Are you the Superman, Wonder Woman or Dwight Schrute of long-term care?

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Marty Stempniak, Staff Writer
Marty Stempniak, Staff Writer

When the day starts to drag, and the fantasies begin rolling through your head at work, what fictional character do you start picturing yourself as? Are you the Wonder Woman of the nursing home field? Homer Simpson? Freddy Krueger?

That was the question I asked at a couple of recent annual meetings for folks in long-term care. I'm a pop culture junkie and will use any excuse to connect my work back to comic books or movies. Superman (or his female equivalent, Wonder Woman) would be the obvious answer, for both nursing home administrators and journalists like me, and I did get a few of those answers.

Alicia Leszko, a nutrition and dining manager with the Garlands of Barrington, IL, for example, said she often thinks of the Man of Steel when she's having a challenging day at work.

“My fiancé's favorite character is Superman, and he'll give me analogies all the time when I have bad days of how Superman is a good, well-mannered person,” she told me last week. “I try to think of that when I have challenges with coworkers, or with a resident who isn't eating. How can I change hats and find something that I can engage them on so that I can get them to eat?”

Karen Zobel, the CEO and administrator of the Baptist Home at Brookmeade, Brooklyn, NY, also went the superhero route, though she said she felt kind of funny talking about it out loud.

“We try to be that and be the best for our residents, but then I really practice humility,” she told me. “So, it's hard to say that I'm ‘the Wonder Woman of healthcare,' but you try to do the best that you can and treat people like you want to be treated.”

Samantha Breden, the director of business development for the Springs at Monarch Landing in Naperville, IL, meanwhile, did not have the same hesitance. She proudly wears a Wonder Woman bracelet on her wrist and admitted that Princess Diana of Themyscira (Wonder Woman's “real” name) has been her favorite ever since childhood.  

“I wear this every day and it actually does help me,” Breden said, showing off the bracelet. “Just innately, in healthcare, you have your plan for the day and then at the end of the it, very rarely, what happened during the day matches your to-do list for that morning. And so, you need to multitask and be flexible with things. Really, our job is to serve people and to make their lives a better place, and that's what a superhero does, too.”

Others, I spoke with said the comedic route gets them through those tough days at their facility. Christopher Martin, the administrator and owner of the Woodlawn Care Center, in Newport, NH, for example, has a nameplate on his desk that references goofy “The Office” character Dwight Schrute, the assistant to the regional manager at the Dunder Mifflin paper company.

The decoration makes for a solid icebreaker, “but Dwight is also easygoing, focused and a little quirky, and I think we need more of that in long-term care,” Martin told me.

Nicole Lambert, the assistant director of nursing for Presence Our Lady of Victory, Bourbonnais, IL, also prefers to harness humor to get through her daily tasks.

Her inspiration is Lucille Ball, the actress and titular character from the “I Love Lucy” show from some of TVs earliest days. Back in those days, when women were confined to stricter gender roles, Ball just rolled with the punches and remained rosy, on screen and in her personal life, Lambert said.

“Nothing stopped her. Nothing knocked her down. She just kept going and kept making people laugh, making people smile,” she said. “So, even when I'm at work having a really rough day, I still want to make my residents and my staff smile. It doesn't matter what's going on, I'm going to try to brighten up the place every time, because that's what matters to me.”

Barbara Prosser, president of the Esquiline, a Life Plan Community at the Shrine in Belleville, IL, was stumped when I brought up the question, but she took my card and shared her thoughts a few days later. She landed on Hermione Granger, of the Harry Potter book and film series, as the perfect fictional embodiment of the long-term care profession.

Granger is “willing to try for the best by sheer will and loyalty to her team,” Prosser wrote in an email. And, she's “of ordinary heritage, but able to do extraordinary things out of heart and desire to do right.”

“Most importantly, Hermione gives her all, and trusts that good will follow,” Prosser wrote. “She sometimes goes into tentative situations and dangerous places of unknown with great faith and a trust that giving of her best, believing that her skills and perspective, matched with those of her companions, will carry her to a safe finish or success. And it does. I often feel I am just that lucky!”

Whether you're someone who tries to find the humorous side to life's harrowing moments, or gets all philosophical and seeks the deeper spiritual meaning to your work, I think there's a benefit to drawing parallels between fantasy and the mundane.

Personally, I think I'd lean away from Superman and more toward Phil Connors, the fictional TV reporter in the movie “Groundhog Day.” No, not the cynical jerk who opens the movie, but the guy he becomes — after living the same day hundreds of times over again.

He learns to find joy, meaning and humility in every moment, whether or not it was a superhero-like day, or just another routine one.

What about you? What fictional character or celebrity do you aspire to be in your long-term care work? Please, feel free to share your own thoughts in the comments section below.

Follow Staff Writer Marty Stempniak @mstempniak.

Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.