The end of the beginning.
In June of 2015 I was officially discharged from the United States Navy.
For eighteen months beginning in 2013, I was a patient in the VA hospital system. Three lower back surgeries, too many months on end lying near-motionless in isolation, and hundreds of excruciating wound care treatments later, the hospital corpsman finally had some good news: I had made a full recovery.
Overwhelmed with emotion, without fanfare, and afforded little in the way of closure, I left the hospital in Florida for the last time on October 8, 2014.
And with that, it was time for me to move on.
It always comes in threes.
To even attempt to describe the catharsis of that moment and that day would be futile; however, if I had to describe the entire experience in a single word, that word would be uncertainty.
As if out of the Dickens novel at my bedside, uncertainty came in three distinct forms:
- As a patient, I was concerned about my treatment plan, so I often asked, "What's next?"
- As a Naval officer now out of the cockpit for more than 12 months, I knew the rules stated I couldn't go back to flying, nor could I do anything until I healed, so in these moments I asked myself, "What's next?"
- As a human being, who had spent his life preparing for this career, and who was now aware that it was over but could not move on until he fully recovered, I could only muster, "When's next?"
You might notice I didn't use the term "powerlessness" here, and you'd be right. There's absolutely no doubt that I felt powerless over my health and my future.
Ironically, it was this powerlessness (more than anything else) that I was most certain about during this period of my life.
For that reason, I tend not to pair my powerlessness with my perceived uncertainty at the time -- I found this to be a critical distinction, at least in my own mind.
Years of introspection after my recovery led me to the realization that the uncertainties I had experienced were not mine alone to bear. The teams who had operated on me, treated me, and cared for me had had their own uncertainties to weather.
Their apologetic faces said it all -- but so did my results.
It occurred to me that had I understood my treatment a bit better, and had my care team been given access to further training to build confidence, preparedness and skill, things might have played out differently.
One giant leap.
Two years ago I co-founded IKONA based on my co-founders' compelling research that showed virtual reality had the potential to alleviate uncertainty by improving patient education and provider training.
What a powerful notion. That an immersive form of storytelling in the clinical setting might allow us to target seemingly intangible qualities like anxiety, satisfaction, preparedness, and confidence.
After all, virtual reality was already being used broadly and successfully for therapeutics and pain management by early 2017. In fact, virtual reality had been around for decades and had helped in clinical areas including anxiety disorders, addiction, acute pain, PTSD and stroke rehabilitation.
The question then became: "Why couldn't we use 360 video to help us tackle challenges ranging from remote patient access to workforce productivity -- learning and retention to shared decision making?"
The beginnings of an answer.
The opportunity was too personal and visceral to ignore.
Combining my own personal patient experience with a newfound knowledge of the technology -- gained from 2 years as a technology equities trader in New York after the Navy -- and the right support from clinicians and research, IKONA became my only possible path forward.
- Not because I was unhappy at work -- I loved trading and the people I worked with.
- Not because I sought the allure of entrepreneurship -- I knew relatively little about what I was getting myself into.
- Not because I had a clue about what the future held -- an educated guess is all I'll ever have.
After all, it had only been three short years since I recovered, right? So what was the difference between 2014 and 2017?
I had my health back. And with it, I'd come to realize that I could take on any imaginable unknown (with n = 3 years of data, and counting...).
I started IKONA because there are others out there right now facing seemingly insurmountable uncertainty. And there always will be.
The reality is, healthcare will never completely rid itself of uncertainty. And in the midst of significant demographic trends that will have far-reaching impacts on disproportionately growing populations of aging adults and patients managing chronic illnesses, our ideal future depends on ingenuity today.
Fortunately, we now possess the tools that might help bring about the changes that patients, their families, and providers will need in order to forge their paths through uncertainty.
It's IKONA's mission to be there for people whenever we're needed. To help them fight another day, and to change the way people see, experience, and understand their care, one experience at a time.
There are far more sleepless nights as a founder than I ever imagined there would be, for far too many reasons to name. But I always come back to the same thought right before I fall asleep: with my health, anything is possible if I just keep moving forward.