My new co-worker’s eyes sparkled with excitement and anticipation when he said it, like a child on Christmas morning expecting to find a Red Ryder BB gun under the tree.    

“I love doing my taxes. I’m really looking forward to it.” 

We’d been making perfectly innocent end-of-day chit-chat when he blurted out this troubling admission without prompting or apparent shame. It brought the conversation to a screeching halt, as though he’d just confessed to sleeping with bats or enjoying Barry Manilow.

Before that moment, he’d seemed like a reasonably sane and normal person, without any particularly disturbing quirks. After, I wanted to back away slowly and notify the authorities.

And here’s the other weird thing about him: his persistent positivity. On further interrogation, it turns out he doesn’t understand it either (why he’s so optimistic all the time). Is it simply genetics? Environment? A daily diet of crushed Xanax in his baby food during his formative years? He has no idea, he’s just wired that way. 

Foreign as it is to me, a recovering pessimist, I’m deeply envious. If we had a choice, pessimists like Eeyore and I would love to be as relentlessly positive as he is, even for just a single day. 

The best long-term care staff I know are optimists, especially rehab therapists. The great ones always seem to see only opportunity and potential, even in the most challenging therapy situations. They’re rarely knocked down by a setback, and their spirit ripples to their residents and patients.  

Actually, this is probably the worst possible profession for a pessimist who sees only dark possibilities and always expects the worst conceivable outcome. 

I’ve often recounted the righteous anger I felt while listening to famous surgeon and one-time presidential candidate Ben Carson give the keynote address at an AHCA convention years ago. Why did he choose to devote his medical career solely to children? “Because I like a return on my investment,” he told the horrified audience of long-term care leaders and staff. 

So much for seniors deserving the best we can give them, at any age or condition. Next time I’m recovering from a debilitating stroke, where progress as it’s typically defined simply isn’t likely or even possible, I hope someone like Dr. Carson isn’t the one guiding my therapy program. He’d probably yawn and start scrolling Indeed for a patient more worthy of his energy and skills.

Fortunately, our finest long-term care staff find joy and fulfillment in trivial triumphs others would find insignificant, and champion residents and patients too often seen as lost causes. In every aspect of facility life, from the rehab gym to the bedside, they help neutralize the debilitating influence of pessimism simply through their actions and existence.

Meanwhile, back here at the home office of our long-term care company, with all the daily stresses and negativity this profession seems to provoke, we’re increasingly grateful for our colleague’s weird and wonderful optimism.

It’s a charitable gift he’s giving us all. He should claim it on his taxes. 

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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