Changing lives or just shoveling snow?

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Gary Tetz
Gary Tetz

Like any good long-term care provider, I should know that to breathe a sigh of relief after weathering a crisis is to challenge the gods. Remember Brad, the nursing home administrator who left the deposition shouting, “Hurray, the worst is over!”? Of course you don't. No skilled administrator would ever tempt fate by even thinking something so cosmically naïve.

But there I was last week, doing exactly the same thing — relaxing way too soon. I wandered about town in the sunshine, making ill-advised public statements about how February is the harbinger of spring, and how once January is past, the worst is over. Then about five smug seconds later, Zeus turned the thermostat down near absolute zero and opened heaven's floodgates. 

As Bing Crosby would have said to Danny Kaye if “White Christmas” had been set in an idyllic southeast Washington wine community, “Walla Walla should be beautiful this time of year. All that snow.” But it isn't. Not when you have to pick it up and move it off the driveway, all of it, by hand, one undersized shovel full at a time, for multiple days. I recognize that our deluge doesn't rise to Winter Storm (insert name) proportions, but still. For an aging, chubby guy in a state of deferred maintenance, it's become an aerobic and existential ordeal.

Which leads to the question, why exactly do I bother? The act of snow removal is entirely futile, at least in this temperate clime, because it never stays for long. But still I'm out there with the first flake, obsessively pushing and piling. If snowflakes were quinoa and shoveling was harvest, this might make some sense. But with an imminent melt, I'm like poor, wounded Santiago in The Old Man and the Sea, pointlessly towing the skeleton of his prized marlin to shore long after the sharks have torn away the flesh.

We all know folks who see their lives and jobs that way, as exercises in futility. They go through the motions, finding no lasting value or reward in their work. They stop caring and become cynical, and within long-term care, that cynicism has been singled out as the primary villain leading to administrator turnover. Because when you fail to see people as people, but rather as snow-like objects to be moved, piled and then left to melt into oblivion, it can take a toll on the quality of your work.

The successful administrators I know, the ones who last, just don't think that way. They're stressed, sure. Tired, yes. Held to daunting standards with insufficient resources, naturally. But they find joy, meaning and reward in the daily acts and interactions of care, from momentous to trivial, and they inspire others to embrace the same perspective. Every day, year after year, they're fueled by the core belief that they're changing lives, not just shoveling snow. And they're right.

Things I Think is written by Gary Tetz, who cobbles these pieces together from his secret lair somewhere near the scenic, sometimes snow-covered hamlet of Walla Walla, WA. Since his debut with at the end of a previous century, he has continued to amuse, inform and sometimes befuddle long-term care readers worldwide.


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Things I Think

Things I Think is written by longtime industry columnist Gary Tetz, who resides in Portland, OR. Since his debut with at the end of a previous century, he has continued to amuse, inform and sometimes befuddle long-term care readers worldwide.