The Door Problem

Yoko and I gather up our things and make for the elevators – we’re conducting our first ever patient interviews today. As we head out of the Innovation Hub, I notice Yoko pull the door open, rather than push it. I always push the door open; it’s less effort. We go up to the floor but Yoko is worried because we don’t have official hospital badges or anything that tags us as part of the Innovation Hub. We rub on hand sanitizer at the start of the hallway, and again at the nursing station. I’m scouting out the rooms, eager to start interviews. Talking to people, connecting with them – this is my favorite part. After waiting a few moments at the station for someone to notice us, Yoko explains our mission to the nurse and asks for recommendations of patients we can interview. The nurse hesitatingly gives us a couple rooms and turns back to her work. We find the first room, rub on hand sanitizer, but the door is closed. I raise my hand to knock but Yoko gestures me away, to the second recommended door. Rub on hand sanitizer. The door this time is partially ajar. Yoko still seems hesitant. I’m so antsy I’m ready to just interview the whole floor, Mormon missionary-style (no kidding, I served a Mormon mission). After deliberating a bit, Yoko decides to go back downstairs and regroup. We rub on hand sanitizer on our way out of the floor. Downstairs Yoko slaps together some badges for us with the Innovation Hub logo on them.

This time, the process was a little more successful – we would go to the floor and spend a little time waiting at the nursing station, which allowed us to ascertain the sound environment of the floor. Then we would receive a couple recommendations. We would go to the rooms and wait again, making sure that the patient was not indisposed or sleeping or busy with visitors. If Yoko called the all-clear, we would go in and start a conversation with the patient. Yoko’s interview style is very attentive. She listens to everything the patient has to say and makes sure the patient doesn’t have anything to add before moving on. My style is chatty – I like to create a sense of comradery, “I know how you feel,” by giving a lot of feedback and finishing thoughts when the patient hesitates. In general, the patients’ responses were good; they were glad to be asked their opinions and to have visitors. That first day, we got two or three interviews and overall we were pleased, knowing it could only pick up from here.

At home, as I was washing off the film of hand sanitizer that builds up after twenty dispenses, I thought about what it means to be the kind of person who pushes open a door instead of the kind of person who pulls open a door. And what does it mean to be the kind of person who knocks on a closed door instead of the kind of person who assumes the door is closed for a reason?

When you push open a door you are the first one through it. When you pull it open, there is space to let others go before you. I think there is a time and place to assert yourself, to be confident as long as you are also being kind. But there is a lot to be said for the patience that is required by asking, waiting, and listening. Then the protocol we had developed for our patient interviews made much more sense to me. We wore the badges because we wanted to be identifiable as to our purpose. We asked for recommendations because we wanted to show respect and deference to the nursing staff. We waited because we wanted to be calm and sure and serene as we entered a patient’s room. We listened because we didn’t want to miss out on an opportunity to discover what the patient really needed. I understood how this process could give us strength and credibility in our cause of making hospitals a place of healing and of Zen.