Tuesday, February 21, 2006

My Goal is to Provide YOU Quality Blogging Care

Having worked in large corporations, I have often been exposed to the touchy-feely, warm-fuzzy, team-building people who likely earn far more money than any of us ever hope to make. These “fellow” employees or most often“outside team-building consultants” seem to have snowed over management to get them to believe that if you get the “employees” to simply think properly about their jobs, that it will make up for the cuts in salary and benefits and the outsourcing that so many have to face these days. These “corporate trainers” get through their jobs by devising cute slogans, games and team-building exercises to make us want to quit our jobs. They come in, torture us and then leave, never to be seen again. Or worse, the company may be large enough to have their own staff of morale boosters who come back again and again. It is no fun to be the fly in the ointment about their efforts, but knowing the ointment stinks makes it even worse.

I can remember an example from my own workplace where we had to walk a maze through an electronic carpet that was programmed much like a game on “The Price Is Right”. It was the job of each team to help their next person on the carpet to navigate through by helping them remember the sequence of right, left, up or back steps that one had to take. The first team through the magic carpet had the satisfaction of knowing that they had won. The ones who came in second place had to live with the reinforcement that they made up a crappy team of people who could not pull themselves together long enough to remember a sequence of eight steps on a “magic carpet.” If they had offered us a jackpot, the benefit of this exercise would have been a lot more pertinent. Rarely did these exercises seem to have much to do with any of the conflicts within the team that they had us there to address. And this was just the warm-up exercise…

These kinds of events came back to my mind while I was taking the day shift in my mom’s hospital rooms over the month that she was hospitalized. I watched as the nurses came in and out and did their job quite well and without a lot of bull. However, the poor souls who worked in housecleaning or in food services had obviously been forced into the corporate brainwashing of the type that I remember. We had a slogan on the wall in all of mom’s various hospital rooms (she was moved from room to room, occupying no fewer than five rooms in the month she was there) that stated that the hospital’s goal was “to provide you with quality care.” When the housecleaner first came by, she stood at attention much like a child about to recite a pledge of allegiance and she stated that her goal was “to provide you with quality housekeeping care.” It was slightly creepy, even if we got to know the lady and learned that she was really quite nice and normal. After about a month there, she would walk in, talk with my mom about her health and how things were going for about ten minutes and then would start to clean the room. Suddenly, she would say, “OH, I forgot my speech! They make us say this.” and she would go into attention again and repeat that Stepford-slogan. Mom and I would look at one another and roll our eyes.

The absolute most idiotic of all these attempts to brainwash the patients into believing that they were getting good care (even if they were indeed receiving the best of care) came from the food service employees. I mean, come on…everyone knows that hospital food is pretty bad, right? Well, these folks walked into the room carrying a tray and cheerfully saying “I have a very good meal for your lunch today.” No matter which mealtime and no matter what was under the brown plastic cover on the tray, some variation of this statement was made. One day, as the man bringing Mom’s dinner completed his statement about the high quality and wonderful taste of her meal, my mom asked him “What is it this time?” He looked up, perplexed, and said “I have no idea.”

I am sorry to share with you the gory details of my worst possible experience of this type, but I have to preface the story with one of the realities of HIV/AIDS infection. Many of us have issues with our medications that cause diarrhea. Consistently having diarrhea can, if you are predisposed to this condition, cause extremely painful hemorrhoids. Yeah...sorry, but it happens and it happened to me.

About two days before I was scheduled for a “team-building exercise”, I developed what is known as a “thrombosed” hemorrhoid. Just think “extreme pain.” The only way effectively to relieve this condition is to have a doctor lance the hemorrhoid and let it drain. So, I waddled my way into the doctor’s office, got a shot of anesthesia in a very sensitive spot, and then walked out with instant relief and a numb rear. When the numbness wore off, I must say that the pain was only bad when I breathed or moved in any way. I realized that I didn’t think that the team building exercise was going to be particularly pleasant for me and I tried to get out of it without revealing my reason for doing so. It came down to either going, or having everyone in the group know that my rear end was inflamed and sore, so I went to the exercise.

We were to meet on a lot of woods in the middle of Greensboro, and we were led in while blindfolded so that we could develop trust that the people walking with us wouldn’t cause us to break an ankle in the process. Consequently, we were also completely disoriented and unable to walk away to find our way back to our cars without guidance. As such, there was no way to simply slip away and go home or back to work for a day of more productive activity.

The first issue I had with the “retreat” was that the temperature that day was about 33º F and it was threatening rain all day long. There was no heat anywhere to be had and the event was scheduled to last all day. There were no toilet facilities either, as I recall. Anyway, I digress slightly…the important thing is that my managers who did know my HIV status had scheduled me for this event and about ten minutes after arrival, I could no longer feel my fingers or toes.

Within minutes, we were divided into two teams and each team was given a 2 inch thick by 8 inch wide by 10 foot long board that had a rope threaded through holes in both ends. At that point, about 8 members of our team were told to stand on the board, and we had to take hold of the rope and, in unison, pull up on the rope and hop to move the board along a track. We were not allowed to step off the board. In fact, anyone who stepped off the board caused the whole team to have to return to the starting point. For all the effort it would take to move these boards, the first team to cross the finish line would get to gloat at the other team.

I had the misfortune of being the person at the front of the board and I had the misfortune of having to steer our board along. As I was pulling up on the first attempt to move, I realized that the action was putting extreme pressure on the area where I had had surgery two days earlier. It hurt like hell. I gave it the old college try, but after about two minutes, I said “This isn’t working!” and was called down in public by one of the two men who were getting paid Lord-knows-how-much-money-per-person to stand around and watch us do this exercise. He made a comment about my general personality, not knowing a damn thing about me, and sarcastically said that “[I] really had a wonderfully positive attitude.”

The next exercise was one where each person had to climb a tree and perch themselves on the equivalent of a tree-stand. I refused outright and was really glad that I had when I learned that once you got up there, you were blindfolded and that you had to fold your arms over your chest and fall stiffly backwards to show that you trusted your team to catch you. Again, I was singled out for being a negative influence on the team. By this time, I was hoping that someone might be injured just a little bit so that we could all go to the hospital and get warm.

After the third “trust” exercise was presented, and I realized that it involved running, I had to call the instructor aside and reveal to him very reluctantly that I had just had a hemorrhoid lanced two days before and that had I had my way, I would be home sitting in a bath of hot water and would never in my life have been climbing trees or running relays through the cold woods. I was openly bitter by this point about having been called out in front of everyone and not being able to reveal the reason that I didn’t want to participate in this charade to repair team morale on our project.

When I got back to work the next day, I told my managers that they were insane to have forced me to participate in such a ridiculous event and that the whole thing was completely worthless as far as our team was concerned. In fact, I told them I was bitterer after the fact and less likely to trust my teammates because of it all. They agreed! Apparently, they got next to nothing from the day as well.

So, when Mom pulled the plate-cover off her meal to reveal a breaded veal cutlet in instant gravy and nothing, not one bean, not one kernel of corn, no mashed potatoes, just a cutlet, I thought that it is no wonder that American business is losing out to the rest of the world these days. Just think, where medicine is concerned, our healthcare is one of the most expensive in the world and our quality of care ranks a mere 37th.

“My goal is to provide you with the most expensive mediocre healthcare in the world.”….somehow it doesn’t quite ring as a slogan for improving morale. Maybe we should make our patients go on a retreat so that they will really appreciate how good they felt before the retreat.

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