A great day in the face of adversity


The computers slowed down to a crawl.

A hammer would have started a brawl.

But you can give us an A

We had the best day

In all the clinical hall.

Synopsis:  I’m a family practitioner from Sioux City, Iowa.  In 2010, I danced back from the brink of burnout and traveled for a year doing temporary medical assignments from Barrow, Alaska to New Zealand’s South Island.  I’m now working at a Community Health Center part-time, which has come to mean 54 hours a week.

Usually, Monday morning opens with hospital rounds.  Today I started early and finished early.  I had time to get to the VA to have my TB skin test placed and have FedEx send off a packet of materials in preparation for a 2 week job in southeast Alaska in August.  When I arrived at the clinic at noon I found the atmosphere tense.

Our Electronic Medical Record (EMR )system has problems, and every few weeks brings us another crisis.  Frustration builds as the system slows down.  By 1:00PM it made a glacier look positively zippy.  Then it started to sputter, shutting down completely from time to time.

The mood of the clinical corridor darkened as the work flow slowed.  I went downstairs and stuck my head in the Information Services room.  “Are things going to run this slow for the rest of the day?” I asked.

“I’m afraid so,” came the answer.

A lightning strike in a distant city had melted links in out communication chain.

I walked down the hall and asked an administrator to come up to experience the problem.  When we got to my computer, I demonstrated the 6 minute sign on.  The PA at the next workstation volunteered that she’d been working on the same patient for the last 45 minutes.  I showed the administrator how it took 5 minutes to change patients, but the process shut down completely.  I watched facial expressions mirroring my own.  I answered a few reasonable questions, and watched the administrator stalk out.

I turned to my two nurses.  “We’re going to have a great day,” I said.

Then I thought for a minute.  “We’ll use paper.  Call everyone on the schedule who isn’t here yet and have them cancel their appointment.”

I talked to a couple of patients by phone, emphasized that we couldn’t do anything, and acceded to a request for a mood stabilizer, to be followed by a more thorough visit later.

I looked down the hallway at all the people ready to do physical violence to their computers; the frustration and the tension became palpable entities.  If hands could have found hammers easily, terrible cybercarnage would have followed.

I thought about bicycling into a tropical storm in 1972 and singing Bob Dylan songs in the rain.  I remembered playing my saxophone in the Fourth of July parade in Barrow, Alaska in 2010 under leaden skies with mixed rain and snow and numb fingers.  I turned to my team.

“Anybody can have a good time when conditions are perfect,” I said, “But things are not perfect and we’re still gonna have a good time.  Because we’ve practiced and we’re good at it.”

And we had a great afternoon and evening.

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One Response to “A great day in the face of adversity”

  1. Charlie Miles Says:

    A great attitude in the middle of a bad day is a rare and precious thing. Half the battle is deciding you are going to have a good day anyway.

    (It’s probably still a good idea to keep the hammers locked up!)

    Lead on my good doctor friend!

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