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Getting the patient's perspective

Doctors, nurses listen at forums

WINCHESTER -- Carol Eaton said she felt "impending doom" on her way home from the hairdresser one afternoon 10 months ago.

The 51-year-old mother of two from Bedford is usually the type to shake off minor aches, but something about that day made her stop. Instead of the gym, she drove home, shut her dog in a back bedroom, unlocked the front door and called 911.

When the ambulance arrived, the self-assured nurse was suddenly on the other side of her profession, depending on hulking EMTs to pound life back into her. She suffered a massive heart attack and it took 12 shocks of a defibrillator to stabilize her.

Eaton recently told her story to a rapt audience of doctors and nurses in a crowded conference room at Winchester Hospital. Over coffee and buzzing beepers, the point was to use Eaton's experience to review "best practices" and how to cope with trauma from a patient's point of view.

Other such meetings have sprung up across New England as part of the Kenneth B. Schwartz Center's Rounds Program. The nonprofit center was founded by Kenneth Schwartz at Massachusetts General Hospital in 1995, days before he died of lung cancer. Schwartz, a healthcare lawyer, made the center's mission advancing compassionate healthcare through strengthening relationships between doctors and patients. Now "the rounds," which bring issues for discussion not just to doctors but all the professions, from orderlies to PhDs, are growing in popularity, said Julie Rosen, executive director of the Schwartz Center. "There is no other forum across which all different groups of caregivers can connect with one another," said Rosen. "The rounds really remind doctors, nurses, social workers, all the medical professionals, why they got into healthcare in the first place. It makes them feel part of the team and renews their appreciation for patients."

For Eaton, it was the first time she had spoken publicly about her near-death experience to a room full of professionals who had rarely, if ever, been patients themselves. Eaton has worked as a nurse at Emerson Hospital in Concord, Winchester Hospital, and Mass. General.

The Schwartz Center Rounds have traveled to 110 sites in 26 states, reaching 26,000 medical professionals and covering topics from coping with the death of a child to breaking bad news to a family.

The hospital is just one of dozens in Massachusetts that have participated in the Schwartz rounds, which are funded by donations. Emerson Hospital, Hallmark Health Systems at Lawrence Memorial and Melrose-Wakefield hospitals, Lahey Clinic in Burlington, and Life Care Center of Nashoba Valley in Littleton have also held forums.

Eaton and her sister Janet Lusk, who attended the forum, recalled that it was hard to think clearly when faced with a personal trauma. While because of their professions they felt they should have understood the science and the bleak prognosis, because it was personal, they simply couldn't comprehend it, Eaton said.

"Looking at that monitor, I knew I was a mess," said Eaton, who said she does not remember the almost two days of treatment. She said she does remember the teams of doctors, specialists, and nurses helping her strike a balance between faith and science, and working with Eaton's family to help her fight bouts of depression.

"Coming face to face with something like this, it makes you face your own mortality. I think about that and don't sweat the small stuff ," said Eaton.

Melissa Beecher can be reached at