Who’s Invested??

hospital-clip-art-539060Winston Churchill once opined that “attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference”. Author & clergyman John C. Maxwell says that “people may hear your words, but they feel your attitude”. While spending the past couple of months institutionalized…in a hospital & then a rehab facility…I have done much pondering about such matters and considerable soul searching about my own outlook on life. However, I won’t pester The Manoverse with internal skirmishes. I think it is more productive to consider the big picture with insight that may be edifying to others.

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Laying in a hospital bed is a humbling experience. You’re pretty much helpless. Reliant on others to do just about everything. It is frustrating, humiliating, and a hundred other adjectives. Depending on the nature of one’s particular malady and the mix of medications being consumed in various forms moods can swing back & forth like a pendulum. Sleep is elusive at best. In my particular case I was raised by my parents to be polite & respectful, and intellectually I realized that ticking anyone off who might literally have my well-being in their hands would not be smart. However, I’d be lying if I denied having formed opinions about people and occasional fantasies about hideously violent acts of retribution. Yet ultimately those momentary flights of ferocious fancy gave way to observations not only about the medical profession but about professionals & professionalism in general.

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rnI have come to realize that I am oftentimes too quick to judge. The old saying is that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but let’s be honest…that is exactly what we do. And it isn’t just about ugly vs. pretty, thin vs. fat, or young vs. old, although those are the easiest snap judgments to make. I became very sensitive to tone of voice. In hospitals the staff becomes accustomed to interacting with elderly people so they almost automatically talk louder. Since I am neither a senior citizen nor hard of hearing I took this as people yelling at me needlessly. Whether or not that person modulated their tone after an interaction or two was very instructive. I am also aware of a person talking to me versus talking at me. Yes I was a patient. Yes they are the “experts” trying to get me well. But I am also an adult with a certain level of intelligence, comprehension, & decision making skills. I am more than happy to do what needs to be done if I understand why it needs to be done and what the benefit is in the long run. The only people who should assume “because I said so” is ever a good enough explanation are parents talking to their small children. At any rate, a strange phenomenon occurred more than once during my…time away. There were people who I initially couldn’t stand…for whatever reason…and dreaded dealing with on any kind of semi-regular basis. Conversely, there nursewere people that I was almost immediately comfortable with because they seemed “nice” (whatever that means). Yet more than once I was forced to reevaluate my initial assessment. Contrary to popular myth first impressions are not always lasting impressions, and they shouldn’t be anyway. A pleasant disposition becomes meaningless if it isn’t accompanied by an adequate level of competency, and a gruff or stern demeanor becomes less imperative when a person proves to be more than capable of doing their job well. Ideally the two intersect somewhere at a satisfying point on the grid, but that isn’t as common as one might prefer.

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Eventually I came to a couple of conclusions. First of all, the medical profession is kind of like the President of the United States…one may or may not like the particular person doing the job, but we should maintain a healthy respect for the position itself. I don’t know about doctors. They are very intelligent and I trusted the judgment & skill of all that played a role in my treatment, but I didn’t interact with them enough to make any concrete observations. Aside from that though, everyone who works in a hospital…nurses, aids, housekeeping, food service…is to be admired. They have tough jobs. They deal with sick people on a daily basis. They see death. I am quite sure that there are some patients & families that aren’t cooperative. It can’t be easy. My perception is that there are a lot of young folks who happen to be good at math & science and who have the noble & idealistic notion of wanting to “help people”. These youngsters are gently persuaded by parents, teachers, & riveting episodes of Grey’s Anatomy or Chicago Med to go into the medical profession. Hey, why not?? It’s noble, exciting, pays well, & there’s job security. But in the two months that I was…confined…I frequently pondered how many of the unripened 20-somethings I encountered and made me glad that I’ve never procreated would be working somewhere in a comfortable little office by the time they are 30…far away from the prickly reality of blood, pestilence, & grief.

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empathySecondly, I concluded that the line of demarcation is empathy. Lots of people are…proficient. They’re smart. They have a degree or certificate that says they have learned the right things and attained the proper skills & abilities to complete necessary tasks. But do they care?? Are they invested?? Or is it simply a job that they retain because there are bills to pay & mouths to feed?? As a patient in a hospital the most important thing is to be treated properly in order to get well and go home to a normal healthy life, but being treated with empathy by people who are invested in the outcome makes the ordeal a little less difficult.

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This thought process can & should be expanded beyond medicine. Henry David Thoreau said that “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation”. Especially in 21st century America there seems to be a collective question of “is this all there is??”. People get up, go to work, come home, spend money, & die. No matter where one may be…a shopping mall, a restaurant, a sports arena, the barber shop, church…it is often fairly easy to surmise who is or isn’t invested. Like Maxwell said, people can “feel your attitude”. Obviously we don’t always know the details of a person’s life. There may be a reasonable explanation for their mood. Everyone has good days & bad days. We must be aware though of the difference between an isolated episode and a pattern, and since we can’t control the behavior of others we should concentrate on applying that awareness to ourselves. How are you perceived by others?? What is your level of commitment & passion for the things in which you are involved?? Are you just going thru the motions, or are you truly dedicated?? You may think that only you can answer the question, but that’s not exactly true. Others can probably make deductions with a high level of accuracy. Who’s invested??

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