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The Seminole Indians called it “Pa-hay-okee”…Grassy Water!

September 19, 2012

Those familiar with Florida will know that “Alligator Alley” is a local name for the section of Interstate 75 that traverses the State from Naples/Marco Island on the west coast to Ft Lauderdale/Miami on the east coast. It is 100 straight, flat miles of boring Interstate. For as far as the eye can see there is Saw Grass and Cypress and near still water, a swamp. Saw Grass is the short stubby plant with razor sharp fronds piercing the sky and leaving the impression of a never ending prairie. The Cypress’, on the other hand, are tall and stately, clumped together in small patches of forest that breaks the prairie-like landscape. This is The Big Cypress and the Everglades of South Florida.

I’ve driven this stretch of interstate many times. And like many others, I have done so at rather alarmingly fast speeds in an attempt to minimize the time spent looking at the unchanging landscape. On many of these occasions, I have found myself wondering why tourists and environmentalists find this place, the Everglades, so interesting and important. Some even speak of it with reverence calling it the “River of Grass”. Which is a description crafted by Marjory Stoneman Douglas in her book “The Everglades, River of Grass” published over 60 years ago in 1947.

I knew I must be missing something that was special about this place. I decided to read the book.

My first surprise was the books length – 390 pages! Now, I was determined to read it and find out what anyone could possibly say about grass that would require 390 pages. I’m overwhelming glad I did. For in the “short” 390 pages, the “River of Grass” comes alive. I experienced its complexity, diversity, fragility and learned of its history and place in the lives of the Indian, the explorer, the conqueror and modern man. The words on those 390 pages enabled me to see and hear and smell the place. It was an extraordinary experience that has touched me in many ways.

My previous encounters with the Everglades had been speeding through as I hurriedly made my way from point “A” to point “B”. I barely looked as I careened by what became only a blur of Saw Grass and Cypress. But things will be different the next time. I am anxious to stop to see and hear and smell and ultimately fully experience the place and all its nuances.

Until I can do that – visit the Everglades in a more appreciative way – I can take the lessons this book has taught me and use them in my present circumstance. I will remember to slow down and look for the subtleties that make a boring passage or a routine task ever interesting and informative.

 As I travel around the country visiting healthcare organizations large and small, some focused on acute care and others with a commitment to the longer term needs of the patient or resident in Long Term Care facilities, I will slow down. I will listen more carefully when you speak to me; I will watch more attentively when you walk me through your world; I will appreciate the importance of the places and people you introduce me to; I will take the time to understand your challenges and in doing so I believe we will both benefit.

In today’s fast paced, demanding healthcare industry, it may be time for us all to slow down and take a deeper look at the nuances of our routine tasks. For example: If the act of staffing has become an activity where speedily getting from point “A” to point “B” is more important than taking care and using the right tools and technologies to ensure you create high functioning teams with the best available skills for the job and distributing the work fairly and equitably than it’s time to slow down. It’s time to take a more detailed look at what is between points “A” and “B”. I think you’ll have a whole new appreciation for the complexity and importance of the work, as well as, a better understanding of the importance of the right tools and technologies.

Amazing what reading 390 pages about “grass” can do to a person!

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