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Bad news about bad news

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Gary Tetz
Gary Tetz

Imagine if CNN, the most trusted name in news, decided to report on the disappearance of a bottle of window cleaner from a nursing home supply closet.

We would first be told it was really several gallons and possibly radioactive, that window cleaner can be used to build a bomb if it's combined with things that explode, that a member of the housekeeping staff looks like he's Muslim and the reporter is not implying anything by simply pointing that out, and that someone close to the investigation has confided to an associate of an extremely reliable source that the alleged perpetrator is definitely perhaps handcuffed to the Coke machine in the break room. Followed by an apology — maybe.

That's the problem with bad news these days. It's not just that it's bad, frightening, painful and heartbreaking. It's the way it's reported in this age of 24-hour cable — with wild speculation, needless inflammation and almost comical inaccuracies. So when McKnight's own Dr. El recommends limiting the troubling TV images residents see in times of crises, and also suggests that the rest of us should maybe stop watching too, she's preaching to my choir.

News used to be dispensed about once a day, in a single useful dose, through the evening paper or the lips of Walter Cronkite. Now it's a steady drip, drip, drip, 24/7. We carry it around with us on our mobile devices like we're patients in backless gowns wandering the halls with rolling IV stands. Even when its nothing but baseless speculation or irresponsible over-sharing, we welcome it into our veins. On CNN, I learned exactly how a pressure cooker bomb works, what ingredients I'd need to make one and how it's able to wreak such awful carnage to human limbs and tissue. And no, I'm not providing that hyperlink.

Obviously, we're going to be and should be affected by life's most horrific events, and ought to be well informed about them. But instead of leaping brain-first into a paralyzing pit of cable news sludge, let's turn off the twittering TV, defer our desire to understand the senseless, disengage our morbid curiosity and get back to the only thing we can really believe and control — how we care for the people in our own facility and lives.

After all, we have the ultimate power to turn bad news into something good. To channel our fear, horror and sadness into productive action. To look for ways residents and coworkers can support tragedy-specific charities, or like this foundation does, work to establish meaningful connections between long-term care staff, residents and worthy community causes. It's not easy or natural to tear our eyes from the uncertainty and carnage — but like a solar eclipse, we need to look away.

In other news, that bottle of window cleaner has been found unharmed behind a stack of towels. We apologize for any inconvenience.

Things I Think is written by Gary Tetz, who cobbles these pieces together from his secret lair somewhere near the scenic, wine-soaked hamlet of Walla Walla, WA. Since his debut with SNALF.com at the end of a previous century, he has continued to amuse, inform and sometimes befuddle long-term care readers worldwide.

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Things I Think

Things I Think is written by longtime industry columnist Gary Tetz, who resides in Walla Walla, WA. Since his debut with SNALF.com at the end of a previous century, he has continued to amuse, inform and sometimes befuddle long-term care readers worldwide.

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