Weekends at the Hospital

When I was in college, one of my part-time jobs was working the 3-11 shift on Fridays and Saturdays at a nearby hospital. I was a unit secretary on 3 Main, a cardiac stepdown unit where patients were hooked up to heart monitors. Some had heart surgery, and were on their way to recovery. Some had cardiac events or various issues that required careful monitoring. And then we had the occasional patient who overdosed on cocaine. The stories on how these individuals ended up on our unit were always of interest to me. It was the first question I’d ask the admitting nurse. I had a sense that there were cautionary tales of humanity embedded in the details, but what were they? Watch your cholesterol intake? Exercise? Avoid an overdose? Too obvious. There must have been something bigger to learn here.

Hospitals can be stressful places, so instead of showing a photo of the one where I worked, here’s a nice photo of a stone path in a Zen garden.

For four years and 16 hours per week, I went to work every weekend until I graduated. Though I was surrounded by patients whose mortality stared them down and challenged their will to live, my immediate tasks and youthful naiveté shielded me from the very different realities that hung over them. I thought, “There are stories here with lessons to be learned. But I’ll think about it more - later.”

Now I get it: there are few things as urgent, pressing or dramatic as the experiences these patients had. I know there isn’t much I do as a designer in the corporate world that compares to what I saw in those four years. Not to diminish the contributions of our industry, because we work hard to alleviate confusion, provide clarity and create helpful and exciting experiences for consumers on behalf of our stakeholders and clients. There is value in that. Nevertheless, extreme urgency and ferocious responses should be relegated to life or death situations - not when an email goes out with a typo in the body copy, for example.

Instead, maybe our responses could display a sense of balance: know what’s really important versus what could merely be addressed with grace and understanding. Leaders in particular might put this into practice if they’re going to inspire and lead their fellow humans while shaping a healthy and constructive workplace culture.

Those weekends at the hospital offered a unique perspective on my career where respect for life, empathy and generosity have become guiding values. It’s so simple that it’s cliché, but I’ll write it anyway: we’re on this planet for a very short time so let’s be good to each other while we’re here.

Sporting Harry Potter glasses in my college photo I.D.

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