Saturday, October 31, 2009

Plate Spinning

I had a sort of epiphany this morning while running. I like it when that happens. I'm running along and my mind is clearing out, and suddenly an idea pops into my head, so I start to play with it. Then, before I realize what's happened, I have a whole new outlook on something, because my perspective has been turned inside-out, in a really good way. These moments seem to happen more often when I run than at other times of the day.

This morning I was thinking about being stressed at work and had an inside-out-turning of my perspective that was really great. Before I share that with you, I have to let you a little deeper into my world so it'll be more meaningful.

In my job as a Hospice RN I have to stay flexible with a host of shifting priorities and that constant shifting is a major source of stress for me. I know many people face similar challenges, so let me share my unique situation.

My perfect day at work is when I am scheduled to see Mr. A, then Mr. B, then Ms. C, then Mrs. D, then go home, and that is exactly what happens. But it is rare. Usually it is very different.

Let's say it is Tuesday and I am scheduled to have the perfect day. But if Mrs. D calls in the morning saying she is having a problem, maybe I can help her over the phone, but maybe not -- I may need to see her first and reschedule the other patients. Or what if Mr. G calls and is having a problem? Now I need to see him today instead of Thursday, and that may mean bumping one of my other patients to a different day. Maybe I come to work and find that Mr. B died last night. I may not need to go to his home today, but maybe I will. At least I'll make a phone call, and offer emotional support. Or maybe I come to work and find a message on my Blackberry that Ms. N is going to be a new patient and it is my responsibility to introduce her to our services -- which means I'll need to dedicate 4+ hours to this process, which means shuffling other patients around...

You get the picture. Now let me complicate it further by telling you that on average I care for 10-13 patients at a time. And patients are people. And people who are facing life-shortening illness sometimes have changes happen quickly, and they need me to help them in those times.

I love helping people, but I hate it when my perfectly planned day gets tossed out the window -- whether that happens at 1:15pm or 8:15am.

When my schedule changes, I often grumble and complain inside, but then I feel bad about it because after all these are PEOPLE who are DYING I am dealing with, and I should be a better sport about the whole thing (especially since, HELLO!, I intentionally CHOSE to go into this line of work). So not only am I stressed about the shifting priorities but I feel bad about being stressed. Then I cut myself some slack and remind myself I'm human too, and as such I get the grace to be imperfect and have needs and faults.

So my priorities get shifted every day, and that stresses me because it feels as if I am being pulled in 15 different directions all at once. It feels like this:

Do you notice how he looks like he is having fun?

I don't get that.

Maybe that's because if he drops a plate all that happens is people laugh and he says "oops". But in my job the plates are people so if I drop a plate it is a much bigger deal. I don't like that possibility, so I'd rather deal with fewer plates at a time. See, if I could just have 4 plates today, then 4 plates tomorrow, I think I'd be OK (I'm probably wrong about that as well, but I digress...).

But I don't just have 4 plates today and 4 plates tomorrow. I have 13 plates all at one time. I can do my best to figure out which plates to help on any given day, but my reality is one of constantly being called upon to run from plate to plate keeping them all spinning.

Because of the nature of my work I know each patient will die, and on average this happens just about every 5 days. So every 5 days or so a plate is removed from my responsibilities, but that is hard on me because it usually happens just when I've grown fond of that particular plate and also just figured out how best to keep it spinning. And it also means that when I least expect it I will be told "Here you go -- another new plate to go figure out."

I have to pause here and say I really hope I don't sound callous. Each and every patient I care for has tremendous worth as a human being and I treasure the moments they allow me in to share their lives with them as they finish their journey here. Each patient is very special to me and referring to them as "plates" may seem discompassionate or even cavalier and I'm sorry for that. But I'm trying to help you understand my human heart and frailty as a person and how stressful my job can be. Because the more you understand how stressful my job can be, within the context of the spinning plates analogy, the more sense it will make to you when I go on now and tell you my epiphany.

There I was running along in the pre-dawn wondering what to do with the stress I feel from spinning plates, and in my mind's eye the imagery shifted, and turned all inside-out and bass-ackwards.

It went from this:
to this:
And suddenly I felt peaceful about it all. See, instead of me being the guy who is running from plate to plate trying to keep them all spinning...what if in reality I am. Just. One. Plate?

What if all I need to worry about it is keeping myself spinning by staying centered on that stick?

And that would imply each of my patients has a measure of responsibility for their own spinning. Yes, I have an important role to play, but really it is their journey, not mine.

It turns out I'm stressed because I take on a responsibility that is not mine to take!


And then as I was reeling from that "A-ha!" moment, the image shifted a bit this:
And it was another "A-Ha!" moment. See, the idea of keeping myself centered is good but horribly incomplete because,
the reality is
plates don't actually
have the ability
to spin themselves.
I don't have the capacity to keep myself centered. If I am the plate, then any "responsibility" I take -- any wiggling motion I do make to try and "keep myself centered" usually just makes things worse and the best thing to do is relax and choose to trust The One whose hand is down there keeping me spinning.

That removes a ton stress, and I can just be me and help people and not sweat the other stuff. And that is good for me, but it is also good for my patients, and my coworkers and my wife, and everybody! =O)

A guy from the 1st century called Paul understood this pretty well and wrote some stuff about it, if you want to read it here. I've read his comments before and thought I understood them, but today I got a personalized example and word-picture. Pretty cool huh?

~ Keith

1 comment:

Eprocurement software said...

Hi! I am looking for something to read about Jesus when I stumbled on your site. And I like your post. Stress do come in life every once in awhile. But God is good and yeah, you were right, His grace is sufficient. One thing I do though, when I'm stressed out is I sing about God's goodness, no matter what I do, I just sing - and most often times the Lord will unwind me of my stress. Psalm 145 is one of my favorites. God bless you.