My friend Randi Redmond Oster started with a problem and turned it into a dream, which she is now making come true. The problem was that her teenage son was repeatedly hospitalized for a misdiagnosed disease, and Randi had no idea how to challenge the medical profession in order the get the best care for her son. A former GE engineer with an MBA, Randi decided to apply some of her problem-solving skills together with her motivational skills, with amazing results. The book she wrote about her experience is called Questioning Protocol. It’s very readable, with plenty of first hand stories, and also provides a step by step guide as to how to have this success if confronted with a large medical bureaucracy. So successful has the book been, that Randi is now asked to speak around the country, both to people on the receiving end of care, and to hospitals who want to improve their communication with patients.
GC: Randi, having had the experience of helping your son, what made you think of writing a book about it?
RRO: As my son sat on his hospital bed waiting and waiting for a doctor, I started to question the processes to build confidence for a patient. We were in a whirlwind; spun around by new people entering and exiting Gary’s hospital room. When a doctor that I never met finally showed up, I realized I’d probably only have 10 minutes of her time. I set expectations quickly by telling her I wanted to be involved in every non-life threatening medical decision. The next day she put my son on steroids without telling me. At that point, I decided to record every step of the process. I wrote a journal with the goal to identify process improvements for the hospital from the patient perspective. In GE I was trained to build high performing teams. I implemented these skills to build a high-performing medical team focused on my son. After recording a couple of days of hospital interactions, I realized my journal could help both the medical community understand the patient perspective and individuals could learn the tips, tools and techniques I leveraged from my corporate experience. My mission was born.
GC:How long did it take from having the first word on the page to holding a book in your hands?
RRO: Three years. Three long years. It took me 18 months to write the book. I worked full-time on the manuscript. Every week I’d review what I wrote with my editor, Carol Dannhauser. We’d meet at 7:30AM in a local Starbucks and go over every word of the story. She said if we’d get through 7 pages in one hour, the work was excellent. In our first session, she reviewed only 2 pages. She really helped me find my voice and tell the story. With time, I got better and better at writing and by the end we easily would be able to review 7 pages in an hour. In a couple of sessions, I hit 10 pages! Once the manuscript was done, she sent me away for a week to reread and revise the entire book. I spent a week in Lenox, Massachusetts at a bed and breakfast and worked 12 hours a day. I took the manuscript to Edith Wharton’s gardens and poured over the pages. I visited the Normal Rockwell museum and sat on a veranda and gazed at the hillsides as I red-lined and shifted paragraphs. I hiked up to the top of Mount Greylock and sat on a picnic bench with a 360 degree vista of mountains and searched for meaningful words to describe the hospital experience. At the end of the week, I gave Carol back the updated manuscript and then she re-edited the entire work. When we were done, it then took another 18 months to get the book published.
GC: Did you ever get discouraged?
RRO: No. But, I think because I was so determined to help others learn from my experience. Nothing was going to stop me. Any obstacles I hit, I’d find someone to teach me.
GC: Have you always been a writer?
RRO: No – Far from it. I am an engineer by education. I avoided papers in college. My MBA helped me write for a business audience but I mostly did PowerPoint presentations. People often told me I tell a good story and they’d say, “You should write a book.” When I left GE, I decided to take a writing class. I spent 8 years in writing classes. The last three, I took a memoir class with Carol, my editor. In the class, she taught me to be truthful on the page. She’d give us prompt and 10 minutes to write a response. The topics were personal and sometimes painful to write about. Then we’d read our responses to the group. My deepest secrets were being shared with strangers. I’d see their eyes as I read out loud life events that I kept hidden. They could totally judge me and discuss it right in front of me. At times, I wanted to drop the class. I didn’t understand how this exercise would make me a better writer. But, I as I read my innermost secrets, I saw people were more understanding than I expected. The more open I was the more others felt confident to share as well. I realized that as hard as it is sometimes to expose ourselves, when we share our truths we can really help others. As I wrote Questioning Protocol the memoir class really helped me be truthful on the page. I no longer worried what other people would think.
You can find out more about Randi and her book here