Only Anecdotal

No numbers, just stories


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Funny how it is so true.. the more things change, the more they stay the same.

I should explain, at least briefly. I have not posted here in a year–not because I have no stories to tell, but because at the end of the day, 99% of the time, I can hand the clients I see now the thing they need.  (And… yes, I no longer call them consumers–removed from one world, I have decided that client IS an empowering word–they hire me, really; I am a public servant, if a local one).

What this his has meant, personally, is that I sleep at night. I get thank you notes–not always joyful outcomes, but resolved ones. It is rather amazing to me, now, that I have the power to hand someone a document that opens a door, that breaks a boundary. I still see crises, but people come to me, and I can usually get them where they need to go. Sometimes the stories are not happy. More than once, clients have come to my little booth in a time of grief–a last moment, a funeral, a goodbye. But what they need from me is specific. And I can usually get it for them.

But it is so much more than this. I realize now the level of burnout that comes from crisis situations. I still see crises. But I am not burned out.

I was thinking of this earlier this week when I was scrolling through the Kaiser Health News. I used to read this daily, along with the local obituaries, and it is a habit I have not yet broken. The story that caught my eye told of emergency workers–no doubt far more apt to burn out than I ever have been. But I did know the numbness from seeing such difficulties, the nursing homes, the recent diagnoses, the bills…

The story told of Jonathan Bartels, a nurse at the University of Virginia Medical Center. He described the moments following a patient death, a moment when a tired trauma team may well feel defeated, and the chaplain who asked the team to stay in the room for a moment, to honor the life that was.

This moment made a difference. It is attention to a life, to the person, to the work to save that person’s life. It is a moment that gives permission to that trauma team to care, and to feel supported in that decision to care.

It also is a moment, I think, that a team can step back and see just how much the work that they do matters.

I can imagine the bureaucratic nightmare that could be the daily routine of my work now.. It’s not, though it can be, some places, sometimes, as we see on a daily basis across the world. Border crossings can prompt all sorts of demands, and I realize that I am lucky now to be able to do what I do.

But what is the difference, really?

I also think of the world of long-term care that I used to see daily. As I think through the problems around the critical moment of an accident or diagnosis, people were not always sure what it was that they needed. But after a bit of reflection, this was rarely the real problem–most people could name many things that would make an enormous difference in their quality of life. They needed help with housework. Transportation. A hearing aid. An accessible place to live. A new wheelchair cushion. A new wheelchair. Food. Not to lose everything they owned due to the exorbitant cost of their medical care.

Can it really be so difficult to solve?

Expensive, yes. With resources, though… not so incredibly difficult.

Expensive to solve, yes, in a world that has not considered that people do fall down and break things, that they get sick, and sometimes cannot climb stairs that they used to climb, cannot see things they used to see, cannot say things they used to say.

But in the end, it is far more expensive still to leave people isolated, impoverished, and depressed. In the long run, I know it is.

I felt this frustration often, despite the many people I worked with who did want to make a difference.

But there is an underlying message that is sent when resources are cut, when employees don’t have the tools they need, when there is not enough office space, when there is no time given to reflect for a moment… The message comes through loudly: this does not matter so much.

But it does. It matters a lot.

The world sees things it could ignore so easily in the past. As the tech-savvy get older, and tweet and post and video-chat their frustrations more and more, I cannot imagine that the rage at “the system” will remain so easily contained in this realm for much longer.

I have pinched myself sometimes over the last year, riding the train to the big city, protected by the glass of my booth and the reliability of the systems I depend on to do my work. It is amazing, really. Nice. Not extravagant. But it enables us to provide the excellence our clients deserve.

I used to go into the trenches… a word I do not use lightly, nor with disrespect. I loved seeing people where they were, where they lived, where they could show me firsthand the life they experienced. It was generous. It was often tough. It was real. It was sometimes lovely. More often, though, it was tragic, and could have nearly always been better.

As I always saw, though, we can make a difference, even in small ways. The things we must always give to people who come seeking help are these: listening–we cannot know if we do not hear and remain patient in the process, clarity–what we can and cannot do, truth–when we know it (not passing the buck to another messenger when truth is hard), and competence–and this is completely on us. We owe it to ourselves and to the public we serve to do our work well and to care about it.

I have thought over and over about systems, how things work, infrastructures, how an inefficient database can throw everything off. how everything needs to work well at every level, how giving good employees good tools–and putting trust in them–makes employees work better, not less, I do think that most people do want to do good work… but without the support and trust, the crises do quickly burn people out.

The trust, then, is also giving permission–expecting–people to care, to take it personally. A pause to say it all matters, that we should care. Caring is really what makes all the difference, in everything, at every level. It is what creates the changes when they need to happen.


Written by Only Anecdotal

3 Oct 2015 at 9:37pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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