What I learnt from my Dad’s quadruple bypass surgery

It has been somewhat of a tough week for me personally and professionally. On the professional front, last week we ran our first Health Business Masterclass online seminar, and as such there was quite a bit of preparation for the event over the prior weeks.

I had also travelled back to my hometown of Kuala Lumpur so that I could be closer to my dad. He underwent quadruple bypass surgery and at age 68 with multiple other medical conditions such as asthma and diabetes, it was always going to be a challenging procedure.

Thankfully the operation was a success to the degree that it is now 6 days later and he has successfully convinced his surgeons that he can now return home. Despite a lung collapse 2 days post operatively, he has managed to soldier on with great strength and get his breathing back to reasonable state.

I have to admire him for his tenacity.

He did have the best surgeon in the country – Dr Azhari was the surgeon who operated on Malaysia previous Prime Minister Dato Mahathir. This surgeon was not just presented to him, he pushed for it until he got it. He was also treated in the best hospital for people with heart disease, the National Heart Institute (also known as IJN).

He has the best care with his own private room in the Intensive Care ward, the High Dependency Unit which he was moved to later and even had a special room on the General Ward. The food in the hospital was specifically catered for heart patients and the staff were very professional. It was really a top class institution.

But what became obvious to me after 2 days, particularly after his lung collapse, was that I could not really do not much for him. I could come to visit him and try to motivate him as best I can, but even despite my extensive experience of over 15 years in healthcare, I could not breathe for him.

His fastest way to leave was to perform his spirometry exercises and get it back to as close to 1500ml as possible (spirometry is a device you blow into that measures your lung capacity – they suggest you blow into it 10x per hour during your post operative days). He was also required to perform his physiotherapy and start moving around the ward.

There is plenty of scientific evidence to show that the sooner a patient mobilises post cardiac surgery, the better the long term outcomes.

The other aspect was for him to remain calm and composed, despite the pain that he would be undergoing from his wounds. In essence, to stay stress free.

To this end, I could only encourage him to meditate, one of the best practices available to manage stress long term, and again there are numerous studies on Mindfulness Meditation and Transcendental Meditation to indicate such positive effects.

The report from the American Heart Association published on April 2013 concluded that the Transcendental Meditation (TM) technique lowers blood pressure and recommends that the TM technique may be considered in clinical practice for the prevention and treatment of hypertension and thereby also lowering risk of heart attack, stroke and death.

Entitled “Beyond Medications and Diet Alternative Approaches to Lowering Blood Pressure: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association,” the report informed doctors which alternative approaches to lowering blood pressure (BP) have been shown by research to be effective.

Hence despite all the complex science that comes with such a meticulously studied disease and an even more complicated surgery where all four major heart arteries are bypassed, ultimately the mantra for his healing was only 3 things – “Move, Breathe and Meditate”

Move. Breathe. Meditate.

Move (physio), breathe (spirometry), meditate (remove stress).

All of which, I could not do for him. No one could. These were only things he could do to promote his healing.

And then it dawned on me once again, how we have to empower ourselves to achieve our own healing and recovery process. No one else can really help us as much as we can do for ourselves.

To a degree, we chose our doctor or surgeon. Or we choose an alternative path.

We choose our hospital where possible.

And if we don’t get the aspects that we want, we make the best out of what we have. Until we achieve our goal.

One thing was clear that my dad became more interested in the conversation about his recovery when mentioned a date to leave the hospital. He was more focussed when we had a goal.

Oh, and did I mention that after 3 days of being back in KL, I developed a viral illness followed by a bacterial chest infection, and I could not even visit him or help much with his healing process thereafter!

So my learnings from experiencing the healthcare system from a very different perspective, that of a concerned family member was this:

  • No one can make as much of a difference to your own healing journey as you can. And that difference happens before you reach the hospital, and very much more after you leave it.
  • It’s important to set a goal in your recovery, create a positive intention to heal and visualise your recovery. Make that your focus, rather than the pain, the taste of the food or if the nurses appear slow to attend to you. You have more bearing on your outcomes than they do.
  • Mindset is everything. Whilst the technical facilities and skilled staff in specialist centres like the National Heart Institute in KL are amazing, there is a great opportunity for healthcare organisations to have structured positive mindset techniques trained to patients. I believe this is currently a huge opportunity to dramatically increase recovery rates.

My mum is now on the hunt for a home physio that can visit the home and help Dad with the “Move & Breathe” components.

What about you, what was your one key learning from having a close family member be unwell?

Is profit a bad word in healthcare?

I have been involved in the healthcare industry for over 15 years and I’ve worked as a doctor in hospitals, I have worked in medical research for biotech industry, I have worked marketing healthcare products and business strategy in the pharmaceutical industry and I have enjoyed leading my business in holistic health and wellness.

In all my endeavours in healthcare, money was a part of the healthcare paradigm. In the hospitals and practices in the UK and Australia that I worked in, doctors, nurses and allied health professionals didn’t really think about charging patients as healthcare was essentially free. The government essentially paid everyone’s salaries.

Even then we had the occasional patients complain that service was poor!!

And what’s even more interesting, was that nurses were going on strike because they needed better pay and doctors were also about to go on strike.

Ironically, when I left the National Health Service in the UK to leave such disillusionment, the problem was exactly the same – nurses were going on strike because of poor pay and doctors were about to go on strike!

When I was in the biotech and pharmaceutical industries, there were no strikes! Essentially, there was medical research performed and a lot of it was commercialised. The reality was that the product (medical drug) in this case would need to serve a need in the market, but would also have to somehow generate revenue for the company.

There was a constant balance of managing the needs of patients who need the drug and setting a price that governments could pay for it, in order to reach the broadest amount of people.

The company on the other hand had to serve its shareholders and make a profit – something many companies did well, but many also struggled with.  This was the development of a drug is very risky business – you could spend over $1billion dollars developing a drug (the average cost these days), only to find weeks after hitting the market that it had to be withdrawn for some unforeseen side-effect.

In my humble opinion, while these companies were commercially driven, there was a line that we would not cross and integrity in how we did our science was paramount. However, this is a topic that is widely debated in modern society. Very often, people struggle to rationalise the concept that healthcare is somehow a business and that finances are involved in delivering healthcare.

This challenge is perpetuated in the field of complementary and alternative health, which I am now involved in. Here we charge patients (who are now called clients instead) and it is interesting to observe the dynamic how many people are quite happy to pay several hundred dollars for a flatscreen TV but will not pay it to solve an emotional issue that they have had since childhood.

It speaks to how much we value our own health these days.

I am a firm believer that in order to be a sustainable organisation long-term, you need good discipline in business and you need to be able to make money, or show a profit. Even a non-for-profit should be able to generate a profit, as long as it is reinvested into the organisation.

This is clearly a challenge in the mindset of many people in healthcare.

However, what do you think – is profit a ‘bad word’ in healthcare?