Last Sunday (19 May) I was asked to chair a ‘Question and Answer’ session at the Auckland Readers and Writers Festival with a remarkable woman called Masha Gessen.
Masha is a Russian/American journalist and author, and has published a much celebrated biography of Russian President, Vladimir Putin, and the creeping dictatorship that has taken over Russia in the last few years.
This is a woman who has been a war correspondent in Chechnya and the Balkans and has seen friends and colleagues, who have been critics of Putin, either jailed or assassinated. And yet despite the fact that she now lives in Moscow with a young family, Masha has continued to be an outspoken critic of Putin, despite all the challenges that brings. It was a huge privilege to meet and spend time with such an amazing and courageous women, who everyday faces the kind of challenges and threats that we can’t imagine in NZ, and yet she still has the energy and power to speak out.
If Masha’s life wasn’t challenging enough, she discovered at age 37 that she had the BRCA1 gene mutation, which gave her an 87% risk of breast cancer and a 40%-50% chance of ovarian cancer. Faced with a life changing decision, Masha made the brave choice to have a double mastectomy. If you have the time, check out her book called Blood Matters: A Journey Along the Genetic Frontier which accounts for her own journey with BRCA1.
While I find stories like Masha’s inspiring and motivating, it can also be humbling to know that whatever challenges we may face in our lives, it’s unlikely to be anything like the challenges Masha has encountered throughout her life and continues to face today. What I have learnt however is that true courage comes not from the situation we are in, but from how we respond to the challenges that come our way, whether it be in our personal lives or at work.
We have all had those days where we are under the hammer, the hospital is full and we are trying to do the best we can under enormous pressure. While it can be a tough environment to work in, we must continue to focus and keep the ‘granny test’ at the forefront of our minds and provide a standard of care to our community that we can all feel proud of and that we would want for our own families.
To underpin this, I’d like to share a piece of news from the latest Health Round Table figures. For the last 6 months, CM Health has had the lowest standardised mortality rate for hospitals of our size and acuity in Australasia. The fact that we can achieve this result, while working in a busy and challenging work environment, is an utter nugget of excellence and worth celebrating.
So whereas I can’t hope to challenge dictators, and I won’t experience the kind of genetic challenge that Masha experienced, just meeting and talking to her for a couple of hours instilled in me her extraordinary act of courage and faith in the future. It also made me think that in our small part of the world we are also showing great courage and faith for a better future and should take pride in the victories, big and small, that we achieve along the way.