Lessons from an orphan
It's a disquieting visual I can't quite get out of my mind — a single hiking boot hanging from a trail sign.
Imagine you stumble into work bleary-eyed some morning and happen upon a footless nursing shoe dangling from an abandoned med cart. Even you, a crisis-tested long-term care professional, might feel surprised and uneasy.
The actual photo is included below for handy (footy?) reference, and represents rare proof that at least some of my “Things I Think” experiences really do occur. Stare at it for a moment, slip yourself into my shoes, and then try to tell me you wouldn't have been equally troubled.
This piece of orphaned footwear was obviously placed there for a reason. But the most disturbing part was not knowing why, or what it could possibly mean. I'm grateful, at least, that I found it in the light of day, as I suspect a single hiking boot hanging peacefully in the morning sunshine sends a far different message than one swinging in the wind and ominously kicking a signpost at midnight.
In the absence of information and faced with a perceived threat, the mind tends to process the available information and fill in the gaps. Some naïve hikers might have interpreted the scene as a light-hearted declaration of triumph over adversity — a celebratory gesture akin to throwing a football into the crowd post-touchdown. But to me, it was a skull mounted on a post at the entrance to enemy territory, a Dante-esque warning from the Trail Gods to “Abandon one foot, ye who enter here.”
Of course, as a highly trained long-term care leadership professional, your days are pretty much spent discovering nothing but unexplained hiking boots swinging from trail signs. Things you might not first fully understand, challenges you've never seen before, people saying and doing baffling things, institutional threats and opportunities dressed like identical twins.
But since 97.6% of your time involves responding to the unexpected and pacifying the unresolvable, you've seen enough to know that you can't know the reason behind everything, and much of the time don't need to.
“Why, yes, that does appear to be a metaphorical hiking boot,” you probably say in one way or another at stand-up most days.
“I have no idea why it's dangling there or what it all means, and it really doesn't matter. So how about if we just go climb that mountain behind it?”
Things I Think is written by Gary Tetz, a national Silver Medalist and regional Gold Medal winner in the 2014 Association of Business Press Editors (ASBPE) awards program. He has amused, informed and sometimes befuddled long-term care readers worldwide since his debut with the former SNALF.com at the end of a previous century. He is a multimedia consultant for Consonus Healthcare Services in Portland, OR.