Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Sex, Drugs, and Money: Fun in the Surgery Theatre

From the sexy voice of Tracey Thorn to Twilight Anesthesia and finally the attractive price of Australian Health Care, this story will fuel your health care controversy for the week. The stars of this show will remain anonymous. Their names have been changed but the situation is real. Real FUN!

My anesthetist, we'll call him Dr. Feelgood, my surgeon, Dr. Rasta, and his assistant, Dr. Zissou, all made my one-hour sun-spot removal a barrel of laughs and a moment in time that I didn't want to end. It might be the drugs talking, but I think I'm a good judge of character and I imagine I will be hanging out with these cats again.

To make this story really interesting I should start at the beginning, and move quickly - stick with me! I developed a sun-spot on my forehead that needed to be removed. A kind young Fox pointed me in the direction of a dermatologist, who appointed me with Dr. Rasta.

There was a snaffoo with my appointment the day before the operation. The surgeon's office canceled due to lack of approval from my insurance. Only in Australia will the doctor's office cancel your appointment! I confirmed that I would pay first and file for reimbursement later (past history shows I'll get close to 50% back) and the appointment was on, no doubt.

I got a plastic bracelet with my name, a backless gown (racy!), and, again, only in Australia, a white fluffy robe and slippers! I've never seen fluffy robes and slippers in US hospitals, have you? I boarded my gurney, (trolley if you're Commonwealth), and my Irish orderly drove me around to the staging area of the surgery theatre.

There I met Dr. Feelgood. Like the most benevolent of dictators, Dr. Feelgood informed me that his services would lie outside of the $2,000+ for the hospital fees and $2,000+ for Dr. Rasta. For a bargain price of $300 or so I would be drugged up to a projected level of satisfaction. It's one of my life's best investments!

Dr. Feelgood wheeled my Healthcare Chariot to Dr. Rasta's operating theatre while the initial drugs took their effect. Wondering if the drugs induced aural hallucinations, I asked Dr. Rasta, "Do I hear Reggae?"

"Yes", replied Dr. Rasta. "We are listening to Reggae." He added a little chuckle, like I didn't get an inside joke. The conversations continued over my head while they covered my eyes as nurses crowded in and conversations engaged to set up the operation.

"How many people are around me right now?" I was wondering if Twilight Anesthetics tripled my three people into nine.

"Seven" responded a British voice that I didn't recognise. "There are seven people taking care of you."

Good to know. "Lucky number", I added. "Who said that?" I knew Dr. Rasta from the consultation weeks earlier, but who was this Bloody Pom? :)

"Dr. Zissou." His name wasn't really Dr. Zissou, but you'll see why it fits.

"Dr. Zissou is my assistant" quipped Dr. Rasta, sharpening his scalpel to my left.

They met my curiosity with some questions of their own, and soon their questions became more pointed. "So what do you want to do with the MBA?"

"Make boatloads of money." I waited a few seconds to see their reaction. "I'm not really in it for the money. I'm all about the triple bottom line of Financial, Social, and Environmental Responsibility." They were waiting for me to impress them. "The end game is to be able to fund my second film." Is that good enough?

"Tell me about your first film". I've gotta be on drugs to think talking about myself is so interesting, and I take the bait, telling them about Louvst and the visual allegory of Love, Lust, Lose, and Lost. "Who is your favourite filmmaker?" I mention Wes Anderson and start giggling about The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.

"What's your favourite film, Doc?" I was happy to duck out of the limelight and focus on whether or not I could actually feel the carving going on with my forehead. I couldn't feel a thing.

"The Life Aquatic was pretty good. It's my favourite!" Dr. Zissou was a true explorer into the Austin Avante Garde! You've snagged another fan, Wes Anderson ;)

As our conversation flowed effortlessly, the tugging on my face came to an end, and Dr. Zissou stepped up to the plate. "Can you hand me that magical spray can?" Relieved that he was talking to the nurse, I had to ask.

"Did you say magical spray can?" Where WAS I? What the harumpf is a magic spraycan? As it turns out they were preparing my bandage...

Dr. Zissou was downright cheeky, "There might as well be magic in this little can. It'll make the sticky tape we're putting on your face even stickier!" He wasn't kidding. It's still there now as I type to you, faithful reader.

The party was starting to break up, and the music transitioned to the familiar, soothing sound of Tracey Thorn. "Is that Everything But the Girl?", I asked. Dr. Rasta laughed affirmatively from across the room.

What is this place where I've consumed Narcotics, Reggae, Film, and Tracey Thorn? I wanted to invite them all to dinner. I'm saving that for the follow-up consultation next week.

"This is the infamous iPod mix of Dr. Rasta." Dr. Zissou beamed with pride, as though he were defending a title.

I should have asked practical questions like 'How many stitches did I get?' or 'Will I get more pain killers?', but instead I left the theatre on my back, the four wheels of my gurney being guided by the doctors' rastafarians, and, like St. Nic's "...and to all a good night", declared "Your taste in music's all right!".

I was taken to a nice little chill out area, given some munchies, and, like a geisha at the end of entertaining, obligated to return my clothing and make myself presentable for the next encounter. A kind yet resistant Irish lass, we'll call her Lassie, refused me pain killers but jovially arranged my follow-up visit.

Over the next hour my Twilight waned in reverse, back into the unforgiving Australian Sun. I headed straight for the insurance office, hoping for whatever sympathy I can get with my oversized bandage. When it comes to getting paid back by an industry who cheats the sick for profit, everything counts.

Since a delivery by the Mother of Fox, I've been eating Codeine like SweetTarts and wondering why Australian health care has to be so hard core!? No pain killers? Who are these blokes? Well if one thing can be said of Australians, they are certainly fun. I enjoyed the procedure. The pain afterwards is another story. Away from ignorant bliss and back to happy reality.

With my new friends Dr. Feelgood, Dr. Rasta, and Dr. Zissou I learned three important lessons. Don't let life's pains get you down, avoid stress with some relaxing music, and, when given the opportunity, explore a new friendship with someone who could have otherwise remained anonymous.

the author, pictured with a hole in his head

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Long and Short of Hard and Soft. Thanks Wes!

Based on a flood of recent experiences I'm writing to share my perspective on the line between Hard and Soft. When it comes to directing imperfect humans, unfortunately it is only imperfect humans who can guide the way, and depending on how much needs to be achieved, different levels of pressure and discipline compete with the status quo. What I say aims to be universal for life in general, but take into consideration I am looking through an MBA filter. Apply what I say to management at your own risk, thought it's a risk I happily share.

This post opens with a sketchbook image from July of 2002 that serves to contrast between the hard and soft. After returning to the US from the trip across Asia and Europe that changed my life, I studied "Christ Presenting the Ring to Alexandria" by Peter Paul Reubens in contrast with a Mastodon skull, both on display at the Museum of Texas Tech University while I was visiting my parents back in Lubbock, Texas. I thought the contrast between the ultimate empathy of Christ and the skull of a prehistoric beast was fitting.

As we all attempt to transcend our inner prehistoric beast to achieve the enlightenment of Christ's teachings, this blog post will take you from a quote from the Dalai Lama to the closing chapter of Social Entrepreneurship: New Models of Sustainable Social Change by Alex Nicholls. Then we jump into the priceless American Express ad by Wes Anderson as a metaphor for what a potential solution looks like.

"If the basic human nature was aggressive we would have been born with animal claws and huge teeth - but ours are very short, very pretty, very weak! That means we are not well equipped to be aggressive human beings. ... So I think the basic nature of human beings should be gentle." - His Holiness the Dalai Lama
(sketch above from the Dalai Lama's talk in Sydney, Australia, December 3, 2009 entitled "Our Future: Who is Responsible?")

As the Dalai Lama points out, it is not in our nature to be violent. Fair enough. But where do you draw the line between a productive sense of assertive dominance and its negative twin, violent energy? I'm reminded of how Giorgio Vasari describes the expression Michelangelo gave to the face of his David sculpture. The expression on David's face is known as terribilitá. It is a savage expression of focus and determination. It is the look of someone's sheer will, held up as heavy artillery against the opposing odds.

Now that we are talking about Michelangelo's David, I can bring Gianlorenzo Bernini's David into the conversation. If Michelangelo's David has terribilitá, Bernini's David has verriterribilitá. Keep in mind that David is facing down Goliath. Michelangelo's David looks like he's trying to pick up at a gay bar, while Bernini's David looks like he's in the middle of fighting the odds and actually battling a giant. The point is that there is classical beauty in the ferocity of determination, and that I have a preference for Bernini. I struggle with the first part (you rock, Bernini!), as I decide when to express my own inner ferocity or terribilitá.

As much as the religious right may hate to admit it, often there are shades of gray, and I think that's the answer to how terribilitá can be expressed. As Alex Nicholls compiles in Social Entrepreneurship: New Models of Sustainable Social Change, there is a sliding scale between hard and soft when it comes to business. As much as my American mush-mouth makes it harder for me, it remains true: money talks and bullshit walks. Money can shout or whisper, but bullshit is just bullshit. Whether the energy regards the soft edge of a non-profit business or the hard-edge of a financially driven hedge fund, shouting may carry substance, and a whisper can hold great value. If the business isn't sound, then a shout becomes a tantrum and whisper a zephyr.

In David's case, terribilitá expresses the business of defense. And when it comes to the general business climate in the world today, it's a war zone out there. If I don't defend myself and my ideas through vigilant action, someone can overpower me and determine my reality. Those who work the hardest and create the most give the rest of us something to consume in our relative passivity.

To show you what I'm talking about without wasting more words, you gotta see the American Express commercial with Wes Anderson. I love this man. He has the ferocity of someone on a mission from God, and is surrounded by creative people who take his call to action seriously. This is terribilitá at its best. You can see the hard and the soft in a brilliantly orchestrated balance of creative bliss. Thanks for pointing the way, Wes.