Wednesday, October 19, 2016

"SickKids VS; Undeniable" Battle On!!!!

Many years ago when Susan and I began the adoption process, we were fortunate to take some courses on adoption that were very useful in understanding the process and issues surrounding adoption.  We were also trained in the use of politically correct language as it relates to adoption.  Common phrases that we may hear is why did your “birth mom” give up her child for adoption.  In our course we learned that this is not appropriate terminology.  The correct thing to say is that a birth mom made an “adoption plan.”  When we heard this we agreed that it was more appropriate and didn't give it a second thought.  In the years since we often hear from family and friends that use the “give up” terminology.  This does not bother us because these are our family and friends and we know they have no ill intent.  After all, they didn't take the course!

Recently, SickKids in Toronto has made a promotional video entitled “SickKids vs Undeniable.”  Some folks within my circle of health care advocacy have expressed some concerns about the aggressive nature of the video.  Yes…the video is intense.  It shows battle scenes and is very aggressive in nature.  It sends a message of children battling their disease, such as cancer, liver disease, autism etc.  

How did I feel watching the video?  Honestly, I could completely relate to the chaotic, violent, and graphic nature of the content.  Keep in mind that my experience in health care is not common or ordinary.  I look at this video through that lens and my perception is very different than most.  There were times when we were in hospital and intensive care that it felt very much like the video portrays.  A sensory onslaught.  An onslaught that resembles the reality of our experience.  Keep in mind that many people are intimidated by the sights, smells, and experiences that are faced by very sick children, in critical care units, every day.  Signs above my son's bed would read “Skin Closed – Chest Open” coupled with a mass of wires and infusions.  Our reality was not pleasant in the least.  It was not only our child; it was a room full of children.  Some of the sickest children in Western Canada.  Yes, many times my wife and I would walk to the hospital to “do battle” and I recall specifically using those words.

Battle Metaphors

One of my favourite books is “Band of Brothers” by Stephen Ambrose.  It was also made into an HBO mini-series several years ago.  It is based on the World War 2 experiences of E Company of the American 506th PIR.  It chronicles the experiences of a company of men from basic training to the completion of the war, in 1945.  Specifically, it shows the bond that forms between people as they face adversity together.  The title “Band of Brothers” comes from Shakespeare’s HenryV as the English King addresses his armies prior to the battle of Agincourt.  This quote echoed in my head many times as we camped beside my son’s bed in PICU and observed all of the chaos around us.  We were not alone but with our own “Band of Brothers” in that PICU.  Parents and children who sat on the brink of life.  We watched and observed as some families lost their battle while some had remarkable successes.  There was nothing fair or equitable about that environment.  We had conversations with Moms and Dads that only we could understand because we had been there.  The quote from Henry V became very real to me:

From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother
-St Crispin’s Day Speech – Henry V

For many of us who have been through horrific medical experiences, with our children, we do share a common bond.  We have many shared experiences and our humour can be “dark” and probably not fit for public consumption.  We talk about when our children “coded” or when they had “unspeakable” procedures performed on them. A bond forms, and it is this bond between families that we found so important and why I am such a big supporter of peer support. To this day we still keep in touch with some of these families that we "went to war" with.

Watching the SickKids video sparked some of those memories for me.  I know that there are people who are taking exception to this video, and I do agree that it is edgy and graphic.  Some take exception to the use of “war” metaphors being used.  I understand their concern but I respectfully disagree.  We all cope in different ways and we should be giving families tools to cope with their situations and not taking coping mechanisms away.

For those of us who have been through some of the most horrifying experiences in health care.  I think we've earned the right to use any metaphor we want to.  I have on several occasions used the quote from Henry V, which I shared above, because that was something that resonated with me.  We all process these experiences differently.  As human beings we have been given the gift of emotions.  We can be compassionate, respectful, thankful, express sorrow, and yes we even get angry and aggressive.  We use our emotions to cope with many of life’s difficulties.  The problem is when we resort to only using only one or just a few of our emotions.  We need to find that balance. 

Why Make this Video?

I think the video from SickKids has a place and a specific purpose but it is also important to realize it’s limitations.  Yes, there are sometimes we need to muster up our courage, play heavy metal as loud as we can, and scream at the top of our lungs.  The SickKids video has that vibe.  It is also important to realize that at times we also need to be quiet, empathetic, respectful, and be reflective.   As I have done some reading on the video and where it has been used, I understand that it has been shown prior to a hockey game at Air Canada Centre in Toronto.  Probably an appropriate venue.  It also would not be appropriate to play it at a remembrance ceremony.  We need to use some common sense.  This video is certainly not for everyone and every venue.

I also wonder who the target market is for the video?  Several years ago, at a CAPHC/CFAN workshop one topic came up that I found very interesting.  How do we engage more fathers in health care.  Many of the people who volunteer on parent councils and committees tend to be female.  Getting Dads involved is a real issue.  Do you not think that the SickKids video is aimed at a male audience? I do.

I also think that making a “controversial” video is a clear marketing strategy.  It has certainly sparked a few conversations.  As of this morning the “SickKids VS: Undeniable” video has received 299K views.  The next most watched video is 171K and 21K respectively.  It is certainly garnering a lot of attention.  Perhaps that was the intent all along.

What Really Matters

As I started this blog I related an experience we had during our adoption experience.  How people use terminology every day that isn’t quite appropriate but because they don’t have our experience they don’t realize it is inappropriate.  In cases like this I choose to look at the intent of what they are trying to say and take the good out of the conversation.  I am concerned that some in the patient advocacy and health care ethics world are reading far too much into this video.  I don’t get a great deal of benefit in micro analyzing every visual in this video.  I think we as a society spend far too much time on issues of political correctness and far too little time on actually problem solving.  In my case I could identify with the video from our own experience.  It resonates.  I understand that others may not feel the same way.  That is the uniqueness of the patient experience.  The patient experience is unique for each one of us; that doesn't give us license to look down on someone else because their perception or experience is different than our own. 


  1. Pardon my lack of Menno but "Holy fuck" that video moved me. So did your words Donald. Well said.
    Daryl Ramage

  2. Thanks can we try to keep my blog PG 13! lol