My Great American Adventure – For Carola

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Written by Yvonne Coghill, Senior Programme Lead for Inclusion at the NHS Leadership Academy

Yvonne Coghill continues her journey to focus on diversity issues. In this latest blog series, Yvonne visits the Institute of Health Improvement (IHI) in Boston, USA. This is the ninth part in the series. 

I think I explained in an earlier blog that every Monday morning at the IHI they have an all staff meeting. It’s great because people can talk about the work they have been doing and what the aim for the coming week(s). It is fully inclusive and energises the team. Everyone attends, providing they are in the building, and many people that are not there dial in. At my first meeting a few weeks ago, I met a woman by the name of Carola Eisenberg, she was incredibly friendly and warm in her welcome. Carola is a ‘friend ‘ of the IHI and attends the Monday morning meetings as often as she can. On that particular morning, the entire IHI staff sang happy birthday to Carola as she had just celebrated her 95th birthday!

To say that she is an amazing woman is an understatement. Carola was originally from Argentina, arriving in America in 1945. She is a Doctor and a proponent of human rights, in fact, she was the co-founder of an organisation entitled Physicians for human rights. She has been actively supporting the human rights agenda for over 70 years of her life. If you look her up you will be as astonished as I was at all that she has achieved in her life So when I was invited along with the Quality Improvement Fellows to visit Carola at home I jumped at the chance to hear more about her life and her achievements. Yesterday, three of the fellows and four members of the IHI staff went to visit Carola. It was an enlightening and heart-warming experience. At 95, Carola’s wit and intellect are as sharp as ever, she has a wicked sense of humour and is incredibly knowledgeable about all sorts of things. Just being in her presence was uplifting and inspiring. On the way home it really got me to think about elderly people and how some older people like Carola are clearly very contented with the life they have led. Carola said that she had been lucky in her life, I have been told on numerous occasions that people make their own luck and probably for the first time I could see that this is absolutely the case. It wasn’t luck that has enabled Carola to have so many friends and family around her, or that she is still invited to parties and gatherings and that people love being in her company. People like being with her because of who she is, how she’s lived her life and her values. This isn’t to say that she hasn’t had difficult moments in her life; she talks with sadness about the loss of her two husbands and how hard it was to leave Argentina, but she rejoices at the amazing things that have happened in her life, her two children and the many people she has taught and become friendly with. She is still interested and wants to contribute to supporting people.

The fact that Carola walks with a wheeled Zimmer frame and that she has back pain a lot of the time, are not things that stop her from enjoying life to the full. She shares her home with a young Spanish student called Gabrielle, they laugh together and keep each other company. She is also an integral and important part of the IHI and is seen by the many young people that work here (average age of the IHI workforce is 34) as inspirational and engaging, her obvious interest and delight in getting to know everyone by asking insightful and searching questions in a way that makes you feel special is a unique and wonderful gift. When Carola shines her light on you, it makes you feel totally uplifted.

The importance of listening to older people and holding them in high esteem is something that comes naturally in many cultures; it’s something that we seem to have lost here, many older people live alone and don’t have the support networks to enable them to live the rest of their lives in peace and contentment. It is a blessing to live a long and productive life. It’s an even greater blessing to still be able to inspire and enthuse people. With those attributes you will always have people around you that love and care for you whatever age you are.

Follow Yvonne on Twitter @YvonneCoghill1