The importance of a promise in healthcare

It was 3:00 am.

And as I scanned my hospital room … DARKNESS.

171018 Hospital Room

I was alone.


Back in 2001

I was the COO for a military healthcare program, and as I was flying across the country to attend system meetings I began to feel something was wrong.

By the time we land, I can barely walk, and I can barely breathe.

Eventually I make it back to Maine and I am transported to the hospital.

And as I lay in the darkness …

In my hospital bed.

In the wee hours of the morning.

I think about my bride.

I think about my 3 young children.

And I think about never going home to them again.

And as I do, for the first time, the tears start flowing and the sweat begins to soak through my sheets.

And then I hear, “Mr. Dahlborg. Tom,” as my nurse Linda approaches my bed.

“Tom,” she says again, softly, calmly, as she sits on the edge of my bed, and she reaches for my hand.

“I am here,” she says as she holds my hand. As she holds me.

And slowly I feel a bit of the darkness within my room (within me) begin to lighten and my breathing eases a bit.

And then Linda makes me a promise.

While sitting on the edge of my bed, looking me deep in the eyes, and holding my hand, my nurse Linda made me a 3-word promise. She said …

“I got you.”

And that was exactly what I needed to hear at that time. At that moment.

That 3 word promise — “I got you” — said from Linda’s heart and from her mind, to my heart to my mind, got me through that moment … and the next.

That 3 word promise … got me through the next hour … the next day.

Because I knew … I trusted … my nurse Linda would keep me safe.

She HAD me.

Fast forward 16 years …

I am asked to teach Studer Group’s AIDET Plus the Promise℠ at a large healthcare system.

  • 12 sessions.
  • 2 days.
  • ~300 people trained.

And yet it is one individual who stands out most.

One voice.

In the conference room, there were folks from nursing, human resources, housekeeping, transportation, and many other areas seeking to do worthwhile work and make a difference in the lives of others.

And as I taught, I noticed a young woman from housekeeping nodding and smiling.
And so I turned to her and she shared …

I love my patients. I love cleaning their rooms because I know in doing so, I keep them safe. I love hearing my patients’ stories. And I most love, when they remember me.

This housekeeper truly understood her organization’s mission and was living her (and their) values.

She was engaging, she was connecting, and she was impacting.

As I continued to teach, I also continued to watch and listen to her as I highlighted the importance of “the Promise” and how this commitment provides hope to patients and families.

And she shared again …

I always tell my patients that I love their unit, I love their nurses. How their nurse Linda (coincidence?) took such good care of my brother and that I promise to come back. And I see in their eyes a change in their energy. They relax a bit. I help them heal.

These are challenging times.

And yet full of great opportunity.

As healthcare leaders, we each have the opportunity to lead and serve, and do so from both our hearts and minds, connected to our purpose, as we love, courageously, vulnerably, what we do and who we partner with.

Each step of this journey we impact others and we impact one another.

What we do each day is a gift. And when we make commitments (promises) and then honor those commitments a blessing to another.

Today, I ask all healthcare leaders to make a promise to one who needs you most, honor that commitment, and change a life.

Nurse Linda did … as did my friend in housekeeping.

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