids until I got back Monday. Once again, things seemed to be looking up. With all the stress I suppose my PTSD triggers were just waiting for the slightest reminder to go off...that reminder came in the peaceful (for most) form of a clear blue sky, a slight breeze, and the sounds of water crashing against rock. Instantly, panic set in. I had one of the worst panic attacks of my life. It ranks up there with the first one I ever had inside an MRI machine with a fixator attached to my leg. I was in a tailspin. The leg pain coupled with the issues at home that are beyond my control had sent me into a PTSD anxiety attack that had no mercy. @AfternoonNapper and @HurtBlogger went out of their way to make sure I was ok. Hooked me up with a set of headphones, a quiet place to gather myself, and even went as far as bringing my lunch to me, away from the crowds where I could attempt to regain some form of composure.

This is where MedX outshines all other conferences. It's OK to not be OK. It's OK to be a patient, to take off that mask of wellness we all wear everyday. You know what I mean, we all do it from time to time. Convincing everyone you're fine when on the inside you know it's not true. Be it a psychological issue like I had today, or as simple as working through a bad headache. Here those masks aren't necessary, you're surrounded by patient and providers alike. They understand that sometimes life happens and it's beyond your control. I've never seen another place like this. Not just a medical conference, but in general. It's a nearly Utopian ideal. Be who you are; sick, stressed, healthy, or a mixture of them all. It doesn't matter...That's why this conference is better than yours...It's not just a place where the patients finally have a voice. It's a place where the patients can finally drop their guard and be themselves and allow others help them cope; and with this environment the providers can finally see what patient life is really like and leave changed by the power of the patient life and narrative.