Our Health Care Hero

Maureen Hession, RN, MSN, FNP-C, was honored recently as a 2017 Health Care Hero by Triangle Business Journal.  She was the only Nurse Practitioner honored, joined by MDs, nurses, hospital managers and administrators, and several health care related agencies.  It was a proud night for Maureen, of course, but also for her many friends and colleagues who know the excellent care she gives patients.  Mike, Chatham, Paula and I, as well as Maureen’s close friends Liz Jones and Sara Rooker, attended the evening dinner awards ceremony.  It was a wonderful night for all of us.  There is not a more deserving honoree for this award than Maureen, and it was a privilege to celebrate with her.

The Health Care Awards ceremony was one of my few outings in the past two weeks, since I am still recovering from a car accident. During these two weeks Maureen, who is called MoMo by friends and family, moved in with us to care for me.  A better care giver could not be found.  She changed dressings, cooked, and made sure that I had whatever I needed.  Mike cared for me as well, but having MoMo there gave both Mike and me a sense of peace and comfort that we would not have had otherwise.

I first met Maureen in 1986 when she was a staff nurse and I was VP of Patient Care/Nursing at Rex Hospital.  She was chosen by her peers to represent them on a Practice Committee developed to improve nursing decision making in patient care and for nurses.  I recognized in Maureen a real love for patients and patient care, and saw in her the ability and willingness to push the system, to improve things, for patients and staff.  At times this resulted in resistance from others, (of course) but Maureen did not back down.  She has always been clear about what patients need, and has fought for those things, even when to do so was not popular. She was an expert clinician, even then.  I am not the only person to have said that Maureen is more clinically competent than many MDs.

MoMo became a member of our family many years ago.  Sometimes she seems like a younger sister, and at other times, she feels like our oldest child!  She came into our family when Tara and Chatham were teenagers, and now we and she have the honor of her love and caring of our grandchildren.  Through the years Tara has usually called MoMo when she has had a health care need or a question related to her children; not me, her mother, who is a nurse!  That is fitting, since I have not been in the clinical field for over forty years, and certainly do not consider my clinical skills current. In my case the statute of limitations has run out on the loved expression repeated by many nurses; “Once a nurse, always a nurse!” I am more than glad for MoMo be the expert for our family’s health care needs.

A few years after she came into our life, I encouraged Maureen to continue her education.  At that point she had a diploma in Nursing, and while that had served her fine as a staff nurse, it would not provide her the opportunities to make an impact at the macro level.  This was at the time when it was becoming clear that advanced practice nurses would fill a major role in the future health care delivery system, especially as Nurse Practitioners. This required that Maureen go back to school and complete an undergraduate degree, then a master’s degree and certification as a Nurse Practitioner.  Maureen did just that.  In 2002 Maureen graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a Master’s degree in Nursing and became certified as a Family Nurse Practitioner.  Since then she has worked as a Nurse Practitioner in primary care practice settings, at Rex in the Urgent Cares, and for the past two years at North Carolina State University in Student Health.  In each of these settings, Maureen has had patients and their families write her and tell her that she saved their lives.  Her clinical diagnostic skills and her attention to detail, as well as her love for her patients, is what separates her from others who see what they do as only a job.

Maureen gives me some of the credit for inspiring her to complete her education and become a Nurse Practitioner, stating that she would never have known she could do it without my encouragement.  I always respond to that with, “You did the work!” I am proud to have had a small part in it.

Every day Maureen continues to do the work, the work of caring for patients at the highest level, not leaving until the work is done.  She truly loves what she does, and that is evident in so many ways.

Congratulations to you, Maureen, for a well-deserved honor.  We celebrate you, and the difference you make in patient care and for patients, every day.  We are all better because of your care and caring.

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Southern Graciousness

Everyone is more than busy, with little time to spare.  But some people, not just Southerners, look past their own priorities to reach out and help others.  “Southern graciousness,” which does not just reside in the South, can replace some of the negativity we are experiencing in our society, and bond us in a way that can transcend our differences.  It certainly has for me.

I had an accident recently, and have been overwhelmed with the care and concern of some of my friends and connections.  Our family friend MoMo, who is an expert Nurse Practitioner, has moved in with us to care for me, changing dressings, cooking, and doing whatever is needed.  She still manages all her responsibilities, including more than a full-time job. She has always been there when our family needed her.  She is more family than friend. 

Our neighbor, Laurie, was right over when she heard of my accident with a sweet note and a plant, even though we haven’t seen each other for months.  A better neighbor cannot be found. Our youngest daughter, Chatham and her husband Johnathan who live near us came over and brought a meal the first night after my accident.  And the love and caring of my husband, Mike, has been ever present throughout.

My Solo Sisters (Solo Sisters are women without siblings) brought a delicious meal, delivered by our most gracious founder, Sally. There were also texts and calls of support.  Many in both of my book clubs have reached out with support and food, and Lisa, one of my book club sisters, loaned me a wheelchair!  Their texts, calls, and emails are so appreciated. My college roommate, Alda, and another friend, Diane, visited and brought lunch.  When one is not able to move around easily, those who reach out in these ways do more than help pass the time, they take some of the pressure off the family. 

Our oldest granddaughter, Mary Grace, celebrated her 12th birthday and Confirmation this past weekend with a luncheon after church.  Our daughter, Tara, and her family live in Georgia. Tara and family prepared most of the food.  Mary Grace’s younger sister, Elsie, who is 10 years old, made 50 plus beautifully decorated cupcakes for the party. 

Several of Tara’s friends offered to bring food to the luncheon, to which Tara politely replied that such wasn’t necessary.  A couple of friends, Susan and Filiz, would not take “no” for an answer. Susan told Tara, “In the South, we don’t let our friends do these things alone; we bring food!”  And bring food they did, lots of it, and it was so welcomed, and delicious.  This reminded me of the difference between the “Let me know if you need anything,” or those who offer but when told, “No, nothing is needed,” take that answer as their “pass” to not bring anything to contribute, and those who just reach out and do.  Too often I am in the first group.

My cousin, Paula, who is more like a daughter, allowed her van to carry us to Georgia for Mary Grace’s celebration, and helped prepare food.  She also took me to my hair appointment, which involved spending half of a day caring for me.  You know we don’t miss our hair appointments unless we absolutely cannot get there!

Now before some reading this feel guilty for what they themselves did not do in these or similar situations, there are a couple of clarifications to be made.  Some people are naturally more giving of their time, food, and efforts than others.  This difference does not totally excuse our failure to reach out by calling or connecting in some way when our good friends are in need, however some of us give in other ways.  You know who you are.  Then there are some people who do not give of themselves at all, even when they could and perhaps should.  And you also know who you are.

I have always written what I need the most, hoping that my insights can also be of value to others.  So, this reminder of how to reach out and touch someone is for me more than anyone else.  If any of this gives others insight on what they can and will do to show more caring and graciousness, especially to their close friends and family, that will warm my heart. And, those of you who do not need these reminders, please know that you are so appreciated. 

I know that I have failed to send cards when I should, call when I could, or take food when it was needed. I expect the same is true for some of you.  Are we really too busy to do so?  Do we not know how and what to do?   I doubt that it is that most of us don’t care enough to reach out, or that we don’t know how to, or even that we truly do not have the time to.   We just don’t.  But those that do can teach us a very valuable lesson, a lesson in graciousness that is remembered long past the specific gift of time, food, and connection. 

Thank you to all who have reached out to me and my family in our time of need. I will be there for you in yours.  You are appreciated more than you can know. 

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When Life as We Know it Changes

We all know that our life can change on the dime.  And mine did a couple of days ago.  Without going into the details, I want to mention my lessons from the experience.  And there are several important ones. 

The first lesson is the impermanence of life as we know it.  You can be having a perfect day, and your world can change. It can come from a sudden cancer diagnosis, or a reoccurrence of your cancer when you thought you were safe.  Or the routine colonoscopy that finds colon cancer.  Or a variety of others things. It is in those times that our life as we knew it becomes something very different.  If we resist the reality of our new world, we fail to realize its benefits.  We can’t hold onto what we had. If we accept our new reality, we can move with it. If we try to resist what is happening, we not only fail to accept the reality of what we have, we lose what we had.

Our lessons about the impermanence of life can come from other things, such as a meeting.  I had such a meeting years ago, a meeting in which I was told I was fired.  It wasn’t “fair,” but it happened. That meeting changed the course of my career.  A few months past that event, I realized I had a better future ahead of me, but I had to let go of the past to experience it.  It is impossible to grasp what is new and experience its blessings if we refuse to let go of what has passed.

The second lesson is that even when we are focused on living and enjoying every day, we miss so much.  When we look back on our lives we realize our children have grown up, and we can’t remember where the years went.  Then our grandchildren come and we experience all the joys we failed to know we had time for with our children.  If we could only have slowed down in those earlier years.  But that isn’t usually how life is.  We spend so much of our productive years chasing the golden egg, not being able to truly enjoy the journey.  By the time that most people can afford to slow down, their loved ones are busy working and raising their families, without time to spare.  The cycle goes on.   

The third lesson is about control.  We can only control a few things, although many of us spend a lot of time trying to control others and our circumstances.  At some point, if we are paying attention, we realize that the only thing we can control is our self and our own behavior.  When we learn to “stay in our own lane,” that so many thing fall in the category of “not my pig, not my farm,” and let go of trying to control others, we can enjoy the journey more.  If we spend more time improving ourselves and letting others be who they are, we will be amazed at the difference it makes in our lives.

The reality of the adage, “Life is what happens when we are making other plans,” is never more true that when an event interrupts life as we know it.  We can fail to realize its meaning, or search for the lessons it is sent to teach us.   

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Who Are Your People?

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It should come as no surprise to anyone that communicating effectively with different types of people is hard work.  Although we know this, too often we fail to pay enough attention to this fact. We talk too much in our own style, even when others don’t understand our language.  We fail to listen enough, spending too much time talking.  We do not ask enough questions, not questions that justify our own opinions, but questions to understand the opinions and positions of others.

We forget, if we ever even knew, that the purpose of communication is not to talk!  Nor is the purpose of communication to listen, as important as listening is.  The purpose of communication is also not to convince the other person that we are right.  If we approach communication with any of these assumptions, we are not communicating effectively.  If not these, then what is the purpose of communication?

The purpose of communication is to reach mutual understanding.  Reaching mutual understanding does not include reaching agreement, although that may happen.  Reaching mutual understanding is a higher level of communication than reaching agreement.  Think about it.  Even if the other person does not agree with us, if we both feel understood, we can build upon that, and may be able to find some areas upon which to agree.

Communicating effectively is much easier to talk about than to do. However, it is much easier to describe what ineffective communication looks like than to describe effective communication.  This is in part due to the differences in personality that affect how we communicate.  With that as a complicating factor, it is still important enough that we do our best.  The following tips can be helpful.

When communicating, and before we speak, we should be very clear about our desired result of the communication in which we are about to engage. Whenever possible, our desired result of the communication should be the same as the purpose of communication, which is to reach mutual understanding.  When we have this as our goal, we will be a better communicator.

Another desired result of communication can be to have a better relationship with the other person.  Also, we may have as a goal to expert our position power.  And, we may just be needing to clarify expectations.  There are other possibilities as well.  These mentioned have very different desired results, or goals, and they require different approaches to be successful.

Regardless of one’s desired result of the communication  or the personality of the other person, avoid “why” questions, for they can make the other person feel the need to justify or defend. Use of “what” and “how” can result in same or similar information, without the risk of emotional feelings that can inhibit effective communication.

Be cognizant of the dominant communication style of the other person, especially related to whether the person is more of a direct or indirect communicator, and communicate in that style, regardless of your dominant style. The difference in these two styles is significant.  Direct communicators use less words, the words are more definitive, and the talk is “bottom line” oriented.   Indirect communicators use “qualifiers,” words that usually “soften” what is being said, which when heard by a direct communicator, can sound unclear, not definitive enough, and even, “wishy washy.”

Another important point is to listen well, and clarify what was heard.  Listening well includes using all of our verbal and non verbal skills.  If there is a disconnect between what one hears and what one sees, that should be addressed, in a non threatening manner.

These few points about communicating effectively, when used consistently, will make one a better communicator. It is important to remember, however, that we are only one part of the communication dynamic.  We can employ all of these communication tips, and still fail to communicate effectively with some people.  When that happens, it may be about them.  We can only control what and how we communicate, not the other person.  I saw a quote recently that reflects this.

“You will be too much for some people.  Those aren’t your people.”

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Service Before Sales

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The most important thing in retail is sales. Or is it?  If sales are insufficient, a company goes out of business.  So yes, sales are very important, even critical to a company’s success.  But too much focus on sales, or having a sales focus that is ineffective, will not accomplish the desired results.  And what are the desired result of sales, other than the obvious, to keep the company financially healthy and in business by selling enough product? 

Regardless of the product, the main desired result of sales is loyal fans.  And I am a loyal fan of Fatou Barry, my Sisley expert at Saks Fifth Avenue in NYC.  It is probably more because of Fatou than any other factor that I am loyal to the Sisley brand. (The lovely lady in the photo above is Fatou.)

I discovered the Sisley skin care and makeup brand at Canyon Ranch in Tucson, Arizona years ago, and have been a loyal fan of the brand since.  Prior to using Sisley products, I was a Clinique and Lancôme customer.  Now, did you catch the word switch?  I have been a loyal fan of Sisley, whereas I was a customer of Clinique and Lancôme.  There is a major difference in this distinction. 

Sisley is an excellent brand.  It is not uncommon for someone I do not know to comment on my skin, and ask what skin care and makeup products I use.  Now, I am always surprised by this, since I pay very little attention to my skin care regime and use very little makeup.  I have finally come to the realization that the Sisley brand gets the credit, not me.  The products are superior.  They are also expensive.  And there are some Sisley products I do not use, for I will not pay what some of them cost.  There is a limit, like the price limit I have on shoes.  I am, however, loyal to the Sisley brand.  But as much as I love the Sisley brand, it is Fatou’s service that has kept me loyal to Sisley for at least the past seven years.

I was in NYC last week and went into Saks, but not for skin care products or makeup.  I had planned to not even stop by the Sisley counter since I did not need anything, and I was in a hurry.   But Fatou saw me from across the store, and called me over.  I went over to speak, and told her that I did not need anything.  She quickly said, “I know you don’t need anything, you just bought what you needed recently, but I have something for you.”  She then quickly pulled together a lovely bag and box of wonderful samples for me.  Fatou often gives me samples when I make a purchase.  And the samples she gave me made me feel like a very valued customer. And not just that she gave them to me, but the way she did so, calling me over and not even trying to make a sale.  This experience reinforced one of my core beliefs about customer service.  The magic of customer service is service before sales.

In most cases, if we serve the customer well, the sales will follow.  Serving the customer well is what Fatou knows all about.   The reason I didn’t need any product when I went into Saks in NYC last week is because Fatou keeps up with my purchases and what I need.  A few weeks ago, she called me at just the right time, and I ordered several items that I “needed,” but likely would not have ordered had she not called! This is a great example of not just service and sales, but service before sales.  Fatou has a system to know what I order, when it needs to be reordered, and connects with me to make it easy for me to place the order.  And remember, she is in NYC and I am in NC! 

Although there is a Saks in my home city, and I do shop there, I do not have a product representative, Sisley or otherwise, that pays attention to me, calls me when it is time for me to reorder, or in any way makes me feel special.  Fatou does.   Service before sales.  Fatou will get my business every time. 

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Love Your Customers

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While many of us just celebrated Valentine’s Day with our special person, did you spend any time thinking about how you and your business shows love to your customers?  Or do you provide exceptional service all year long, like one of my favorite restaurants?    

Manhattan is an area that my husband Mike’s business takes him to several times a year.  When it is possible, I accompany him.  We often stay in the same geographical area, in Midtown, from 54th street to 57th street, at or near Avenue of the Americas. There are a couple of restaurants in that area that we enjoy.  One of those is the Wayfarer.  The Wayfarer is on West 57th street at 6th Avenue.

We went to the Wayfarer a couple of days ago, and were greeted by the manager, David Monroy, as regulars.  While it is not uncommon to be greeted in that manner by our local Raleigh Cheers, Sawmill Tap Room, it is quite another thing to be treated as and to feel like a regular in Manhattan!  But thanks to David Monroy, that is what we experienced.

I have written about the excellent service we received at the Wayfarer Restaurant once previously, but that article was about the excellent service of a waiter, not a manager.  I should have written about David Monroy (whose photo accompanies this article) before, for he provided a level of service in a previous visit that was exceptional.  As one who is passionate about customer service, it isn’t easy to “Wow” me.  But that time, and this, I was.

In a previous visit, I had the Lobster Roll, which was delicious, and which I was looking forward to enjoying again, only to find that it was no longer on the menu.  I mentioned my disappointment about the lobster roll to the manager, David Monroy, when he came over to greet us, not expecting anything from my comment.  But Mr. Monroy quickly offered to see if the kitchen could prepare the lobster roll for me, even though it was no longer on the menu.  He did, they did, and the lobster roll, while different that the previous one, was delicious.   Service beyond expectation.

I have been very impressed by David Monroy, for he exhibits the best of what management is all about, both for the customer, as well as for the staff.  The examples I have just mentioned are evidence of his focus on the customer, even customers like us who are irregular patrons and virtually unimportant.   It goes without saying that if David Monroy values us as customers, he probably treats all customers well.  That is important, but it is even more important how a manager treats the staff, for the staff is the most important customer of the manager.  The “paying” customer is the most important customer of the staff, and when the manager treats the staff well, it is more likely that they will treat the (paying) customer well.    While a customer, I have paid attention to how David Monroy treats the staff.

It is often the non-verbal behavior that speaks volumes.  Does there seem to be a comfortable relationship between the manager and the staff?  Do the staff asks for the manager’s assistance, or is he/she even available for such?  Is the manager on the floor, where the action is, or in his/her office, removed from the customer experience?  All of these variables reflect the importance the business places on “management by walking around.”   The fact that David Monroy has been present every time we have been to the restaurant, and we have been there at different times, reflects to me that he, and his bosses, place a high priority on management’s presence and availability to the staff.  I have also noticed that there seems to be a comfortable relationship between David and the staff.  And in the lobster roll experience, he stated he would “see if the kitchen could prepare it for me,” not “tell them to.” All of this makes it much more likely that the staff feel well cared for, and that they place a high priority on serving the customer well. 

Even though Mike and I aren’t famous, although at the Wayfarer we are made to feel like we are, the restaurant does have some famous (and some might say “infamous!”) customers.  The previous night, the cast members of Saturday Night Live, including Alex Baldwin, were at the Wayfarer until the wee hours of the morning after their show. 

It is a pleasure to recommend the Wayfarer Restaurant, and David Monroy, manager, and to consider this our “Cheers” in midtown Manhattan. 

And remember, love your customers!

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Relationships That Last a Lifetime

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When I think of being 65 years old, I am amazed.  How did I get here so fast? Those reading this who are near my age or older know exactly what I mean.  Younger readers may think they understand, but really can’t.  There is something about aging that must be lived to be understood. While I am amazed at being this age, I am also grateful for the gift of age.  We all know some people who did not make it to this age.  Both my mother and my maternal grandmother died at 64.  I worried about that in my 64th year.  My father-in-law, who is 93, said the same thing about living past the ages of his siblings when they died.  Perhaps this fear of not living longer than our siblings, parents, or other relatives is universal.

Being grateful for aging is not just about the years in our lives, but the life in our years.  It is our relationships and our experiences that create the tapestry of our lives.  As I think of this, several experiences and relationships come to mind.

Mike and I will celebrate our 33rd anniversary this April.  There are many wonderful memories of those years.  (And to be honest, a few not so wonderful, as many people can say!)  One of our regular experiences through the years has been the Wilson Cotillion.  Mike and I have been a part of this group longer than we have been married, forming the Wilson Cotillion in 1983 with 12 other couples.  34 years later, although we moved from Wilson to Raleigh in 1988, we still go back for the events of the Cotillion.  (The photo accompanying this article is from our most recent dance at the end of January.)  Just like everything else in life, the group has changed through the years.  Some of the original members have died, some have moved, and some have divorced. The same is true for members who have joined since the group’s inception. There have been many additions to the group.  But although the group has changed, our commitment to it hasn’t.  We enjoy remaining connected to the people and the events.  There are several couples in the Cotillion who we consider close friends, and spend time with several times a year, separate from the Cotillion events.

There are other people from our early years together that Mike and I remain connected to, and some of those are more family than friends.  We have been together during the early years of our marriages, the marriages of our children, and the births of our grandchildren.  Our times together have filled our lives with memories that have carried us through tough times, including the deaths of some of these dear friends.  It is true what we have heard for years, that when we are no longer physically present, it is our memories and photos that will remain.  We have remained connected to these friends although there are several states between us.

I wonder if the commitment to relationships and shared history is as strong in younger people as it is with many in my generation, especially when there is physical distance that makes it difficult to stay connected.  These relationships are not Facebook friends.  While I enjoy my Facebook friends, many of those connections are not friends at the same level of those I mentioned.  Staying connected to Facebook friends is much easier than staying connected to friends who live several states away.  There is a different level of commitment to relationships that require we do something more than click on a device and post (usually) only the good stuff about our lives.

Do close relationships matter?  Aren’t we so busy that we should just accept that there are friends at different times in our lives, and as those times change, our relationships do as well? This is true to a point.  It is true that it isn’t possible or even desirable to stay connected at the same level with all the people in the different stages of our lives.  It is fine to let some relationships go.  It is also true that we need to treasure the relationships that sustain us.

My latest book, A Year in the Life of a Recovering Spendaholic, is soon to be released. The book is a journal of my yearlong journey of changing my spendaholic behavior, a journey that occurred more than ten years ago.    My friends who are family (as well as family!) will find themselves within the pages.  As I recently reread the book during its editing stage, I was reminded of the value of these relationships.  During that year’s journey, I connected to the importance of relationships, and my struggles with food and money.

I will likely always love beautiful things, and will continue to be challenged with purchasing more than I need, for this is about “recovering,” not being “recovered.”  I am very clear, however, about the importance of “things” compared to the importance of relationships. In fact, there is no comparison.

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