Posted by Noel Jacobs on June 24, 2014
I had the pleasure of picking up a friend at the airport a few months ago. She had flown in, carefree and light on luggage (literally one 5 X 7 envelope contained everything she brought, including her bedding), to spend some time with me, my curious wife, and my even-more-curious daughters. She had also come to root around in my office and make new friends at the hospital where I work – OU Children’s. I loved showing her my cool office, the gizmos we have to help our patients learn and have a good time, and the terrific staff and providers that see our patients on a regular basis.
I was amazed to see, when I picked her up, that she was wide-eyed and ready to go. She had her arms up, food and drink in hand, and was ready for anything! Her spirit was catching; my daughters were immediately enthralled and showed her around our house, where she stayed at night, after going with me to the hospital each day.
A few problems occurred during our time together. You see, Flat Jennie really likes candy. In fact, to help her feel at home I gave her all-candy for first meal with us. This of course caused problems with my daughters, who are 8 and would really like to have Twizzlers instead of green beans too! In the end, they understood and tolerated these seemingly unfair rules, because they know each person has their own particular blessings (having a fully functioning GI tract) and burdens (having to eat veggies). As you may know, Flat Jennie is the brain child of Sami Kennedy’s friends who made her for the real Jennie (Jennie David) as a joke. Flat Jennie is a laminated ‘mini-me’ of Jennie, complete with GI story and dietary idiosyncrasies. Flat Jennie was treated graciously and sparked great conversations with my daughters and wife, as well as some of our patients. One daughter had Flat Jennie ‘sleep’ on her bedside table and even checked during the night to see if her eyes stayed open (though I think she just wanted an excuse to stay up with our new friend).
Flat Jennie was my daily companion for a couple of weeks. As a patient-ambassador in our clinic she spent her time learning how our hospital takes care of patients with IBD, and seeing what my city has to offer children and families living with Crohn’s and colitis. And I, through Flat Jennie’s eyes, became aware of things that I had not previously considered.
I put Flat Jennie through her paces, carrying out an OU Children’s office visit with her. And she put me through my paces too, challenging me to experience things I had not first-hand: check-in, paperwork, playing our iPad game Emma, talking about her quality of life and activity, having her wait in our (beautiful, but still clearly medical) patient rooms to see PAs, a dietician, a psychologist and a physician – we did it all. Taking it all in through her perspective, I did this for the first time.
Flat Jennie’s perky persona, complete with hot tea and cupcake, represents to me the hopeful and adaptive side of our GI patients struggling with chronic issues that set them apart from others. My laminated friend is coping; she is seeking the best life has to offer and trying to have fun in the process. My patients who met her enjoyed that; she is a reminder that there are things, like cupcakes, on which we can choose to spend our energy and thoughts. However, Flat Jennie still had to endure check-in, waiting in the room to be questioned and prodded, being reminded by her guest physician (Dr. John Grunow, one of the nicest physicians you’ll ever chance to meet) that she really needed to study the GI tract a little more (Now, I know what you’re saying – she has had some of her insides removed so why does she need to know it ALL?).
I believe the medical team was warm, friendly and even went out of their way to give her a pleasant experience, but nevertheless – it wasn’t a day playing in the Zone or on the 6th floor atrium garden (or going to the water park or riding a roller coaster at a great amusement park). Flat Jennie had to think, at least for a while, about something that will never go away and will, most definitely, interrupt her life at future points. It does us as providers a mountain of good to be reminded of this, to actively appreciate the perspective of our patients. They visit us during our workday, and we listen, talk, plan, and move forward together. But Flat Jennie goes home with the difficulties she talked about while (most of us) don’t. We serve her, and every child, better when we take the time to hold our focus, at least for a moment, on what that life is like, so we can help her make the most of it.
Thank you, Flat Jennie, for giving me an important perspective (and a fun time showing you the best of Oklahoma City and OU Children’s). All of us here at OU wish you well on your journeys through other clinics in other fun cities!
You can follow @Flat_Jennie on Twitter to keep up with her latest adventures!