I think the world can be divided into two distinct categories. There are the people who like surprises and those people who hate surprises. Whichever side you line up on—life is full of surprises, right? It’s like the philosopher Forrest Gump once said, “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.” And, as hard as some of us try to control everything that happens around us, the unexpected realities of life are never far away.
About a year ago my daughter, Leah, adopted an adorable and playful cat, which she named Bowtie Kitty, from a friend who was no longer able to care for the animal. Leah was very excited about the addition of her new furry family member, and did all the things that you are supposed to do in order to care for a new pet. She bought all sorts of cat toys, treats and accoutrements from the local pet shop, and made a wonderful home for her new feline friend.
After a few months, when she had the available funds, Leah scheduled an appointment with the local vet for Bowtie Kitty to get all her needed shots and to get spayed. (Truth be told, Leah could have had the cat spayed a month earlier but used the money to go see The Band Perry in concert.) So you can imagine Leah’s shock when, on that initial visit, the veterinarian informed Leah that she would be unable to perform the routine surgery that morning. Bowtie Kitty was, indeed, pregnant. Yep—kittens! Surprise!
This story got me thinking about a few key truths as they relate to healthcare. It’s no secret that working in healthcare is full of surprises. Understanding how to remain flexible and thoughtfully work through constantly changing scenarios at work and in life is an invaluable skill set to posses. In fact, remaining flexible is a non-negotiable when caring for people. You and I are in ideal positions to continually re-examine the system; we can help minimize unexpected outcomes that put patient health in jeopardy and simultaneously put the cost of care out of the reach of many patients.
At first glance, my daughter’s cat story, although unexpected, still has a cute and cuddly ending— kittens. And, even though it’s a lot of work to find homes for all of the kittens, the story still has a happy ending. But, I don’t want to be Pollyannaish either; in many instances, the outcomes for animals like these kittens are not as pleasant—outcomes like cruelty, abuse, abandonment or even being euthanized. It’s no secret that we are not always guaranteed a happy ending when we are faced with medical “surprises,” personally or professionally. We have been given the noble task of caring for people as patients and their family’s wrestle through life-altering challenges.
What do you think? Do you like surprises? What are things that we can do to help us remain flexible (and diligent) in our jobs?