This post is the first in a series exploring lessons learned over a long, successful career. Every situation in life has something to teach us as long as we’re paying attention. Enjoy!
Having been self-employed for a quite number of years, it was a significant turning point in life to receive my first “real job” offer – moving to the world of the W4 and W2. Just to clarify, those self-employment gigs consisted of a mix of lawn mowing, snow shoveling, baby sitting and collecting pop bottles to redeem for cash.
At 15, I had advanced in years sufficient to warrant a work permit and had the good fortune to be referred by a family friend to the head of the X-Ray department at a relatively small Osteopathic Hospital. His job offer was to join the X-Ray Team as an orderly for the summer. Duties were primarily to transport patients between their rooms and the Department. Sounded good to me – a little exercise, a chance to meet people (nurses & candy stripers?), a nice white medical jacket, air conditioning, a well-stocked cafeteria and a small but regular paycheck.
Some of my expectations were met, but there were a number of surprises unfolding that summer that made some long lasting impressions. Reflecting back, it’s easy to see why hospitals are such a rich source of material for TV dramas and sitcoms. I tend to think of it now as a M*A*S*H like experience. The rub was that I quickly became the object of the team’s pranks…nothing dangerous or life threatening, just fun for them. I was simply a young naive kid – not stupid, mind you – just “inexperienced”. I was dispatched on various missions, such as: “Quick, an emergency, take this supply order down to the Supply Center, read it to them & bring back the package.” My written order and verbal request for “a case of fallopian tubes” was met with howls by the ladies in Supplies.
These soon lead to more macabre assignments – taking questionable packages wrapped in brown paper from surgery to the morgue – they liked watching my reaction to the unwrapping. Then there was the hypnotism. There must have been a group discount on classes that summer. I was usually the subject each staffer tried to place under a spell. Maybe it worked maybe not – I don’t know (cluck, cluck).
Patient transport was my main assignment. My secondary assignment and reason for this story was to serve as a protégé to Larry, who worked in the dark room developing X-rays. Larry was blind and my role was to assist him occasionally in the dark room and to take him to lunch every day. The truth is – this teenager’s first thought was Larry was pretty gross. He was short, buzz cut, bad teeth, hairy arms and sweaty palms, which were particularly uncomfortable as he clutched my arm to and from the cafeteria. Watching him eat was equally as uncomfortable due to the difficulty he had hitting his mouth with the utensil. I finally had to direct – “No Larry, more to the left. Ok. Now wipe your chin.” Man this could be a long summer.
But that first impression turned quickly. As each day progressed and I got to know Larry, time spent with him proved to be the best part of that first job. My discomfort with his appearance and disability melted as I got to know him. Soon came the realization that Larry truly appreciated our time together and the things I could do to enhance his day and his sensory experiences. He taught me how to develop X-rays, we joked, laughed and occasionally had serious discussions. He loved it when I would sneak him into the X-ray rooms and give him rides on the mechanical tables and apparatus. We became friends and supportive coworkers.
The summer Orderly experience was very formative. As years passed I would occasionally encounter Larry at the YMCA, where he lived. His greeting was always the same “Jim – Great to see you.” I knew he meant it.
The Takeaway: Recognizing and celebrating our Co-Dependency is a significant element of success in the Workplace.