How a writer (and mother) found the keys to happiness from her daughters

Natasha Badhwar’s ‘My Daughters’ Mum’ is a memoir by a mother of three daughters.

“Sorry, Mamma, sorry,” Aliza came running to me one day, holding her ears. “I’m sorry for all the wrongs I have done so far.” In one clean sweep, our four-year-old cancelled out a year full of tantrums after the birth of her little sister.

We’ve been growing up with our kids.

I call child-rearing a game because it inspires us to play. Play demands creativity, one gets better with practice and if one maintains the right spirit, there’s laughter and fun. Play can also get difficult, it requires fitness and training.

We used to stay up nights sometimes, well into our twenties, playing Carrom or Bluffmaster – a group of cousins and friends. Partners would devise elaborate codes to communicate, scrutinise adversaries, look for clues in their every expression and make a move.

The same formula works with raising kids. Sahar has mostly spoken to us in words, except when she is drawing black flowers and playing with imaginary mice. Naseem, the youngest, comes with an agenda – “Never mind,” she seems to tell her sisters, “you may have had a head start but I’ll catch up soon.” Aliza has little patience; she will lie down on the floor and flap her arms.

One day, she invented a happiness key. She jumped behind me and wound an imaginary key on my back. “There, I have wound you, now be happy,” she commanded – enough of whatever I was moping over!

Yes, I had been miserable. I had lovely kids and a television job I loved. The kids and job loved me back. Yet, it didn’t feel so good. I suffered from separation anxiety and felt like a fool for it.

Confusion descended like a fog. I had no idea where the controls were. I had never really felt so lonely. Clearly, I had spread myself too thin; the urban myth of the supermom had trapped me. I looked good, but I felt terrible.

All at once, parenting proved to be a test of loyalty. Was I willing to be loyal to myself? I didn’t have much practice in this area. It had always been easier to be loyal to friends, trends and gadgets.

I had to come to terms with a few grand truths. For one, I would be able to raise our kids well only if I first raised myself well. The same rules applied to adults and kids – sleep on time, eat well, don’t make it a habit to get stuck in peak-hour traffic.

I also had to learn to pamper the child in me – love her, appreciate her, make her happy. When the parents are calm, the kids are happy. And vice versa. If my child is not okay, I can be sure that I’m not okay. It’s a terrible thing to hear or accept when one has to run through the day chasing deadlines and appearing at meetings on time.

Over time, I learnt to do what I was good at, instead of compelling myself to do everything. Well-balanced meals bore me, but I can take photos. So I did. We hung out at the dosa corner in the market when we were hungry – but the photos, I shot them myself, with my very own loving hands. Those were as much a magic box of moments and memories as home-cooked nutritious meals might have been.

“I love Nani’s rajma, Kanta Mausi’s roti and Mamma’s Maggi,” said Sahar. I learnt to receive compliments. When I was ready to pause, I noticed I was surrounded by love, adulation and gratitude. It was real.

Naseem, the youngest, all magical real

“Take a photo of me eating butter,” she said to me. I obediently took a photo. The wide angle of the iPhone made the plate look larger than Ms six-year-old.

Naseem likes to lick us on our cheeks and arms in fits of affection. The rest of the family is disgusted by this act. I don’t mind it very much. Actually, I love it! Although I must pretend to discourage her. Sometimes when I am holding her in the darkness, she quietly licks my hand once. It is a secret touch.

Naseem has a faux fur jacket shaped like a cape. It is a gift from my sister-in-law in Karachi. It has a “Made in China” label. The first time Naseem wore it, she was three years old. She looked at herself in the mirror and exclaimed, “Wow. I’m looking just like a dog!” She was very pleased. A friend of ours made an illustration of this happy moment of transformation.

Naseem says the darndest things. She wraps herself around our bodies. Sometimes she calls her father when he has been away for far too long and gives him a sound yelling. “Come back quickly. You will not go to office on the day you are back. And I will hide your phone!” He is compelled to return a day early. True to her word, she hides his phone for a few hours so he cannot hear it ring. I look at her authoritativeness and attempt to unlearn my inhibitions.

She is innocent. I have never experienced guilelessness and trust like this. After a difficult pregnancy together, the miracle of her birth was the pinnacle of achievement for me. Time slowed down around us. We had no expectations except to just be. We were healthy. We were alive.

Naseem likes raw tomatoes. She often eats cucumbers as the main course of her meal. She loves grapes and berries. She collects dry leaves and stones and brings them to us as presents. We admire their textures, colours and shapes, their magical reality.

On a weekend morning walk, when we have nowhere particular to reach, she tells me that she really wants to have a pet animal. “I want a small dog and a cat,” she says, cupping her palms together to hold an imaginary baby animal. “In the beginning, the puppy will be small and I will hold it in my arms. Then, it will grow up and run around beside me.”

I imagine the puppy with her. She is my puppy for now. It is our shared joke. She often wags her imaginary tail at me. I wag mine back.

I call her all kinds of names. Namnam, Nanoo, Nanakuttu, Nonex. With her I have become more me. I have done what I want to do with her body stuck to mine. We edit images together – Naseem perched on my lap, giving me feedback. She chooses filters. She watches me struggle with PowerPoint presentations as she puts together a jigsaw puzzle by my side.

Naseem hasn’t wrapped her head around the physical or political idea of a nation yet. She knows that India is home. We are Indians. She doesn’t get how big or far-out India is. Every time she hears the name of a new place, she asks us, “Is Bombay in India? Is Adilabad in India? Is Lucknow in India?”

“Yes,” we say.

“Oh,” she replies, trying to make a map in her head. She doesn’t get artificial boundaries yet.

In the year 2014, it was vote-counting day after the general elections in this country. It was all very dramatic; the results came in early, and it was clear that Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party had been voted in to form a new government at the centre.

When the children came home from school, we sat together at the dining table eating fruits.

“Ab ki baar, Naseem ki sarkar,” I said as I passed a bowl of cherries to her.

“Who won, Mamma?” asked Aliza.

“Modi,” I said. “Narendra Modi. The Congress party has been routed.”

“India,” asked Naseem, “Mamma, did India win?”

Excerpted with permission from My Daughters’ Mum: Essays, by Natasha Badhwar, Simon & Schuster India.

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What hospitals can do to drive entrepreneurship and enhance patient experience

Hospitals can perform better by partnering with entrepreneurs and encouraging a culture of intrapreneurship focused on customer centricity.

At the Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, visitors don’t have to worry about navigating their way across the complex hospital premises. All they need to do is download wayfinding tools from the installed digital signage onto their smartphone and get step by step directions. Other hospitals have digital signage in surgical waiting rooms that share surgery updates with the anxious families waiting outside, or offer general information to visitors in waiting rooms. Many others use digital registration tools to reduce check-in time or have Smart TVs in patient rooms that serve educational and anxiety alleviating content.

Most of these tech enabled solutions have emerged as hospitals look for better ways to enhance patient experience – one of the top criteria in evaluating hospital performance. Patient experience accounts for 25% of a hospital’s Value-Based Purchasing (VBP) score as per the US government’s Centres for Medicare and Mediaid Services (CMS) programme. As a Mckinsey report says, hospitals need to break down a patient’s journey into various aspects, clinical and non-clinical, and seek ways of improving every touch point in the journey. As hospitals also need to focus on delivering quality healthcare, they are increasingly collaborating with entrepreneurs who offer such patient centric solutions or encouraging innovative intrapreneurship within the organization.

At the Hospital Leadership Summit hosted by Abbott, some of the speakers from diverse industry backgrounds brought up the role of entrepreneurship in order to deliver on patient experience.

Getting the best from collaborations

Speakers such as Dr Naresh Trehan, Chairman and Managing Director - Medanta Hospitals, and Meena Ganesh, CEO and MD - Portea Medical, who spoke at the panel discussion on “Are we fit for the world of new consumers?”, highlighted the importance of collaborating with entrepreneurs to fill the gaps in the patient experience eco system. As Dr Trehan says, “As healthcare service providers we are too steeped in our own work. So even though we may realize there are gaps in customer experience delivery, we don’t want to get distracted from our core job, which is healthcare delivery. We would rather leave the job of filling those gaps to an outsider who can do it well.”

Meena Ganesh shares a similar view when she says that entrepreneurs offer an outsider’s fresh perspective on the existing gaps in healthcare. They are therefore better equipped to offer disruptive technology solutions that put the customer right at the center. Her own venture, Portea Medical, was born out of a need in the hitherto unaddressed area of patient experience – quality home care.

There are enough examples of hospitals that have gained significantly by partnering with or investing in such ventures. For example, the Children’s Medical Centre in Dallas actively invests in tech startups to offer better care to its patients. One such startup produces sensors smaller than a grain of sand, that can be embedded in pills to alert caregivers if a medication has been taken or not. Another app delivers care givers at customers’ door step for check-ups. Providence St Joseph’s Health, that has medical centres across the U.S., has invested in a range of startups that address different patient needs – from patient feedback and wearable monitoring devices to remote video interpretation and surgical blood loss monitoring. UNC Hospital in North Carolina uses a change management platform developed by a startup in order to improve patient experience at its Emergency and Dermatology departments. The platform essentially comes with a friendly and non-intrusive way to gather patient feedback.

When intrapreneurship can lead to patient centric innovation

Hospitals can also encourage a culture of intrapreneurship within the organization. According to Meena Ganesh, this would mean building a ‘listening organization’ because as she says, listening and being open to new ideas leads to innovation. Santosh Desai, MD& CEO - Future Brands Ltd, who was also part of the panel discussion, feels that most innovations are a result of looking at “large cultural shifts, outside the frame of narrow business”. So hospitals will need to encourage enterprising professionals in the organization to observe behavior trends as part of the ideation process. Also, as Dr Ram Narain, Executive Director, Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital, points out, they will need to tell the employees who have the potential to drive innovative initiatives, “Do not fail, but if you fail, we still back you.” Innovative companies such as Google actively follow this practice, allowing employees to pick projects they are passionate about and work on them to deliver fresh solutions.

Realizing the need to encourage new ideas among employees to enhance patient experience, many healthcare enterprises are instituting innovative strategies. Henry Ford System, for example, began a system of rewarding great employee ideas. One internal contest was around clinical applications for wearable technology. The incentive was particularly attractive – a cash prize of $ 10,000 to the winners. Not surprisingly, the employees came up with some very innovative ideas that included: a system to record mobility of acute care patients through wearable trackers, health reminder system for elderly patients and mobile game interface with activity trackers to encourage children towards exercising. The employees admitted later that the exercise was so interesting that they would have participated in it even without a cash prize incentive.

Another example is Penn Medicine in Philadelphia which launched an ‘innovation tournament’ across the organization as part of its efforts to improve patient care. Participants worked with professors from Wharton Business School to prepare for the ideas challenge. More than 1,750 ideas were submitted by 1,400 participants, out of which 10 were selected. The focus was on getting ideas around the front end and some of the submitted ideas included:

  • Check-out management: Exclusive waiting rooms with TV, Internet and other facilities for patients waiting to be discharged so as to reduce space congestion and make their waiting time more comfortable.
  • Space for emotional privacy: An exclusive and friendly space for individuals and families to mourn the loss of dear ones in private.
  • Online patient organizer: A web based app that helps first time patients prepare better for their appointment by providing check lists for documents, medicines, etc to be carried and giving information regarding the hospital navigation, the consulting doctor etc.
  • Help for non-English speakers: Iconography cards to help non-English speaking patients express themselves and seek help in case of emergencies or other situations.

As Arlen Meyers, MD, President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs, says in a report, although many good ideas come from the front line, physicians must also be encouraged to think innovatively about patient experience. An academic study also builds a strong case to encourage intrapreneurship among nurses. Given they comprise a large part of the front-line staff for healthcare delivery, nurses should also be given the freedom to create and design innovative systems for improving patient experience.

According to a Harvard Business Review article quoted in a university study, employees who have the potential to be intrapreneurs, show some marked characteristics. These include a sense of ownership, perseverance, emotional intelligence and the ability to look at the big picture along with the desire, and ideas, to improve it. But trust and support of the management is essential to bringing out and taking the ideas forward.

Creating an environment conducive to innovation is the first step to bringing about innovation-driven outcomes. These were just some of the insights on healthcare management gleaned from the Hospital Leadership Summit hosted by Abbott. In over 150 countries, Abbott, which is among the top 100 global innovator companies, is working with hospitals and healthcare professionals to improve the quality of health services.

To read more content on best practices for hospital leaders, visit Abbott’s Bringing Health to Life portal here.

This article was produced on behalf of Abbott by the marketing team and not by the editorial staff.