Timing is everything
"So much about life is not about whether you're good or bad, right or wrong, or can afford or not afford - it's just about timing."—A.A. Gill
Portland, Maine— It was a typical September evening in Guam as the setting sun provided a beautiful end to an idyllic day. The afternoon temperature had climbed into the upper 80s, but the island breezes at 6:30 p.m. made for a very comfortable outdoor setting on my balcony facing the beautiful western sky on Agana Beach.
While enjoying my microwaved leftover cheese enchiladas from Carmen’s, I received a call from my friend Evan, who was gathering some friends in the building for some freshly baked chocolate chip cookies and fresh ripe mango.
"Evan, I'm going to have to pass, as I left work (Guam Memorial Hospital) before making rounds in the (Emergency Department), so I'm going to have to go back to the hospital.”
My normal routine was to stop by the Emergency Department just before leaving the hospital at the end of the day to see how many patients were awaiting bed placement. For some reason, I had left my office earlier this day without visiting the ED, and used the opportunity to watch from my seventh-floor vantage point the gorgeous island sky develop its unique pattern of clouds with the rainbow range of colors that came as the sun disappeared below the horizon.
In 2015, it was not unusual for GMH to have five to 10 patients waiting in the ED for bed placement at the end of the day because of the shortage of available in-patient beds.
As I finished my visit to the ED and chatting with the staff there, I began to make my way back toward the main lobby. I used my ID badge to open the door from the staff-only corridor into the public hallway. There was a young couple making their way in the same direction I was headed. Seeing my badge, Eric greeted me with "You're Mr. Lewis, aren't you?” "Yes, I am,” I replied.
As we walked, Eric and his wife very politely, yet with urgency in their voices, explained a concern about their friend Stephanie, who was a patient in the Medical Surgical Unit.
Forty-one-year-old Stephanie had developed an infection in one of her big toes. The infection had spread and now gangrene was present. Because Stephanie didn't believe in blood products, specialists were hesitant to perform surgery without having blood available in the procedure. The outlook for Stephanie was very bleak. They asked if I would speak with Stephanie's doctor to see what could be done. Immediately, I called the switchboard operator on my cell who was able to patch me through to the physician.
What I learned from Dr. Scott, the hospitalist, confirmed what Stephanie's friends had shared. She almost broke into tears over the phone as she explained to me that she had exhausted all possible options (not being able to find a specialist who was willing to take the case), so she was prepared to keep the patient as comfortable as possible. I asked what that meant, and she said that the gangrene would spread and eventually take over the organs, killing the patient. "Let me see if I can find someone,” I said.
The next morning, I intended to head up to the Surgery Department first thing, but was delayed.
It was 10 a.m. before I was able to head up to Surgery Department and I was beating myself up for being so late. I waited impatiently for the elevator door to open on my way up to the second floor. When it opened, I literally bumped into one of the exiting passengers, a surgeon with his surgical hat on and mask around his neck.
Dr. Eng Saw, a general and vascular surgeon from the mainland, was a friend and colleague I had worked with while I was CEO of the Guam SDA Clinic. He would typically take vacation time from his practice in California doing interim relief work on Guam and I didn't know that he was back.
"Dr. Saw, what are you doing here?" I asked.
"I'm here for a couple weeks,” he said. After I explained Stephanie’s situation, he said, ”Of course, I will see what I can do." I dialed Dr. Scott's cell phone and was able to introduce her to Dr. Saw over the phone and he directly headed up to see Dr. Scott and the patient.
A couple days later, Dr. Saw was able to perform the procedure without using or needing any blood.
The day after surgery I ran into Dr. Scott in the hall. "Mr. Lewis you saved that patient’s life.”
"Dr. Scott, it's not me, timing in life is everything.”
Theodore Lewis is former CEO of Guam Memorial Hospital and has a healthcare consulting business based out of Portland, Maine. He is collecting stories about lessons learned in life and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.