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Once a Teacher

By Jo Ann Endo | Friday, March 29, 2013

It doesn’t matter how many times I see the video of Mrs. Rosie Bartel. It kills me every time.

In the video, Rosie describes how, after she had what she thought would be a “routine” knee replacement surgery three years ago, she was told she had contracted a methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection. Sixteen surgeries later (the most recent in February), the effects of the infection have led to a series of losses, including her home, her much beloved job, a large section of her right leg, and much of the independence she once cherished.

 

I’m the person who had the privilege of interviewing Rosie for Project JOINTS, IHI’s initiative to spread evidence-based practices to prevent Surgical Site Infections (SSIs) after hip and knee replacement surgery. She and her husband, Dave, welcomed my fellow IHI staff member, Alan Olasin, and me into their cozy home in Chilton, Wisconsin, on a warm August day. Rosie agreed to share her story because she hopes it will help convince health care providers that even one SSI is too many.

 

I was a social worker for a number of years, and I’ve worked in social services most of my adult life. At the risk of sounding like some war-weary veteran of the health care trenches, I can tell you that I’ve heard a lot of hard stories and witnessed a lot of pain. If you’re any good at truly listening to people, you don’t get numb when they tell you terrible things, but you do learn to bear it without crying – at least until you’re alone later.

But something about watching Rosie telling her story makes me well up every time. In public. In rooms full of people. This despite the fact that I conducted the interview, watched it numerous times during the editing process, and have seen it on multiple occasions since its completion.

Let me be clear: I do not pity Rosie. Far from it. She impresses me. She inspires me. She has taken what must have been many nightmarish moments over the last several years and done her best to turn them into something positive.

I can only imagine that Rosie has had moments of anger, resentment, and self-pity. Wouldn’t we all, in her place? But what comes through most strongly in the interview is her passion for wanting to help make things right. She wants to help us all do better.

I don’t believe that suffering automatically conveys nobility on the sufferer any more than I believe that having, say, a terminal cancer diagnosis inevitably turns you into a saint or a hero. Far from being respectful, those kinds of assumptions just make it harder for people who have every right to be full of rage, doubt, or sadness to feel exactly what they’re feeling.

So I don’t see Rosie as a saint. First and foremost, I see her as a teacher. She has told us this part of her story to give us the chance to learn from her experience.

As Rosie says, ”As an educator, I always think that when you can put a face on things, you can make it real. When you teach, you know when the story is real. I think you touch people’s hearts.”

I come from a family of educators. My paternal grandmother was a Japanese language teacher and taught flower arranging in her 80s. My mother was a kindergarten teacher. My father was a teacher and education administrator. My husband is a high school Latin teacher. My sister-in-law is a special education teacher.

With all of these educators in my life, it’s not surprising that I value good teachers, and Rosie Bartel is a great one. It would be easy to say she was a teacher because she’s retired now, but I believe the best teachers are teachers until the day they die. I suspect Rosie would agree with me.

Who are the teachers who taught you invaluable lessons? Were any of them patients?


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