We all have good days and bad days. Some days I’m clicking on all cylinders. All my ideas are good ones. Every plan is actionable. I’m at my most confident and ebullient. Other days, every idea is a turkey. My plans are ineffectual. I’m less ebullient and more – on a caffeine high and I ask myself if what I am doing is really helping anybody or contributing to any part of the greater good.
Today started as a turkey. Scheduled to speak at 11:00am at a local senior center about Fall Awareness and Prevention, I was excited about the presentation and meeting the seniors in attendance.
At 10:45am, I walked through the doors of the center and noticed the director right away, pacing up and down the hallway. “Where have you been?” she asked. “Ten more minutes and you would’ve been late. I’ve already called your office to ask where you were.” Her tone was portentous. “You’re interrupting the Farkle tournament, but that’s ok,” she sneered.
I couldn’t help but wonder if this was really going to be ok. Clattering dice and raucous laughter punctuated our entrance into a cheerfully painted cafeteria.
“Attention everyone. Attention, please,” she bellowed into a microphone as she swirled into the room. The laughter and rolling dice came to an abrupt stop. “Mrs. Cantrell is here today to talk to us about fall prevention. Let’s give her our attention before we break for lunch. Today is beef stroganoff day, and I know your mouths are watering. But first, Mrs. Cantrell.”
It was a setup for failure. We all knew it.
I spoke for 10 minutes about the risks of falling, listed tips for prevention and explained the Fall Risk Assessment was a tool that makes a good starting point for a conversation with a doctor, but before I could pass one out, the director snatched the microphone out of my hand and said, “Now, she’s passing these things out, but you DO NOT have to fill them out and you DO NOT have to talk to your doctor about any of this. Personal choice is very important.”
I stood in front of the crowd, mouth agape and had one of those, What am I doing here? Is this really my life? moments. Red-faced, I quickly finished my presentation and made myself available for questions.
It was then that I met Mrs. Pearl Jefferson.* Dressed in Nike sneakers, green pants, a collared shirt with a wildflower print and a yellow cardigan sweater, her light-green straw hat was worn at the back of her head and had one floppy faded yellow mum fastened at the crown. Her red rollator was parked next to her at the table, basket attached. She motioned for me to sit on its soft padded cushion.
After surviving Gillian-Barre Syndrome years ago, Mrs. Jefferson still fights muscle weakness in her legs. She had scored a 13/14 on her fall assessment and asked me to talk her through how she could begin balance therapy at our office. She bragged about her neurologist and gave him only some credit for saving her life. The majority of the credit though, she said smiling through tears as she put her hand over mine, “goes straight to God.”
On the quiet drive back to my office, I had time to think. Sometimes, I allow my job to be too much about statistics, numbers, referrals and reports. Often, I measure my success at work only in a tangible return.
The reality is, for every good day and great idea, interrupted Farkle tournament and caffeine high, sometimes our returns are just impossible to measure. We can never know the number of people who do not fall because of our balance training. It is impossible to weigh confidence restored after successful strengthening therapy. We will never be able to compute how many patients’ lives were changed because our therapists made a difference.
Even if we are only able to change, improve or save just one life – and only one – then, that is enough. It is more than enough.
*Name has been changed to protect confidentiality.