Jumper cables and stethoscopes

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Gary Tetz
Gary Tetz

Who am I? Why was I put on this earth? What's my meaning and purpose, beyond endlessly churning out wise and transformative blog postings for the long-term care profession?

After posing questions like these ever since the bitter childhood discovery that I would never be an astronaut or Bobby Orr, I finally got my answer this week. Why do I exist? To be the guy with jumper cables.

It had come to my attention that a very young, life-challenged colleague of mine was out in the parking lot weeping over a dead car battery. I don't know why or how she ran it down — but it almost certainly had something to do with Facebook Live or Pokemon Go

Leaping at this rare opportunity to be seen as actually useful by someone born in the '90s, I told her I owned jumper cables and volunteered to go get them. “OMG, like, that would be fantastic, and like, thank you, like, so much!” she said, almost sobbing with gratefulness before asking timidly, “Ummmm, what are jumper cables?”

Feeling like Einstein describing relativity to a goldfish, I patiently explained how they work, and rushed off on my mission of mercy — little expecting that this simple act would bring a moment of face-melting epiphany similar to Indiana Jones lifting the lid on the Ark of the Covenant.

Because as I opened the trunk and saw them lying there all coiled and patient, I experienced a sudden rush of familiarity and contentment, realizing that while everything else has changed in the world, jumper cables have not. They're absolutely timeless, with those snapping, color coded jaws connected like two rabid dogs on the same leash. As knowledge has increased and technology is running amok, apparently only the digital prostate exam and jumper cables are the way they've always been. And I take no small comfort in that.

Which got me thinking — what's the long-term care equivalent? In a profession of constant change, which common, everyday, work-related item makes us feel all warm, safe and familiar when we see it, like everything's still right on this topsy-turvy planet?

I first posed this question to a nursing home administrator, who took it in an unexpected, unhelpful direction. “What HAS NOT changed is the ridiculously disgusting pink and blue colors that bed pans and wash basins come in!” Not exactly the answer I was looking for, and I've encouraged her to use capitalization more judiciously and seek anger management therapy.

So rather than risk further responses to my informal survey, I've chosen the stethoscope as the jumper cables of long-term care. My cursory but still exhausting research tells me it was invented around 1816 by a guy named Rene Theophile Hyacinthe Laënnec, who rolled up a sheet of paper and held it to a patient's chest to listen to her heart. I don't believe that story for a minute, but maybe that's because I live in a town where no one rolls up anything without lighting it.

Anyway, the stethoscope took on its current bi-aural shape in 1851, and as far as I can tell, hasn't changed in the centuries since. I still see them in every facility I visit, and it always gives me that jumper-cable sense of comfort and security. I realize this device is going through an identity crisis right now, but I hope and pray we never have to live in a world without it. I just feel better when someone is wearing one, like there's an adult in the room.

Research shows I'm not alone. In an Australian study, people found physicians more trustworthy and ethical if they were pictured with a stethoscope. So from now on I'd like to see one dangling from the neck of every long-term care administrator, regardless of clinical skills or background. I can proudly report that since I started wearing one everywhere I go, I'm winning more arguments and haven't been sued even once.

And just for the record, I've been unable to unearth any research to support a similar credibility benefit from wearing jumper cables. They're heavy, cumbersome, and from my personal experience, no one calls you “Doctor.”

Things I Think is written by Gary Tetz, a national Silver Medalist and regional Gold Medal winner in the 2014 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.


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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 SNALF.com at the end of a previous century, he has continued to amuse, inform and sometimes befuddle long-term care readers worldwide.