n of one

Being Canadian, I often apologize in my presentations to health professionals.  I apologize specifically for not having any data.  I have no numbers.  None. Zilch.  Zero.  I have only stories in my arsenal of speaking notes.

I talk purely in words, complemented by best practice in patient centred care.  Best practice is, of course, based on research, and I shove it in there so I’m not heckled by the left brains in the crowd.

I do speak to other patients and families to collect their stories for an audience.  I share a beautiful story from a mom whose son was in PICU, and another about a lovely experience in the Emergency Department.   But basically, I am an n of 1, not a statistically significant sample.

The United States of Metrics is a recent New York Times essay written by Bruce Feiler.  He talks about the rise of numbers.  This is a fascinating piece, with this interesting point:

Every generation gets the gurus it craves. Ours include Malcolm Gladwell, Daniel Kahneman, Brené Brown, Jim Collins, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, Dan Gilbert, Dan Pink, Dan Ariely and Nate Silver. What do they all have in common? They use research to tackle issues that were once the provenance of poets, theologians and philosophers. (Also, there’s a 40 percent chance they’re named Dan.)

Now I love love love Brené Brown, but I love her for her personal stories, not for her background as a researcher.  But she understands that the world values numbers over words, and her PhD gives her credibility to share stories with her audiences.

As a mom in the health system, I also tell stories about being vulnerable and fragile, but my credibility comes from being “just” a mom. Often conference organizers want my academic credentials for the program, and I laughingly give them:  Sue Robins, Mom, BA (English).

The United States of Metrics points out that while data has given us order, it also can rob us of creativity and joy.  I had a serious stint where I counted every calorie of everything I consumed.  Believe me, there’s no quicker way to kill the pleasure that is eating than to collect and document the energy value of food.

When my husband I go for a walk, he turns on the GPS Lady, who squawks at us every kilometre, telling us how fast we have walked.  I’d rather concentrate on the scenery and chirping birds than counting my every step.  (My husband, an accomplished IT guy, begs to differ.  He loves the data, the metadata and any infographics that might go along with the data).  For me, GPS Lady kills the joy of a simple walk, and turns it into an information gathering experience, an unnecessary research project.

Has change happened in this world because of data?  Maybe it has.  But I have a feeling that change has really happened one story at a time.  Disclaimer:  This is just a gut feeling, though, an instinct.  I have no data to back that claim up. 



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