Gary Tetz
Gary Tetz

Generally, I’m a law-abiding citizen. If I have a good reason, I’ll occasionally violate a minor rule or two, but nothing significant. I don’t do much murder, for instance, or take classified electronic health records home from work. I’m pretty much a model human.

But one recent morning, while rushing to the office to selflessly serve the long-term care profession — at an admitted rate of 75 in a 55 — I was horrified to round a corner and find an officer of the law waiting to entrap me. I didn’t feel angry or victimized, since I was dead to rights, 100% guilty with no plausible defense.

Expecting the worst as he walked up to the window, I braced myself for a multi-hundred dollar penalty and a lengthy bout of self-loathing. But guess what? I didn’t get a ticket. I expected one. I deserved one. But I didn’t get one. It was maybe the most joyful wake-up call I’ve ever received, and I’ve been gratefully driving the speed limit ever since.

By the usual definition, wake-up calls generally arise from more dire, or even life-threatening experiences. Maybe from a momentary lapse, like glancing at your phone just before the car accident, or a frightening medical test result that compels instant lifestyle change with little room for argument.

Even the language we use is cataclysmic — “I really dodged a bullet that time,” and we walk away vowing to change.

But my good fortune with something as trivial and joyful as the speeding ticket I didn’t get reminds me that positive experiences can also serve as vital wake-up calls, if we just pay attention to them. Long-term care facilities offer a buffet of such opportunities.

If a colleague chooses not to call me out at stand-up, or forgives me instead of holding a grudge, that’s my wake-up call to treat others the same way. When a rehab patient stands and walks, against all odds, that’s my wake-up call to never give up. When a resident who had lost all hope finally gets to go home again, that’s a wake-up call to value everything in my life, right now.

Every positive experience is a reminder to give thanks and do better. No need to wait for the cataclysm.