Gary Tetz

There’s a hopeful phrase we started hearing a lot from long-term care leaders, residents and staff when the vaccines first arrived—“a light at the end of the tunnel.” Invariably some wise-guy or gal would pipe up with, “Yeah, let’s hope it’s not a train.”

Fast-forward to one of my first road trips in a post-lockdown world a few weekends ago. While zipping through a particularly desolate part of Washington state, I approached a railroad crossing, which was occupied by a lengthy freight train. So there I sat, and sat. And sat. Alone in the middle of nowhere, staring through my dirty windshield as the rail cars hurtled past. (Naturally, as people do these days, I recorded it all on my phone, and you can see it here.)

The past 18 months have seemed like that, as challenge after challenge, one heartbreak, anxiety and disappointment after another, passed before our eyes, blocking the sun and filling our view. Some of us were fortunate enough to experience the pandemic from a safer distance, while those of you providing direct care in facility settings probably felt like you were actually tied to the tracks.

Forced to pause in my high-speed journey and simply wait, the seemingly endless train focused the mind. If I had just happened upon an empty crossing and obliviously driven on through, it would have been nothing more than a double thump on my tires and a mental blip no bigger than a windshield bug. But to paraphrase what Marcus Aurelius, my favorite ancient Roman emperor, famously said, the obstacle revealed the way. 

Finally, as the last rail car thundered by, I could see the road ahead suddenly wide open, limitless, and full of potential. The arm went up and I drove right into it. 

With census and staffing challenges of historic proportions, the next few months are likely to still be extremely difficult. But when the COVID-19 train finally fully passes, and it will, you’ll be able to see forever. 

Things I Think is written by Gary Tetz, a two-time national Silver Medalist and three-time regional Gold and Silver Medal winner in the Association of Business Press Editors (ASBPE) awards program, as well as an Award of Excellence honoree in the recent APEX 2020 Awards. He’s been amusing, inspiring, informing and sometimes befuddling long-term care readers worldwide since the end of a previous century. He is a writer and video producer for Consonus Healthcare Services in Portland, OR.

The opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News guest submissions are the author’s and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News or its editors.