Thursday, August 31, 2006

Define "Social Group"

Once a year my employer encourages that each of us attends "Wellness Week." They kicked this off when it became apparent that hospital employees, faced daily with the stress of tending to the needs of physically and mentally ill patients as well as the more stressful stress of dealing with their concerned, frightened and sometimes just rude, family members, might be, themselves, becoming mentally ill.

Ten years ago, the Wellness Week took a couple of hours out of one of our days and consisted of going to five different booths where we were weighed and educated about weight loss and offered a ton of brochures as well as the support of the dieticians on-staff to help us maintain a healthy weight in a setting where the only entertainment one gets is stuffing one's mouth with candy bars and Little Debbie snack cakes from a vending machine and washing it down with a can of Diet Coke on our massive ten-minute break. We looked then, and still do now, like addicts, huddled together in the break room, our eyes showing the strain of some tragedy or other that has befallen us that day, eating massive amounts of sugar and consuming gigantic amounts of caffeine to insure that we can head back into the battlefield for another four or six hours.

Another booth taught us stress management. That one was always the one with the line. Frazzled-looking healthcare workers dressed in scrubs with beepers attached to their pockets. More often than not, three of those would be going off at the same time and almost always while we were in the stress management line. It was almost like they were watching and finding the perfect time to page us, like an experiment using people instead of rats or monkeys. As the paged person shuffled out of the line and toward the door, the entire stressed out line would turn and watch him go with looks of empathy and sympathy on their tense faces. It was usually the most depressing part of my day, just watching those people leave accompanied by, "Beep, beep, beep, beep..." You could hear it even as they went out the door at the end of the hallway and approached their hell. But, if you were ever able to get to the head of that stress line, there was a social worker, looking well rested and happy, who would sweep you into the solitude of her cubby and reward you with cartoons and a quick five-minute counseling session before shuttling you out and into the next line.

That next line was usually a smoking cessation line. It, too, was pretty long. Nothing like having the nurse taking care of a nauseated, vomiting sick person while saturated with cigarette smoke. It did not take long for the hospital to realize there just was something not right about treating lung cancer patients who have smoked for fifty years, when your healthcare workers stunk like Camels (the cigarettes, not the animals...although there WAS a personal hygiene line for the people who tended to smell like the animals).

By the time I would make it to the smokers line, I needed a cigarette. Never having so much as taken the first puff from a cigarette myself in my entire life, I fully understood it's calming properties just the same. I would stand in that line for five minutes and just take deep breaths to give myself the motivation to move on to the blood pressure booth.

Blood pressure BEFORE the needles. That always made sense. By the time people had spent an hour in lines worrying about the final one, which was the vampire line, they really were stressed, blood pressures were high, emotions were boiling over. There were times I thought they should probably reverse the order; get the pain out of the way, take care of the fainting and needle phobics, then send us out to those other lines so we could relax and get something out of them. Yes, healthcare workers are big babies.

Now, the Wellness Week takes ten minutes out of the day. Most of the work is done as a preliminary packet of information that takes a month of investigation. Make a note of this: Always know what your LDL and HDL values were at your last physical exam. We hand this packet in as we go in the door, they give us a keychain for participating, and like a blur...weight and weight counseling two minutes; blood pressure check times three three minutes; Count Dracula one minute, two if you have bad veins.

But the paperwork you do before even entering the room...priceless. One of the questions that gave me the most trouble was, "Do you have a social group?"

I called the Wellness Wagon: "Would you define 'social group,' please?"

She said, "Do you have a group of people you hang out with on at least a weekly basis?"

I answered, "Yes, do they have to be real or is an Internet group okay?"

The lady answered, "These are the times we live in, an Internet group is fine. Do you like the people?"

"Some of them."

"Most of them?"

"No, just some of them."

"Well, do they like you?"

"Not much."

The interested woman asked me, "Does it make you happy to communicate with this group?"

And I had to be honest, "Usually."

"Does this group of people make you laugh?"

"Oh, yeah, all the time."

Then she threw out the bombshell: "Do you feel less stress when you talk to them?"

I sat there quietly and reassessed all the information Ms. Wellness Person had given me concerning the meaning of "social group." Okay, they have to like me, I have to like them, they have to make me laugh, I have to make them laugh, I have to be able to communicate with them and not need a Xanax at the end of the conversation to calm me down.

Quietly I hit the big red X and closed the messageboard down and popped a Xanax.

Back to Yahoo. There has to be a social group out there for me somewhere, and I am going to stay up all night and drink caffeine and find it, dammit! My Wellness papers are due tomorrow!

No comments: