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Speak Well Being

Serving hospitals, healthcare and women's groups

For Your Well Being: Lights! Camera! SUC-tion!

Feb 19, 2009, Vol. 7 Issue 2

Dear Friends,

We could all learn something from children. When in doubt, PLAY! I think that’s one of the things that those of us who get to be grandparents so enjoy — the opportunity to see the world through the eyes of joy and innocence – separated from the responsibility of being the parents!!!

We don’t often use use the idea of play when we approach medical topics, but it can be useful. Today, we give you a look at an innovative way to lighten up and open up the topic of improving doctor-patient communications – through the lens of the acting studio. Watch out George Clooney, there’s a new McDreamy in town!

Lights! Camera! SUC-tion!

A Crash-Cart Course on “Me, Doctor, You Patient” Communication

Can we take serious business and make it into funny business . . . and have it work? Tracey Conway thinks so. Tracey is a sudden cardiac arrest survivor. She’s also a comedy sketch writer, award winning Emmy actor, and professional speaker. As a heart patient, she’s had 4 ICD (implantable cardioverter defibrillator) devices implanted, so she’s had her share of patient experience. She also has great respect for physicians.

“These are extraordinarily intelligent professionals,” she says. “On a daily basis they are tasked with taking control, juggling and delegating multiple tasks and frequently making life-and-death decisions. Surgeons have to have healthy egos to even think about plunging a knife into someone and opening them up. As patients, we trust them to do that.”

Patient-physician communication is serious business. Studies have shown that good doctor-patient communication makes a difference not only in patient satisfaction but in patient outcomes including resolution of chronic headaches, changes in emotional states, lower blood sugar values in diabetics, improved blood pressure readings in hypertensives, and other important health indicators. And by implication here, we are talking about everyone on the healthcare delivery team.

“So, who am I to think I have anything to teach them they don’t already know? I certainly don’t have their years of education and experience in medicine,” Tracey says.

What she has is the experience of keen observation and the ability to see serious business through the lens of humor, and then facilitate scenarios so that others get to see and experience and learn from this point of view.

“Experiential learning — actively participating in safe patient-physician interactions — is by far the most effective method for knowledge retention and frankly, the most fun and entertaining for everyone,” she says. “What I do is create the space for safe interactions, because the physician participants are teaching each other. This is Saturday Night Live on surgical steroids.”

With her comedy writing hat on, she takes scenarios — on what works, what’s hilariously funny (in hindsight) and what (sadly) doesn’t work in bedside manners and patient-doctor-nurse-staff interactions – and turns them into in-studio situations, like acting school. “I don’t know how to tell you to do your jobs, but you know how to tell each other,” Tracey says. “I facilitate putting you in humorous settings where the truth emerges.”

Tracy was 38 years old, a writer and actor on an Emmy award-winning comedy show, “Almost Live!,” on the night her sudden cardiac arrest occurred. In fact, on that night, the series, ironically, had just spoofed ER. They’d finished the show, stopped the tape and were taking questions from the audience when Tracey collapsed. Everybody laughed . . . until they realized this was the real thing.

There wasn’t a doctor in the house, but there was a young man who knew CPR. He kept her blood flowing until the paramedics arrived. Paramedics shocked her six times and 20 minutes after her collapse, her heart finally beat on its own again. For an actress, it was the best comeback of her career. She is among the less than 5 percent of people worldwide who survive cardiac arrest. She now wears an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) embedded in her chest that is programmed to deliver a lifesaving shock should she again experience ventricular fibrillation, one of the most fatal of all heart arrhythmias.

It wasn’t funny then, but an actor by trade, Tracey knows how to look back and, as a humorist, find the irony, appreciate her life today and share her story to help others. As a professional speaker, she is a proponent for healthy heart habits, early awareness of risk factors, and AED’s automated external defibrillators — the use of one saved her life. The program, “Lights, Camera, SUC-tion!” is appropriate for healthcare conferences, nurses events, and physician-focused meetings, and can be delivered in conjunction with her keynote, “Drop Dead Gorgeous.” For more information, give us a call at 503-699-5031.

Know the Symptoms
Save A Life

As heart health month draws to a close, I think it’s important to spread the word about this simple, life-saving formula for identifying a person having a stroke so that we can remember it all year long. Knowing what to do can make the difference between life, death, and disability. If you see these symptoms, call 9-1-1. The formula I’ve seen is STR, but I’ve added an A to make a word, STAR, that makes it easier for me to remember. I hope it helps you, too.  Doctors say a bystander can recognize a stroke by asking three simple questions:

S *Ask the individual to SMILE.
T *Ask the person to TALK and clearly speak a simple sentence – (i.e. It is sunny out today).
A* And
R *Ask him or her to RAISE BOTH ARMS.

If he or she has trouble with any ONE of these tasks, call your emergency number immediately and describe the symptoms to the dispatcher.

NOTE: Another sign of a stroke: Ask the person to stick out her tongue. If the tongue is crooked, if it twists to either side, that is also an indication of a stroke.

On that note, we can add a T and make it START . . . which is a heck of a lot better than stop, when it comes to your heart and mine. Be prepared – it’s a motto I learned in Girl Scouts, and still employ today.

Until next time, take care of yourself, and be prepared, for your heart’s well being, and that of those you love.


PLEASE NOTE: The information shared in this e-news is designed to help you make informed decisions about speakers and the programs they offer. It is not intended as a substitute for any treatment prescribed by a doctor. If you suspect you have a medical problem, seek competent medical help.


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