The Hiker's Guide to the Long-term Care Galaxy

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Gary Tetz
Gary Tetz

Much of what I know about success (or failure) in life, love and long-term care has been reinforced by lessons learned over years of hiking. As a result, I now take it as a point of professional pride that regardless of the challenge facing our profession, I can always find an analogy to the trail.

Cases in point:

LTC challenge: Alternative payment models
Related hiking lesson: There's always a different path, which though unfamiliar and frightening, carries the possibility of unexpected rewards.

LTC challenge: Off-label antipsychotic use
Related hiking lesson: Water in the CamelBak, yes. Pinot noir, no.

LTC challenge: Ravenous politicians willing to put those we care for at risk in order to serve their own selfish interests
Related hiking lesson: If attacked by a hungry bear, speak calmly, wave your arms slowly and look as large as possible.      

It seems I always learn something new and relevant whenever I hike, whether I want to or not. Take last Sunday as a prime example:

LTC challenge: Being honest and realistic with residents and families about expected therapy and recovery timelines
Related hiking lesson: Just tell the truth, so help you God.

I had chosen to ascend Saddle Mountain near the Oregon coast, a relatively short route rated as “moderate” in difficulty — a scale I now suspect was devised as a practical joke by a team of Kenyan marathoners.

After leaving the car and toiling upward for what I'm certain was at least ten minutes, if not 11, I was exhausted and cursing the deceptive guidebook. Within an hour, lightheaded, clutching my chest and calling for my Sherpa in a hallucinatory haze, it was clear I'd taken a wrong turn and was actually climbing the south face of Annapurna I.

Soldiering on, I attempted some gallows humor to a young couple pausing for selfies at the start of what must have been the 479th switchback. “Thank you for being here to witness my death,” I gasped between wheezes.

The young, vibrant, muscular, sweat-free, sweet-smelling, insanely fit, condescending-just-by-existing duo laughed at my jest, and one of them said cheerfully, “Hey, don't give up. You're almost there!”

Though grateful at the time for their words of encouragement, it turned out to be a cruel lie. Perhaps if we consider the 90 miles I'd driven from Portland, and add the 878.2 miles from Oregon to my birthplace in northern Canada, a case could be made. But by no other definition was I “almost there.” 

Hours later, days perhaps, I finally arrived at the summit, only to find a thick marine layer of clouds shrouding the over-promised ocean vista beneath. So I sank to my knees in the rocks and wept bitterly at the travesty of it all, then ate a granola bar made soggy by my tears.

Thankfully, before gravity pulled me back to the parking lot, the hiking gods had one more epiphany to share — perhaps the most important of all:

LTC challenge: Things that don't work out the way we hope
Related hiking lesson: When clouds obscure the spectacular view, there's even beauty in the disappointment.*

*If you don't click on the link, that sentence won't make much sense. Which would be sad.

(EDITOR'S NOTE: Go ahead — it's safe, and would validate Gary the excellent videographer.)

Things I Think is written by Gary Tetz, a national Silver Medalist and regional Gold Medal winner in the Association of Business Press Editors (ASBPE) awards program. He has amused, informed and sometimes befuddled long-term care readers worldwide since he began writing for the profession 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 at the end of a previous century, he has continued to amuse, inform and sometimes befuddle long-term care readers worldwide.