Changing Perspective

By Pat Bigaouette, Georgetown University School of Medicine

While riding in the plane from Dallas to Montrose I was reading the book “Collateral Damage”, which was suggested/required reading for Telluride. Immediately after the stewardess gave us our drinks, the man directly across the aisle from me leaned across and asked if I was going to Telluride. I looked and my book and then looked at him and replied “yes”. He introduced himself as Tim McDonald and I immediately recognized the name and remembered it being listed as of the four coordinators of the conference.

Knowing that the man I was speaking to would probably be giving several lectures, and that he was probably very important in the patient safety/quality community, I tried to keep a low profile while being polite as possible. I imagined 100s of people squished into a hotel conference room and I had a huge fear that Dr. McDonald would soon be singling me out to answer questions because I was the one person he recognized from the plane ride over. I figured keeping my mouth shut would give me the best shot at being unremarkable.

We briefly talked. He told me that I would learn a lot and to be ready for a unique experience. Unique would be an understatement. I’ve been to conferences where the majority of people would listen to lectures, go to poster presentations, and escape to the hotel rooms at the first possible opportunity. Telluride was a little different.

Dr. Mayer made a comment the very first day about going home and continuing conversations about patient safety over dinner and drinks. He stated that people are often so passionate that conversations would continue until midnight or later.  Inside I laughed. I thought there was no way people would sit through lectures all day and then go home and talk about patient safety all night. However, that is exactly what happened. And it happened every single night.

I could make blog posts for the next year about important topics that were discussed and stories that were shared. However, the most important thing that I learned while in Telluride was the importance of passion. I sat and listened as passionate after passionate lecturer shared their experience and expertise with me. I learned how they have all made a difference in their respective healthcare systems by being enthusiastic and passionate. I found myself going home and discussing patient safety for hours after the conference had ended. It happened over lunch, in the gondola, at the store, while rafting, while hiking, while walking to the school, and pretty much any time there were two people available to talk.

One night in town a few of us were headed toward the gondola to catch the sunset at the top of the mountain.  We walked by Kathy and Dr. Halbach eating. Several hours (and dessert—thank you Dr. Halbach) later, we pulled ourselves away from the restaurant. Not because we were done discussing and sharing stories, but because the restaurant was closed and the staff was waiting around hoping that we would leave.

I laughed at myself as I boarded the plane from Montrose to Dallas. The nearest person from the conference I could talk to about the conference was several rows ahead of me, I ran out of patient safety/quality books to read, and I had read all of the articles saved on my iPad from PubMed. It would have been fun to sit next to Dr. McDonald again to share the change in my perspective from five days earlier.

Knowing that the people in my immediate surrounding probably did not want to hear about patient safety or the Telluride conference, I decided to read the book I snagged from the free box in downtown Telluride.