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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Both of Them

Do ever think of animals or fictional characters can well represent the personalities of new people you meet?
Mathew Browning
I often do.  It helps me remember them and their personality.   When I first met Matthew Browning it was on Twitter and I knew him by his description: Founder, CEO Targeted Instant Communications, Inventor IntelliBlast Communications System, RN, MSN, FNP, Healthcare 2.0, Husband & Daddy, :-)  When I met Matthew in person I thought of the 1984 film: The NeverEnding Story.  In particular I thought of the character known as Rock-Biter.  This character is tall and strong with a deep rumbling voice.  It was a perfect fit for Matthew.

I have always loved that character for his kindness and his strength, but most of all for his sad perplexed look during the climax of the film when the nothing takes his friends away.  He explains that he tried to hold onto his friends, that he held them in his hands, yet the force of the nothing took them.  This mountain of a rock man looks down at his hands and says.  “They look like big, good, strong hands, don't they? I always thought that's what they were.”

This is the way I saw Matthew and until he told me his story I did not know why. 

This is Matthew Browning’s Jacket: “Both of Them.
Both of Them: Matthew's Jacket
This is Mathew’s story:

“Just over 3 years ago, late on a Friday night in March, my wife- who was 31 weeks pregnant-experienced difficulty breathing while we were in Florida. We were on a "rub the belly tour," so that our families could celebrate her pregnancy and impending birth of our first child. Upon arrival to the local ER, we were informed that she was eclamptic and we would have to deliver our baby TONIGHT, right now, no delays! “Whoa!!! Hold on a second, you mean right now?” I said in disbelief.

The doctor came and explained that they needed to operate as soon as possible, the risks involved for my wife and my unborn son, and the real possibilities of very poor outcomes. I explained that our doctor in Connecticut would need to speak with this doctor due to my wife's rather complex medical history and significant risk factors.

They, the doctor and assistants, made every attempt to dissuade me about the need for that consult and the need for this doctor to review her medical history BEFORE operating.  I was resolute, and at 6am on a Saturday morning, we received a fax of my wife's medical record and two consults, one from her OB and one from her hematologist.  These actions likely made all the difference in our outcomes.

Phoebe's hematological risks complicated the procedures, planning and course of the emergency C-section needed to deliver our son in the safest manner possible. Proceeding without this information would have been very dangerous and likely life threatening.

Relieved that we had done everything we possibly could to ensure the safety of Phoebe and our son, I gave Phoebe a kiss and she was wheeled into an emergency c-section. As the doctor and I followed behind her, the doctor pulled me aside and said, "this is a very risky procedure with a complex patient- if there are any complications during the operation…who is our priority? Mom or Baby?" 

In my 10 years of professional nursing, through countless life and death emergency situations, I had never been so completely unprepared for a situation, so at loss for words nor so completely devastated as I was in that mille-second of indecision. How do you answer that? What could I say? Why was the room spinning, why were my knees buckling and why couldn't I see straight? OMG! Here was the WAY to real possibility that my wife, my son, or possibly both would not make it through the morning! In disbelief, I struggled to gasp "BOTH OF THEM!"
Both of Them
With a grunt, the doctor wheeled about and left me standing in the empty hallway, slumped against the wall, disoriented, distressed and summarily dismissed- drowning in my uncontrollable tears and the inhumanity of our healthcare system.

AJ Browning was born at 31 weeks, 3 lbs 11oz, after nearly a month both he and Phoebe were able to leave the hospital and come home. He is a 44lb 3 year old in the 97th% and Phoebe is healthy and expecting our second child in October 2011."

I painted Matthew’s jacket in a very different style than my usual work.  It is loosely based on the pop art of Roy Lichtenstein and the comic art in the Marvel periodical of the 1970’s called Night Nurse.  I chose this format, as our culture often under-appreciates the emotional power of the graphic image.

So in this frame I imagine the frantic nature of the surgery room.  The larger than life version of Matthew’s head takes over the frame.  He is voicing his refusal to choose between his child and his wife.  He tells the room, he tells the world, to save both of them.  Then he sinks into despair.  I wonder if he looked upon his hands as Rock-Biter had.  Those strong hands had nursed so many, had helped many others, but at this moment they were empty.   And Matthew was so very alone.

I am so glad that Matthew joined The Walking Gallery.  Each Day he walks in his jacket he will spread his story and spread awareness of the potential of advocacy and the importance of treating people with compassion.

He is one of many.  We are no longer alone in our suffering.  We are a great and mighty wall. 
2011 The Walking Gallery 2651


  1. What a beautiful Father's Day gift. Regina, you are a true gift to the world and I am blessed to be part of your life. My full comment will have to wait but I found this "Rock-biter" clip and chuckled- Thank You!

  2. Brilliant Link Matthew! Do you see the resemblance?

  3. Thank you for sharing Matthew's story! I have "met" Matthew on line as well but I am so sad to say in having lots of great conversation at the Walking Gallery I "missed" him. I did not know his story. AS a mom & pt advocate blogger tehre were many of us blogging for Father's Day about the forgetten griever. (Consider adding Matthew's story there - Often - even if you do not lose a child - Mom AND Dad grieve the chance of a normal delivery when premature birth arrives.
    Congratulations Matthew - and best wishes for your newest arrival this October!

  4. Matthew's jacket is one of my favorites... it reflects his heart and exactly who he is. "Both of Them!" was the ONLY answer that ever would have tumbled from his mouth!

    Prayers for a far easier delivery come October!

    Well done, Regina!

  5. Amazing story, well illustrated and told.

    Thanks for sharing it. I am inspired by your telling and will share ours, in brief.

    Our version of birth trauma like this did not have the "save both" option. My angry moment came when the nurse whose errors put my wife and unborndaughter at risk said, "you are alienating everyone who is trying to help you". This was while I was suiting up to go into the emergency surgery we had to do thanks to her. I replied that she had done enough already and had her removed from the floor.

    The big name NYC doctor who was in charge of the department, as well as presiding over this fiasco, told us that only one could be saved if things didn't work and that they would go for the baby. My wife turned to me and said, "take care of Abigail". And thus our little girl was named.

    The procedure worked and both made it unharmed.

    The moral here is that if we didn't pay attention and get involved in the care of loved ones, many more would not survive the hospital experience. If I had pointed out that my wife was prone to tachycardia to the anesthesiologist before he pushed a beta agonist, much risk could have been avoided. A good EMR would have helped too.

    What is horrifying is how common these stories are.

  6. Regina,

    Roy Lichtenstein is my favorite. I can't stand how versatile a storyteller you are, you may just become the Frank Netter of this generation of health care. Where he was an artist of the most basic structures of the human body, you are the next level up, to the structures of our emotions and the systems that try and keep our bodies functional with as little devastation as possible.


  7. Regina,
    The jacket has been a wonderful catalyst for healing both of us during my current pregnancy, and I thank you so much for creating it for Matthew.
    Other notes:
    This jacket represents the moment that Matthew felt most helpless, being a FNP in a hospital that was out of our circle. But at the thought of losing either of us, he quickly turned into papa bear and became the greatest patient advocate one could ask for. Like Alex above, Matthew fought for me to the point that upset several of the hospital staff involved, but I and Aj needed him by our sides! If Matthew had not been constantly by my side advocating, one of the multiple times the hospital staff inadvertently tried to harm/kill me would have definitely worked. At one point my own husband had to give me a breathe of life as the nurses stood around saying they needed a supervisor to approve help while I was coding from a medication I was given and deathly allergic to. He was not helpless then, he was yet again my greatest advocate and my savior.
    The greatest lesson about patient data that needs to be taken away, is that too many doctors specializing in only one area and not collaborating care is deadly. There needs to be better information available for doctors within a system so that each understands what the other is doing and why. And this information needs to be portable, so that wherever an emergency arises, the best possible outcomes occur. I have faith that the Health 2.0 community is working on this and soon an answer will be available to all!

  8. Wow, this story telling and artwork is so powerful. So necessary. Thank you all for sharing and Regina, thank you for your amazing artwork and commitment to safe and effective health care.

  9. Thank you for sharing such a powerful story. Mathew remained a strong nurse and patient advocate while being the consummate husband and father. Your painting captures the complexity of simultaneous strength an vulnerability in such a powerful way.