HOMECARE TECHNOLOGY REPORT COLUMN JULY 5, 2023
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My journey begins
As we embark on Disability Pride Month this July, it feels like an appropriate time to begin to share my personal healthcare journey. Tim and I have alluded to my years of absence from Home Health, Hospice, and Private Duty. While the story is personal, my transformative experiences made me who I am today. I have emerged on the other side with a deeper perspective of what it means to be vulnerable and in need of care. Furthermore, my voice is stronger than ever as a futurist working to keep home care providers at the forefront of care delivery. Most importantly, I see things in an entirely new way; this is the blessing.
My experiences are too complex to narrate in one article, but I can begin with the opening chapter: The accident that changed my life.
A brief background
At the time of the accident, I was CEO of Heather L. Rooney Strategy and Marketing (Rooney was my married name), a company I launched in 2005 after a successful tenure in home care that began at the business intelligence company OCS in 1999. (I first met Tim in my first year in home care nearly 25 years ago!)
I was an award-winning entrepreneur, nationally recognized marketing expert, growth strategist, and keynote speaker. I served on the CHAP Board of Directors, published whitepapers almost monthly, and worked with organizations across the country on special projects ranging from sales force retooling to multi-year C-suite planning.
By most accounts, I was at the peak of my career. However, beneath the surface, my body was falling apart under the stress of a dying parent, a failing marriage, and financial struggle in the wake of the 2008 real estate crash. Although my daughter's birth was life-threatening for both of us - her arrival continues to be the greatest blessing of my life.
One year after she was born, my father-in-law passed away, and I lost my gallbladder due to rapid weight loss, yet I kept going at a breakneck pace. I wrote my first iteration of "The Agency of the Future" during this time and shared it with organizations nationwide. Upon reflection, I should have slowed down. At the time, though, I did not know that stepping off the rollercoaster was an option. I yearned for a simpler, more balanced life. That yearning took on a new meaning when I suffered a "mild" traumatic brain injury on March 6, 2011, the day everything stopped.
Life changed in an instant
I had just returned from a business trip and was preparing to leave again when I made a quick trip to Costco on a Sunday to get a bag of cat food. My daughter was two years old, sitting up in the shopping cart as she watched me load the groceries into my SUV.
Without warning, the tailgate dropped on my head. The corner struck me in the forehead. I vividly remember falling to my knees, checking for blood, running my tongue around my gums to see if my teeth were in my mouth, and feeling an immediate sense of danger. As if jerked back into the moment, I heard my daughter crying. She was standing up in the shopping cart in danger of falling out. I jumped up, buckled her safely in the car seat, and somehow never lost consciousness.
When I got home, I told my then-husband that I hit my head and needed to nap. I woke up three hours later, and my brain was different from that day forward.
The on-call doctor did not feel I needed emergency care, as I had never passed out. By the time I saw my primary care doctor the next day, I was curled up on the floor with abdominal pain more intense than childbirth labor. The entire world was tilted sideways. Within a few hours, I passed the physical tests but could not draw a clock face. It felt like I was walking through a world made of Jell-o, and everyone else was moving at lightspeed. I was told to cancel all of my business trips to let my brain heal. Returning home, every sense was overloaded by merely existing. Even a moving blade of grass was nauseating. I had begun a daunting journey into the unknown, and I discovered that brains heal slowly.
A few months after the accident, my neighbor Mac, battling stage 4 lung cancer, encouraged me to paint. I was skeptical. I had never been an artist, but I eventually gave it a try. The first time I picked up a brush, I discovered my hands knew what to do. Without any plan and an open mind, my fingers moved across the paper, and my hands guided the paint using the bristles before me. It was as easy as breathing.
Because of the injury, I was unaware that suddenly developing a new talent was unusual, so I continued exploring. I later learned from the worldwide expert in savants, Dr. Darold Treffert, that I had "Acquired Savant Syndrome." In an article written about me a few years after the accident, Dr. Treffert explained my case to Nautilus Magazine:
"Thompson is an 'acquired savant,' whose remarkable experience can help shed light on the roots of human creativity," explains psychiatrist Darold Treffert, a Wisconsin psychiatrist and savant expert. (Treffert was a consultant on 1989’s Rain Man, which brought savants to a mainstream audience.) "These are ordinary people who have a head injury — typically on the left side of the brain — or stroke, or some other central nervous system incident," Treffert said. "And, all of a sudden, they have musical or artistic abilities, sometimes at the prodigious level."
While others in my shoes sought publicity, I preferred the quiet; Dr. T (as I had come to know him) helped me keep it that way. He mentored me on my journey and helped me understand that the injury likely deconstructed my sensory system into its components. Experiencing all sensory input all at once meant that I could see things that others edited out. Furthermore, in putting it back together, my brain had cross-wired systems in new and unusual ways. The resulting synesthesia2 became how I made sense of the world as my brain healed, meaning I now see differently. This language - color - is among my life's most powerful healing forces, as it is a way to express the ineffable.
On an interesting side note, color has the potential to become a complex interface with AI. For those of us that speak this language naturally, it opens a world of possibilities. I am looking forward to exploring this further!
My journey through art continues to heal me.
It has taken me years to fully realize that color – specifically through the synesthesia lens – is now my primary language. My grandmother was deaf. Sign language was my mother's first language; we all learned to speak sign early in life. My daughter also learned to sign before she was verbal. I suppose that is why I not only noticed my new color language when it emerged but also recognized that it does not follow English grammatical rules as one might think. Instead, every word I speak or write must be translated and flattened from all-inclusive, ineffable, infinite palates of living color. I only came into this awareness recently.
Though it is important to communicate in a way that others can understand, it can be exhausting at times. Writing these articles is sometimes extraordinarily difficult; Tim is very patient with me as I allow my voice to emerge in new ways. We have a great working relationship that I treasure.
My journey has given me an opportunity to contemplate what it means to be human: through my art, a few years in seminary, and my fair share of challenges. I have also spent a significant amount of time journeying with others. Some of my greatest lessons in grace and courage have come from men who lived outdoors and who are no longer with us.
I never left home care and hospice. I am sure I do not need to explain in this forum, to this audience, that it is in my blood. It just is. Along the way, though, I took mental note of my experiences and my lessons learned; periodically, I would ask myself if I was ready to return to my career. For many years, the answer was no, not yet. I cannot begin to describe how humbling this waiting process has been for a former over-achieving, limitless girl on the go!
The time in the quiet showed me that a person cannot have an authentic YES unless they are free to give an empowered NO. When Tim reached out to me earlier this year, it was time for the answer to be YES.
Fast forward to today
My lifeis simpler; I live within the boundaries of what my body can handle each day. Having traded the high-speed city lifestyle for a ranch-style home set on a mountainside in an old-growth forest just outside of Seattle, it is hard to believe that I am preparing to send my daughter to high school in the fall. Life is good.
And life is challenging. Since the injury, I have been diagnosed with a few ultra-rare diseases that have given me a run for my money, but I am finally healing, thanks to a very aggressive treatment.
Although I continue to live with chronic illness and disability, I am deeply grateful that my brain has come full circle. It was a remarkable synchronicity when Tim offered this writing opportunity, as it was the exact moment that I was ready to dive back in. To be writing about the future of care delivery is an answered prayer! How did that happen? That is a story for another time (and I am way over my word limit).
I must add one more thing, and I say this as a patient and a strategist.
I have experienced a journey familiar to many people with disabilities and chronic illnesses. I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of our healthcare system, which includes being subjected to sometimes incomprehensible treatment decisions. Through my writing here, I will share things everyone in healthcare needs to hear. We must prioritize the way we treat our most vulnerable, not from the provider's perspective but from the patient's.
As healthcare at home providers, we must do better as our sector is ripe for disruptive innovation. The competing forces of AI, chronic illness, disability, value-based care, efficiency, quality outcomes, and empathy are converging around the humans we serve. The agency of the future will use this upheaval to redefine its operational landscape.
When I assert that AI is changing everything, I mean it as a call to healthcare providers of all types to take hold of this once-in-a-generation opportunity and use it to put our senior and disabled humans at the center of care delivery. Humans are not a commodity to be placed on a merely equal footing with agency efficiency and effectiveness. As providers in the home, we must let go of old narratives and dare to build brands rooted in an entirely original approach, driving out stigma and bias and delivering on the promise of coordinated care with humans at the core.
This is just the beginning. Thank you for welcoming me back into our beautiful home care community.
Coming Next Week - a new article on AI and the Agency of the Future! Please connect with me on LinkedIn and join the LinkedIn HomeCare Futurists & AI Group, where we provide frequent updates on the latest AI developments inside and outside our market.
As we celebrate Disability Pride Month, regardless of whether you identify as disabled, I invite you to join me in pausing to notice your inherent dignity and worth. This is where we must begin. While we follow evidence-based protocols and use diagnosis codes, we ultimately serve humans as they are at any given moment. We must uphold our promise to respect and honor the dignity of each individual in their home, with their unique experiences and needs.
In the coming months, I look forward to sharing more of my journey with you while continuing to delve into the future of home care, AI, and strategies that will define the most successful agencies. In the meantime, if you want to know more about my personal story, visit my website at www.heatherthompson.io and subscribe to my blog. And here is a video I produced just over a year after the injury. It visually tells the story of my journey of healing through art. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HVZ-PqY1R9s
All images are the original art of Heather Thompson. Copywrite 2023. Inquiries about purchasing prints, originals, NFT or digital licensing-go to the contact us form on the home page - www.HeatherThompson.io.
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