Connect or Die: The Surprising Power of Human Relationships | Starla Fitch | TEDxFargo

Connect or Die: The Surprising  Power of Human Relationships | Starla Fitch | TEDxFargo

Translator: Robert Tucker
Reviewer: Cristina Bufi-Pöcksteiner You may think you have 20/20 vision, or at least you may think
you could pass an eye test. But I’m going to challenge
you on that today, and say that it’s likely
you may not be seeing clearly at all. I’m an ophthalmologist, and today I want to help you understand how the way you see others
may be endangering your life. You may not actually have
a diagnosis of cataract, glaucoma, or macular degeneration, but I guarantee that the way you view others
is distorted in the same way. And without clear vision –
and I’m not talking 20/20 – it’s impossible to connect with others. We need more than our eyes to truly see. I want to start by telling you
about a friend of mine, Joe. Joe is a scrub tech in my operating room. A scrub tech’s job is to get
the instruments ready for surgery and hand the surgeon what they need. Sometimes they’re mind readers, and they hand you things
before you even know you need them. In my hospital, there had been
some changes: cutbacks, layoffs. They even took away the coffee pot
in the nurses’ station. Morale spiraled downward. The staff became discouraged,
distant, on the edge of burnout. I’d been through burnout myself,
so I knew what that was like, and I was looking for a way to help me
and my team with burnout and negativity. I decided to start a gratitude practice
in the operating room. I told my team that every day we were going to each name
three things we were grateful for. At first I got pushed back … big time! I would see them in the hallway
making fun of me. They would be, “Oh, you’re assigned
to Dr Fitch’s room today? Good luck with that. You got your grateful list ready?” But soon nurses who weren’t even assigned to my room
would pop their heads in with their three things. Anesthesiologists would text in
their gratitudes from satellite locations. The positive energy was palpable. One day, Joe came in
to give another scrub tech a break. When it was his turn to name
the three things he was grateful for, he just shook his head
and said he couldn’t do it. Huh!? At first I let it go. And then I said, “Wait a minute, let’s all just name three things
we’re grateful for about Joe.” And we found out Joe is the one who came in and brought
the warm blankets for the patients every morning. And Joe was the one that stayed late
getting the rooms ready for the next day. After we’d shared our gratitudes with Joe, I felt like we’d really gotten
a glimpse of him. And he gave me this little half nod. I thought he might be smiling
under his surgical mask. I couldn’t tell for sure, but his eyes were crinkling
like he might be. The way Joe was seeing things that day is similar to how people see
when they have a cataract. When you look at your loved one’s face
and you have a cataract, you can see their face completely, but it’s hazy,
a bit like a Monet painting. Actually, it’s exactly
like a Monet painting because Monet had cataracts. (Laughter) I’m just saying … (Laughter) And the way Joe was acting that day, it’s like he was surrounded
by a gauzy cotton layer, he wasn’t really connecting. And then there’s my patient Mary. Mary came in with a persistent
bump on her eyelid. She thought it was a sty. I knew as soon as I walked in
that wasn’t a sty. That bump said “cancer”
from across the room. I walked in and started talking to Mary. I looked at her eyelid, and I started drawing her a little picture
of the surgery I thought she needed. I told her I didn’t like the looks of it,
and it could be cancer. I know as soon as I say that word,
patients go numb and stop listening. As I was talking to Mary
and answering her questions, I tried to ignore the lights that were flashing
out of the corner of my eye. See, in our office, when another patient
has been waiting ten minutes, lights flash steadily. When that patient’s been
waiting 20 minutes, the lights flash twice as fast. Thirty minutes later,
Mary decided to have her surgery. You can picture how Mary’s day was going. Now, picture the three other patients
who were waiting to see me. Each in the exam rooms, all with their lights
flashing double-time. Now I’m in trouble
before I even get started with them. If you’ve ever waited
in your doctor’s office for maybe 10, 20 minutes, you can picture how Eric’s day was going. Eric was one of the patients
waiting that day. When I walked in
apologizing for the delay, Eric was pissed. (Laughter) “Phew,” he said, “You doctors think
your time is more valuable than mine. I’ve been waiting 25 minutes
and I’m going to bill you for that.” (Sotto voce) Phew! The way Eric was seeing things that day, it reminds me of how people see
when they have glaucoma. When you look at your loved ones face
and you have glaucoma, you can see most of their face
but you can’t always see the edges, and you can’t see
the surroundings very well. All Eric was seeing is me, and how I was the problem
and the cause of the delay. He couldn’t possibly see the surroundings, and how Mary, and her cancer,
something much more important, was really going on. And then … there’s me. Even as an ophthalmologist,
I don’t always see clearly. Last Friday, I did surgery
on my sweet elderly patient, Mrs Brown. When I finished, I went
to the waiting area to find her husband. I found him all right. He was sitting over in the corner, arms tied across his chest,
a big old frown on his face. I came in and said everything went fine,
his wife was doing great. He didn’t say a word,
and he didn’t even quit frowning. I kept talking, but the whole time
I was thinking, “What the heck? The surgery went fine,
his wife is doing well, we’re not even running late today,
why is he so angry?” I was frustrated with his response. And then I saw a little tear
in the corner of his eye. The way I’d been looking at Mr Brown is similar to how people see
when they have macular degeneration. When you look at your loved one’s face
and you have macular degeneration, you really can’t see their face:
your central vision is distorted. Sometimes you can’t even see
what’s right in front of you. You can usually see the surroundings. What I was seeing when I saw Mr Brown
was his gruff exterior that made him seem angry. I wasn’t seeing his center, his heart, and how, really, he was just worried
about his wife of 43 years, the whole time we were
in the operating room. It wasn’t about me … at all. With our busy lives,
we’re becoming blind to each other. We don’t even look up from our phones
in conversation or at the dinner table. When we have metaphorical cataracts,
glaucoma or macular degeneration, we can’t connect at all. In my personal journey from burnout,
and in my work with others, helping them love medicine again, and helping us all love our lives again, I’ve discovered
that the real gift of sight is that it allows us
to truly see each other and connect. And connection can happen so easily: setting down your cell phone, expressing a gratitude, sharing the best part of your day
with someone you love. And it turns out
connection is good for us: it strengthens our immune system, lets us live longer, and it reduces our anxiety and depression. In fact, lack of social connection
is worse for our health than smoking, obesity,
and high blood pressure. It’s not an exaggeration to say that lack of social
connection can kill us. A couple weeks ago, I was reading
The Wall Street Journal. There’s a new study,
just out by Brigham Young University, that said, “Social isolation increases
our risk of death by 32 percent.” Duke and the University of Arizona
have been watching our connection go down the tubes for 30 years. Thirty years ago, we used to have
at least three close friends. Now we’re lucky
if we have one close friend. And 25 percent of Americans say they have no one, no one
to connect to or depend on. So, that amounts to about 80 million
people in America that have no one. And when I heard that number, I thought, “It’s like grains in the sand. Eighty million, that’s such a big number,
how can we wrap our heads around it?” So, I want you to picture
with me for a minute all the people that live in Texas, California and New York combined. Those are all the people who have no one. Remember Joe, the scrub tech? A couple weeks
after he’d been in our room, the head nurse told us
that Joe had died of metastatic cancer. We didn’t even know he was sick. He’d been afraid to reach out, to connect. He hadn’t let us see him. And all we could say
is that we were grateful that we had connected to him. It changed our team forever. Seeing each other allows us
to be our very best selves. It allows us to show up for each other. And it can allow us to save each other, whether saving each other
happens in the operating room, in the office, at the dinner table, or on the TED stage. In the Natal tribes of South Africa, members greet each other with “Sawubona,” which means, “I see you.” Their response is “Sikhona,” which means, “I am here.” As an ophthalmologist,
and as your connection doctor, I want to teach you how to save lives. So here is my prescription for you: open your eyes, look at each other, and make the connection … today. Sawubona, I see you. (Applause)

Author: Kennedi Daugherty

53 thoughts on “Connect or Die: The Surprising Power of Human Relationships | Starla Fitch | TEDxFargo

  1. Excellent presentation! This is very inspiring and perfectly presented! I just started reading your book, "Remedy for Burnout: 7 Prescriptions Doctors Use to Find Meaning in Medicine." Also excellent! Thanks for all you do!

  2. After hearing this TED talk, I actually feel like together, we can change the world!! Dr. Starla Fitch encourages us to REALLY see each other, and I for one will be looking to connect to others EVERYDAY!   Kudos on an EXCELLENT PRESENTATION!!

  3. Wonderful and inspiring, Dr. Fitch. Relationships are key to our very survival and you have shared wonderful examples that speak to our inter-professional and therapeutic relationships. I AGREE and our entire healthcare system will benefit if we focus more on this tough-to-measure yet powerful truth! I cringed at the flashing lights….I'm just saying!

  4. Such a beautiful talk. I am so glad that you are doing this work in the world with medical professionals, who provide such critical care for us when we most need it. Great job!

  5. Fantastic job, Starla. I love the use of personal stories combined with how those in your stories were seeing others in relation to the various eye conditions you see everyday… really got your point across!

  6. Loved the creative intertwining of vision and personal connection and gratitude to create understanding on an emotional level.

  7. Wonderful talk!!!  Connecting with other people.   Learning empathy by looking through the eyes of others.  What a valuable lesson for us all.  Thanks Dr. Fitch for helping us understand the importance of making that connection!!

  8. Starla. An amazing talk, and presented with love and emotion. Thank you for being who you are. I am honored and privileged to work with you.

  9. I love the tie ins to your physical vision. My mom's vision is impaired. Your talk helped me to understand her disability AND see how it's affecting her figurative vision.

  10. I always appreciate your stories, and this incredibly important topic. I will share this talk with all of my other medical clients, and everyone else who will watch. We all need this.

  11. awesome Talk Starla, my only regret is that I am no longer working with you.  I needed the inspiration for what I am currently doing. so thank you

  12. A very to the heart talk Starla. Thank you for pointing out a few things to me within your talk. Its funny when you know something deep down but when its brought to light your eyes truly are opened. You have a calming voice and will look forward to hearing more from you, Starla.

  13. Courageous and touching, Starla. In my own work as a Coach to healthcare professionals, I often wonder how doctors lost control of healthcare, and how we can get it back. I think at least part of the solution has to do with building real community in which we put our relationships with patients and each other ahead of the usual parochial considerations that have traditionally kept us divided. Thanks for what you do; I think it's great.

  14. Great video Dr Fitch! I appreciate the stats, the emphasis on the value of social connection and love the stories! I'm all about social connection and also actively facilitate it, so I really look forward to sharing this with my community. As a nutritionist I help people with social anxiety and introversion overcome their anxiety with some key nutrients and thereby become more socially connected. I'm South African and really enjoyed the sawubona "I see you" mention!

  15. Love this talk Dr. Starla. Thank you for helping us "see" each other, the power of connection, and the humanity in all of us. Love the work you're doing–in and out of medicine–and can't help but smile every time I see or hear from you. Thanks for sharing the love! xo

  16. Thanks Starla for sharing such an important message. Your wit, humor and compassion are appreciated and so well delivered. Continue the good work and so grateful to have had the opportunity to work with you as we continue to "Love Medicine Again" You're the best, Marla

  17. I am a patient of Dr. Halpern and saw you one time. You stayed late to look at my eye when I started breaking out with shingles close to my eye.  I could tell right away that you were a very caring person.  I really appreciate your video on changing the way we look at people.

  18. Starla…that was beautiful! I wish I'd gotten to know you at CK's events. You are a beautiful soul… Two of my sisters have retinitis pigmentosa…and yet their attitudes about it are remarkable. Thank you for being you. xo

  19. I've watched this multiple times and enjoy it more each time. What a great difference we'd make in patient safety and quality improvement if we worked on connecting more. Connecting would flatten out some of the authority gradient that ends up harming patients. Win. Win. Thank you for your beautiful message. We all benefit from you sharing your gift with the world.

  20. Stumbled across your presentation Starla, and really pleased that I did. In my work, I talk about people "Dying to be heard, literally and metaphorically". My sense is that what we are missing, is being heard, or as you rightly saying, being seen clearly. In spite of the tidal wave towards technically connecting, I, like you, are going against it to get others to see and hear each other more clearly, more deeply, more whole heartedly. Thank you.

  21. Thank you Dr. Starla Fitch MD for writing your outstanding article "Make Work-Life Balance Work for You" for Dentaltown at I also thoroughly enjoyed this TED Talk Connect or Die: The Surprising Power of Human Relationships.
    Dr. Howard Farran
    Phoenix, Arizona, USA
    Founder & CEO of

  22. Well done, great message. Found you and this via Twitter, well worth the time to watch. Thank you!

  23. Human relationships are overrated,most people are a pain in the ass whether it is your partner,boss,schoolmate or coworkers.I find most people boring and fucking annoying.

  24. Excellent analogies with a higher message. The beginning was tense and overly practiced, killing the appearance of organic release, but every word and all connective ideas were understandable. As the message evolved, bringing intellect down and raising up the heart of WE, I knew I heard an excellent speech.

  25. Great talk and may I also say how much I appreciate the positive comments on this chat, keep it up, everyone. Cheers, Dermot-The Celtic Coach

  26. Dr. Fitch this is a powerful talk!!! I appreciate you and the way you utilized different eye disorders as a visual to help people understand how the way a person views a situation can interrupt their perception. I going to share this with everyone I know!!!

  27. We all live in this world for a short time.
    I think we should take the middle road and be not to closed or too open. Personally, I have always been an open person until I started growing up seeing how people judge you and can advantage of things you say.

  28. It's amazing how you can lift people to be possible positive or bring them down to the worst POSSIBLE way. But it starts with you

  29. If you can't be with anyone it's ok too. Just love yourself more. Nothing wrong with being alone just make sure you are strong enough 💪

  30. That 80,000,000 number is staggering and sad. I bet most people assume people they see have friends. I don't see tech changing so people connect more, but hope it does soon.

  31. Sometimes i feel like my thoughts are not worth sharing.
    I am so alone because of that.
    People accept only what they want to hear but not what they need to hear.
    How i speak became more important than what i tell.
    We are not expressing anything about ourselves.
    We are just ACTING.
    We act like students, dentists, teachers, presidents…
    Everyone is asleep on their dream of reality.
    They are not feeling, they are JUST acting…

  32. The 10 commandments are based on our relationship with God and with each other. God used his infinite mind to come up with 10 irrevocable, irrefutable laws of life. And they are all based on relationships.

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