Achieving Flow In The Face of Near Death: My Recent Experience


I had one of those major mind focusing events over the past three weeks.

I collapsed on the evening of Sunday, 16th February for 15 seconds and then went into an extraordinary conscious ventricular tachycardia at 200 bpm. The ambulance crew were astounded that I was conscious. The trick was flow – I’ve been a proponent since my youth when I was an elite athlete and serious surfer. I managed to pull myself into the zone and maintained this on the journey to the hospital. En route a code 3 had been called and I was greeted at Royal North Shore Emergency by a crack team of 15 doctors. I was still at 170 bpm and they were literally just about to stop my heart and try to shock me out of the tachycardia, when to their amazement I self reverted down to 70 bpm. I’d like to say it was flow again, but my humility refuses and I dare not say I purposefully did that all myself.

I was very lucky. This conscious VT event took place at home and my quick thinking family called 000 immediately. That morning I’d done a stand up paddling training session alone and in the dark, with no safety devices. And the next morning I was scheduled to fly to New Zealand on business. If this event had happened in the air or out on the water I’d very likely not be having this dialogue.

After a series of extensive tests, the specialists determined the best course of action for me would be the insertion of an implantable cardioverter defribrillator. The plumbing of my heart reflected my super fit status, but for some reason the electrics were out of whack.

I had the device installed on Thursday, and on Friday afternoon I walked out of intensive care for the first time in a week and into a private room for recuperation. I felt like a new man, but this feeling was shortlived. Unfortunately a clot had developed and within fifteen minutes my speech slurred and I lost all feeling on my right hand side. Again I was very lucky, as my wife noticed the signs of a stroke immediately and called the medical staff who jumped into action. It was a very scary feeling and not one I’d like to repeat. Within about 20 minutes I began to get feeling back, again to the amazement and relief of the medical staff and my family. I’d had a mini stroke or transient ischemic attack and the clot had moved through my brain.

I again found myself in Emergency and it was established that while I had about 85% recovered from the stroke there was still a strong possibility of further clots. I was given a thrombolysis – a very powerful procedure that reversed all effects of the stroke and broke up any other clots. This was a very intense six hours as there was the possibility of a haematoma developing on the brain.

I made it through that phase, but a haematoma did develop around my defib wound site. I spent another week in intensive care and returned home on Saturday 1st March. The haematoma developed some complications and a week later I was operated on to drain the site – the fear being infection. I remained in hospital on intravenous antibiotics and was discharged on Monday, 10th March.

All through this experience I was thinking about flow, performance and optimizing human development, aided in part by reading Steven Kotler’s book, The Rise of the SuperMan.

Commenting on my experience, Steve says, “It ┬ádid seem like you’ve moved through fight or flight and into flow – a very difficult thing to do, so you have some mad skills!”

This whole episode has got me really thinking hard about what I do with my life once I’ve recuperated. I know I have been given a gift, a second chance, and I also know that I’ve adopted a new mantra, GO BIG.

I’m still working this all through, processing and thinking about what I do next. I’m going to have some interesting conversations over the coming weeks.

How To Win In Mobile Health

Analysts are predicting huge growth in the mobile health applications arena. However, I believe the market is chasing its tail and it is only those players who are bold enough to venture beyond the status quo and seek step change innovation who will succeed.

Firstly, what are the analysts saying:

  • PricewaterhouseCoopers states that 40% of adults in America would be willing to pay for mHealth apps, valuing this market at $7.7bn;
  • McKinsey’s found consumers have a high propensity towards paying for such services as a phone doctor. Their estimates put the US market at $20bn and worldwide at $50bn; and
  • Deloitte uncovered a desire amongst 50% of the consumers they surveyed to have access to a personal monitoring device that will act as a health coach, guiding them to make improvements to their health.

Drilling down, Juniper Research expects mobile remote patient monitoring to be a $2bn market by 2014 and Parks Associates believes wireless home health monitoring will be a $4.4bn market by 2013.

All in all, if the analysts are correct, this is a sizeable opportunity.

What though, is the right model for achieving success in this market?

Jane Sarasohn-Khan has some interesting insights in this respect. Traditionally, consumers rely heavily on some form of medical aid to cover all or some of their medical costs. She says, “When it comes to mobile health, consumers aren’t yet connecting the dots towards “my health” and value.”

She believes that it is perhaps better to be asking consumers not what they’d pay for a mobile health app, but instead, “What’s your health worth to you?”

I think she is right, but only partially. My theory is that we need to turn the entire health + mobile app paradigm on its head.

Let me explain what I mean by way of an example from the bricks and mortar end of the healthcare spectrum. Healthcare these days is more sickcare: 70% of the total healthcare cost is spent on the management of chronic diseases.

Faced with this reality and the desire to set up a new hospital, Nancy Schlichting, the CEO of the Henry Ford Health System, made an interesting choice. She recruited one of the world’s most successful hoteliers, Gerard van Grinsven, to design and run the new hospital in the township of West Bloomfield, which lies within the metropolitan area of Detroit, Michigan.

Gerard was previously a VP with the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, and freely admits that prior to his appointment in 2006 he had no exposure to the health industry. Yet there he was, tasked with bringing to fruition a 300-bed, $310m hospital.

Rather than following in the footsteps of countless other hospitals he took his inspiration from the Blue Ocean Strategy theory that to succeed you need to differentiate yourself so much from your competitors that you make them obsolete and force them to change. He wanted to create the Cirque du Soleil of healthcare.

His research uncovered that in healthcare 90% of the purchasing power lies with women. He also found that women are not satisfied with traditional medical care, they want programs that help them in their physical and mental well being.

Armed with this knowledge he set out to challenge the entire industry by creating an entirely new vision that would position his new facility in a completely different way. His premise was that rather than treating chronic health, a hospital should be more of a healing campus and their role within the community should be one of a health coach.

They set out to create an environment in which healthy people actually want to come to their facility to partake in activities and programs that will help them to stay healthy.

The result: the Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital is more of a community centre for well being than a typical hospital. For example, the main entrance looks nothing like a traditional hospital entrance. Drawing on his hotel industry insight that first impressions are what it is all about, Gerard created a northern Michigan small town main street effect – lots of activity, lots of nature coming in. In essence, the main entrance communicates wellness.

There is a wellness institute with 11 healing rooms, a body and mind studio, water therapies and alternative medicine practitioners. There is a 90 seat auditorium with a state of the art kitchen line that does cooking classes for people with diabetes, cancer, and heart conditions, but also for healthy people wanting to stay that way.

There is a retail space. There is a healthy cafe that seats 300 people a day, 300 people who come there for the food and ambience, not because they are visiting a clinic. Walking and biking paths are being built on the surrounding acres to let the community come and play. And finally, they are creating a Culinary Learning Institute for Healthcare in which they intend to teach other hospital chefs how to positively change their food culture.

Gerard believed his obligation was to change the way healthcare is delivered by really focusing on how they could become a health coach.

It seems he has succeeded. The hospital became cash flow positive after 12 months, has an extremely high retention rate amongst its 1,800 staff and is rated in the top 1% of hospitals in the United States.

I find Gerard’s story totally inspirational. For me the trick is taking this analogy and applying it to mHealth applications. I hope that as we explore this exciting arena you’ll keep Henry Ford in the back of your mind.