An hour or so before the siren in our long-term care factory blasted the official start of the work day, and feeling a heightened level of job-related stress, I strolled into a colleague’s office uninvited and sat down cross-legged on the floor. 

Dutifully receiving this nonverbal signal that she’d now be forced to interact, she turned from her computer screen and greeted me as pleasantly as could be expected. I very much doubt she’d awakened early that day, fighting traffic in the dark and rain, in order to play therapist for the elderly bald guy in his fit of morning melancholy. But she made the best of it. 

After a few minutes of my usual woe-is-mankind futility-of-my-existence riffs, when I paused to take my first breath, she jumped in with a tale of her own. Something about waking up one morning during the pandemic hardly able to breathe. Going to the ER. Finding out her lungs were full of blood clots. Nearly dying. That sort of thing. 

She didn’t conclude her story with a preachy moral, but the implication was clear. After experiencing the wake-up call of lying in an intensive care bed for a week, she’d decided it was way past time to be more positive, and less reactive to the anxieties of living. And her subtle, unspoken suggestion was that maybe I should too. 

“Now I choose joy every day,” she said. “I don’t focus on the news, or on the latest social media outrage, or on the tailgating truck driver who blasted me with his horn this morning. Life’s too short.”

It was just another serendipitous interaction with another wise coworker. Just another “exactly what I needed to hear” moment, one of many over the years at this fine long-term care company. 

Somehow, either through coincidence or witchcraft, our colleagues seem to have a spooky ability to give us exactly what we need at the perfect time. A pep talk. A work-appropriate hug. A passing conversation with someone from the next hall, floor or cubicle that takes on far more import and impact than they can ever possibly know. 

It’s a much-underestimated perk of our profession, this privilege of interacting with and being supported by a nurturing work family and culture. I know the notion of working from home still has some romance about it, but as long-term care staff, we should always treasure the richness that comes from a communal workplace experience. 

I’m well aware that some days the treasuring might not come quite so easily.  I’ve had colleagues who were annoying and frustrating. I’ve been a colleague who’s annoying and frustrating. But all in all, when we tally everything up, I’m convinced the truth will be clear. We’re better together.  

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 APEX 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.

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