Medicine and Meaning: Thoughts On Change

Ever notice how quickly things can change in the ED?

One minute things seem to be well under control, the next minute several alarms are going off, three nurses are simultaneously asking for you, and there are no inpatient beds available. How’d that happen so quickly?

In emergency medicine, we are experts in change – metamorphologists as well as emergentologists. We are all intimately familiar with the anatomy of that moment of change – how it feels, how it progresses, and how it follows its own drumbeat.

But change doesn’t just happen in the ED. It is woven into the fabric of life. Look at the events transpiring in our society. Look at the changes in our own personal lives. Look at healthcare. Our own organization, US Acute Care Solutions is undergoing a transformation of its own.

Managing Change

There is a branch of consulting dedicated to managing change, appropriately called Change Management. But how exactly does one manage change, whether at work or play? If it’s done well, change is managed against the background of meaning. What is meaningful to me? What do I value? Adhere to meaning, and change has a way of working itself out.

Notably, meaning itself evolves, as it should. When I was a child, I could fly. I felt what it was like to soar through the air, the wind and my skin in conversation. I was fulfilled. As a student in school, I learned to stay on the ground and walk. I began to look for meaning. In residency, I learned to assimilate. I walked. I ran. I crawled. I cried. I flew in spurts, then landed again. I was finding meaning.

As I continue to grow up, I find that I’m growing to be a child again. I recognize that meaning has always been here, waiting for me all these years.

In the ED, we are forever juxtaposing change and meaning. “Doc, I need you in room 3 now!!” Something changed. What is the meaning that gives it context? What does it mean to the patient, the family, the nurse and me?

Meaning is the lighthouse that guides the boat of change through uncharted waters. And it is uniquely yours. Change gives us the opportunity to recognize it.