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Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Beginning of the End

It was like the movie “The Graduate”. Walking down the halls of the hospital, workmates would stick their heads out of their offices as I walked by, or (worse yet) follow me down the hall, giving unsolicited advice or bombarding me with unrelenting questions.

Hyper Brad, (who no one really knows what his job really is), sweating profusely from already walking 6 rounds around 4 floors of offices, chatting with everyone he sees for at least 15 minutes: “Are you crazy?..... what exactly will you DO with your time?”

Followed by divorced (and at-least-65-year-old) burnt out Rhonda, wearing everybody’s favorite low-cut camisole, breasts straining against the threadbare fabric and showing wrinkled, over-tanned cleavage:
“You are far too young to be retiring, won’t you be bored?”

Then there was sweet Charlotte, who was divorced from a loser who did her wrong and had finally, (after a 5 year dry spell from men), had her first date with the man-of-her-dreams that she met on the internet last week: “Please don’t go….won’t you reconsider?”

As much as I tried to avoid Dan, the “I-am-going-to-give-you-advice-whether-you-want-it-or-not: Official Office Know-it-all“, he would show up (like a hemorrhoid) every few days:
“You know what I would do when I retired, if I were you….I’d (blah, blah, blah)…”

I found myself defending (or, worse yet!) justifying my decision with polite smiles, while scratching hive welts, adjusting my god-awful tight bra and wishing I didn’t have to wear panty hose that rolled into tiny tootsie rolls around my waist when I sat at my desk.

It was the week from hell.

Two weeks earlier, I had just found out that a project that was required (because of government regulations) was past due. It was
monumental work that would take hours droning through charts and abstracting information into a computer. No one else at my workplace knew how to do it.

Yeah, right….

It is my take on it that there must have been a few devils who knew how to do it, but they weren’t about to tell anyone else they could,….or Lord forbid…they would have to take on the pressure too.
Besides, they knew I was retiring-- so jealously figured: “Let her do it, she gets to retire in a few weeks….she deserves it!”

So when I got the bad news that there was no way out of the last minute project-of-torture, all I could picture was me, working late each night during the last two never-ending-oh-God-will-June 6th-ever-get-here? weeks of work.

So, completely out of character for me, I shut my office door and became quite unsocial to accomplish it and dreamt about the damn charts whenever I wasn’t at work. I came out of my foxhole long enough to get sustenance at the cafeteria (of course where the unrelenting anti-retirement attacks would continue).

Surprisingly, my last atta-girl effort accomplished the task 3 days before my last day at work. I then went straight to purging useless files, clearing out personal e-mails received through the last years and erasing Microsoft folders that would make no sense to anyone coming into replace my position.

Even though I had given three months notice of my retirement date, the company performed as stellar as usual and had not even begun to interview candidates for my replacement until 2 weeks prior. One week before my retirement date, they had announced the candidate of choice, who I had known during my university studies. He was a really nice guy with a gift for bullshit and charm. It was going to be interesting.

So, here I was, with 3 days to go, a naked office and actually, not a single damn work task to do. Previously worried that I would never be able to finish the last minute project on time, I had backed out of a ton of meetings I formerly was required to attend as part of my position. “I can’t possibly attend these meetings and finish the project before I retire!: I explained before every Dilbert meeting, and surprisingly everyone understood and quit asking me to attend the meetings.

But now that I had finished early, how do I make myself look busy? Lord knows, I did not want to return to the endless meetings where the Doctors were good old boys who did not like change and refused to accept any suggestions from the nurses or administration. Or worse yet, have to attend the new CEO’s zillion meetings which consisted of him pontificating on and on until the Managers’ eyes blurred in submission (or denial).

So, I kept the stack of charts that I had finished abstracting heaped on my desk in a mess so that it would appear to be the never-ending burden that it had previously been. I would heave deep sighs with my office door cracked open just enough so that passers-by could glimpse in and shake their heads in empathy.

“Oh my God, it is actually working!”, I thought. I reflected on what a dope I had probably been over the last 13 years. I would come in precisely at 7:30am every morning, through blizzards, in the lovely spring when my lake at home was as still as an ice rink with the birds singing….working through most lunches and staying past quitting time more times then I cared to remember. I realized that most of my co-workers’ messy offices may very well have been what I was doing now…..a coping mechanism to actually slow down their pace and beg off some of the meetings I had felt so personally obligated to attend.

There had been a recent push by our new CEO for the management-model-flavor-of-the-month where he called workgroups “core teams”. The poor blokes who were drafted into being the core team leaders were called (get this, you will love it….): “Servant Leaders”.

Let’s just say it was heavy on the “Servant” part, and the only “leading” occurring was the CEO’s micro-management of the groups.
It had broken the spirits of even the most callous work veterans that had worked at the company for years. I know they were probably just as guilty of spreading paperwork about their workspace and stating to others…”God,I would really like to come to the core team leadership meeting today, but see all this work I have ahead? I just can’t possibly make it this time.”

It had started out as a pep rally to the Managers by the CEO. He gathered everyone together and as most of the Management Meetings go, the meetings lasted for 2 (for the Love of God!) hours or more. They consisted of the CEO handing out reams of paper (for which several trees needlessly dedicated their lives ) of charts of his management models.

He would pontificate about the “born again” management model that he had seen the light about, often referring casually to books read on the models (as if we all were intimately familiar with them.) Of course, he always prefaced these presentations by asking: “you ARE all familiar with the book by (whomever) and his management theory of (whatever) aren’t you?”

Of course, not one person in the room knew anything about the whomever, nor knew anything about the management theory of whomever, but we weren’t dumb….we all nodded with as much enthusiasm as we could muster and tried to blank out our “deer in the headlights” appearance, while rolling our eyes at each other when he had his back turned from us. Unfortunately, we never got caught (which only encouraged him further), so we were caught in our own hell.

At this particular “kick off” Management meeting, he promoted “volunteers” to his latest brainchild of having “Servant Leader” groups. He stressed that most of the group’s members should consist of regular staff and not Managers. Seeing as the Managers were already overworked and underpaid, they were ecstatic to hear that concept and therefore, hardly any (but one or two ass-kissers) signed up as Servant Leaders for the groups.

Despite the CEO’s directive to go out and recruit staffers to embrace the concept, the Managers knew better. In fact, there was a lot of subterfuge behind the scenes to educate the staff that this must be some Administrative communist plot and that if they signed up, they are probably in for some awful torture (or at the very least, mental brainwashing). However, along with the secret staff education came some sacrificial lamb recruitment. (Lord forbid that your department would be the only one without any “volunteers”).

Despite the Managers efforts, the CEO’s recruitment pleas were miserably ignored.

Then, came the voicemails and e-mails per the CEO. At first they were written with some polite urging and then after a week or so, turned to shaming and then finally to veiled threats. After those, he resorted to telling Managers on voicemails that they were now “assigned” to the groups as “volunteer Servant Leaders”.

Most of the Managers at our small rural hospital were “working managers” which meant that if a staff called in sick and couldn’t work a shift, the Manager usually rolled up their sleeves, threw on a lab coat and helped their staff with the tasks of the day on whatever unit or department they managed. This worked well in keeping their clinical skills up, and earned the staff’s respect. In addition, when an issue of process came up needing improvement, they could usually see all sides of the challenge and were excellent in problem solving to get to an answer.

However, the new CEO came from a background of larger hospitals with slicker Managers who delegated work downwards. He had no concept that obligating our working Managers to attend frequent endless meetings meant that patient care would suffer. Instead he would complain to his “inner circle” of administrative secretaries that the Managers at our hospital did not have even the most elemental management training and that he was shocked on how much they didn’t know about his management models. It quickly had become a contest of non-respect for each other between Management and the CEO.

“We should have seen it coming!” the Managers would lament.

The new CEO had a military background and worse yet, he was a consultant to other hospital systems before he came to our hospital.

As a consultant, he would swoop in to a hospital system in trouble and tell them how to fix their issues, and leave before they implemented his “fail proof” plan.

It had been many of our Manager’s theories that as soon as he left the facilities he consulted, they threw his recommendations in some obscure spot and did a more practical solution, wondering why they spent all that money on hiring a consultant who spoke a completely different language than them to tell them how to fix their problems.

His military background was quickly evident. He would bark out orders on poorly explained projects due with impossibly short deadlines. When the Managers would ask for more details of his expectations, he would say “just do it!” Of course when they scrambled to do them and returned what they thought he wanted, he would say they didn’t listen to what he wanted and then micro-manage the entire thing, making them revise them several times.

More than once, he would call up some poor unsuspecting Manager and ream them a new you-know-what for a small mistake on a vague directive he had given earlier. When they attempted to explain why they had done (or not done) some small detail that had his shorts in knot, he would rudely cut them off saying: “I don’t want to hear it!” “A good Manager would instinctively known what to do in the situation!” In his next breath, he would be up in front of us proclaiming what “good customer service” was, or telling us we needed to come up with Core Team charters on “respect” for coworkers.

Once during a Management meeting, he was proudly stating how he handled a situation, holding it up as an example that he wanted to share so that the Managers could grow from his “wisdom”. Behind the scenes, many of us knew the truth of the situation was that he really didn’t handle it all that well. Before thinking, I blurted out (like Dr. Phil)…”So, how is that working for you?”
The Managers howled with laughter.

I thought I was dead.

He laughed, blushing and went on with his meeting.

I saw him approaching after the meeting…and thought: “here it comes!”

Surprisingly, he was smiling, had a twinkle in his eye. He leaned close to my ear and whispered: “You are so bad! What am I going to do with you?”

From that point on, he never gave me any bullshit, and often came to me for feedback on controversial issues. I was always blatantly honest with him, whether or not others were in the room with us when he asked.

Once after that, he said to me: “Whenever I get too big in my britches, I can count on you to tell me how I am failing!” Once he was walking down the hall and the cleaning lady’s cart was outside my office. He grabbed a roll of toilet paper and flung it through my office door, nearly hitting me. I ran out to see who did it, and did not see him. He confessed weeks later.

I grew up as an Air Force brat with a military dad….I knew how to handle him. However, it was also why I probably could keep a therapist in their career from now until they wanted to retire, paying for all of their kid’s college tuitions).


It was the last day.

I had a calendar where I had placed large X’s as the days dragged by and had accompanying numbers in the lower right hand corner of each day which had the total number of days left written in pencil.

I remember when the number went from 100 to 99….I was finally in “double digits”.

Mondays were always good because the numbers went down faster from the total number that I stared at every Friday. On Mondays, I had another set of penciled numbers in the left hand corner of each week….which dutifully told me the total number of Monday’s I’d have to suffer through before my last one.

I remember one retired friend saying the best thing about retiring was Sunday nights…..No more feelings of dread, resentment, wrapping it up early to get to bed or anxiety over upcoming meetings to worry about. I couldn’t even imagine such freedom. Nor not having haul my weary butt out of a warm bed at the 6:15 a.m. alarm after having dreamt all night anyway about some meeting coming up that I had to be productive at or lead. Nope…that kind of Nirvana wasn’t even imaginable…

So, here I was. I finally had returned my “fake” charts-to-finish pile to Medical Records, and looked in wonder at my naked office. My desk was totally empty except for the phone, which I don’t even remember seeing when I started there on my first day.

I had stopped by the weekend before and took my lamp, personal clock and my homemade wooden coat rack…I didn’t want the last thing my co-workers saw to be my backside leaning over my trunk or become a sweaty mess hauling everything out on the last hour.

I wanted to slip away around mid-day without any goodbyes or silly rituals…

I had told this to the handful of friends I had weeks before. No parties, not even a surprise one. I made them promise this. They kept saying “Are you sure?” “A lunch then?” “At least let a few of us take you out to lunch?” So, I finally agreed.

Of course, the lunch outside of the office quickly changed into a “small office potluck” which of course changed into a more-than-I-wanted large potluck where several Managers were invited.

Luckily, I only agreed on the date at the last minute, so it hit on a day when the CEO was out of town and had delegated a heavy workload to several of the Managers to do while he was away. In addition, a few of them were also on vacation. So, luckily, it wasn’t horrible and got over in about two hours without speeches or sentiment.

It wasn’t that I hated the place. In fact, in my career, I had worked there 3 different times. I always left on good terms and whenever I was tired of other jobs, something would turn up that looked interesting and I would apply and get the job back there again. Because I worked there three different times in my career, I had some lifelong friends still working there and knew the history of the place as much as the veteran workers did. When I was working elsewhere, my friends that stayed there would keep me in touch and we’d have lunch where they would share more with me than Administration would ever want to be shared with an outsider.

But that was what kept calling me back to work there. It was the family-type feeling all the co-workers had with each other, in spite of the Administration. And, during one of my times working there, (before the forementioned CEO) I had the fortune of working with the best CEO I have ever worked with.
Before he went psycho, that is. But that story is best left for another blog........

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About Me

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I retired in June 2008 and started my blog in November 2008. I worked at several jobs as a Registered Nurse prior to retirement. I LOVE being retired! Blogging has offered me a whole new venue to start writing again and to share new hobbies such as gardening, birdwatching and sharing my nature photography. If you like my blog, PLEASE click on "follow this blog". Having a lot of followers reading my blog gives me incentive to continue to do photography and to continue to write. I also LOVE comments, so I encourage you to leave me a comment after you read my posts. Thanks everyone, for taking the time to read me!!

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