For every long-term care staff member who wolfs meals at your desk while multitasking on important care-related duties, this is my fervent hope and prayer: that the gruesome and disturbing story I’m about to relate will serve as a cautionary warning.
Early on a recent gray and drizzly Monday, I left home in a flurry of hurry, rushing to an important appointment at a post-acute rehab facility far across town. Traffic arteries in Portland, OR, being in a constant state of advanced atherosclerosis, a leisurely pause for breakfast seemed out of the question. So in a fever of famished anxiety, I hit the road.
As the car inched forward and long minutes passed, my hunger became all-consuming and my judgment woefully enfeebled — with few solutions apparent. Last month’s stray Cheeto was just out of reach in the crevasse beside my seat, and licking the cup-holder for life-sustaining residue while trying to keep both eyes on the road seemed impractical. Even a quick caress of my WWTDPD? (What Would the Donner Party Do?) bracelet brought no comfort or guidance.
That was when, like a dove descending from the heavens and alighting on my shoulder, the miracle happened. Through a nutrient-depleted fog, I spied a small, thus-far overlooked cardboard box on the passenger seat. It was my lunch, provided for me by a devoted friend, and it presented me with a tough decision.
Important context: This was no ordinary lunch. A quick peek inside revealed a sprawling smorgasbord of three falafel patties, a tabbouleh salad and a pooling dollop of hummus — not exactly an easy meal to safely or delicately consume while piloting a motor vehicle in heavy traffic, especially without cutlery. Did I mention there was no cutlery?
Wrestling with the choice, I suddenly recalled the ancient tale of Gideon, a highly-respected Biblical superhero, who needed to urgently discover which available soldiers were best suited for battle. Long, uber-violent story short, he decided to wait until they were super thirsty, then march them through a river. Those who understood the urgency of the situation and lapped up water without stopping were selected, while those who paused for a leisurely drink were sent home.
This divine endorsement of multitasking as an essential employment strategy was incontrovertible, and the personal admonition clear. Like a Gideon of the workplace, I was headed into battle, so the lunch should be consumed immediately, as I drove. Because the Bible said so.
So then and there, balancing the to-go box on my lap, I dove in like a starving animal, with all fingers on both hands. The falafel was easy, but things got progressively more challenging with the sloppier items. Soon I had shards of tabbouleh flying around the car and hummus all over the dashboard, not to mention my shirt. Sickened drivers stared with revulsion through my food-splattered windshield, then quickly looked away as I continued my oblivious gorging.
Whatever time I’d hoped to save by not stopping to eat was lost to clean-up once I arrived at my destination. And it’s safe to say that being forced to answer the question, “Is that baba ghanoush on your collar?” isn’t the way I’d hoped my meeting would begin.
Though my misguided actions that day were well-intended, through the prism of hindsight I see now how deeply counterproductive this experience was. While the indigestion lasted only a few hours, and the sticky steering wheel only a few days, the base indignity of it all lingers, continuing to compromise my professional effectiveness with useless feelings of self-reproach. Perhaps this candid confessional will bring therapeutic catharsis, but I fear the path to complete healing will be long and tortuous.
For you, the long-term care professional, the lesson is clear and supported by actual research. Stop eating at your desk! Almost nothing is important enough to ever warrant culinary multi-tasking. So take a break. Clear your mind. Leave your office, nurses’ station or reception desk. Eat outside whenever you can, ideally with friends and/or colleagues. The benefits of socialization and deliberate, mindful eating are well-documented, and your productivity and job satisfaction will almost certainly increase.
Bottom line, Gideon was wrong. I learned this lesson the hard way — so you don’t have to. You’re welcome. Now could somebody please pass me a moist towelette?
Things I Think is written by Gary Tetz, a national Silver Medalist and regional Gold Medal winner in the 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.