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  • No Shoulder Season

    Jeffrey G. Chipman, MD, FACS
    No Shoulder Season
    I took a week to go skiing last month and stopped by the Sports Den in Salt Lake City.  It is my favorite ski and sports shop and a great place to find things you can’t live without.  As I have been accused of saying, “if it’s not the best, it's broken” and many broken things can be fixed at the Sports Den.
    I asked the owner how the year has been.  He said, “bikes got us through the summer.” (I previously wrote about the shortage of bikes.) He then told me that they have been informed that they won’t be able to get any Shimano bike components this year.  That is like the hospital saying that GIA staplers are not available.  He also said they have sold more ski boots this year than ever, had to move skis from the short-term to the long-term rental fleet, sold all the extra cross-country skis they purchased for the rental pool and never received any of the snowshoes they ordered.  Since so many are working from home, people are booking long-term rentals in their vacation spots. They need equipment to do their outdoor vacation activities as a way to replace the mendacity of social isolation. The normal “shoulder season,” the time between winter and summer activities, didn’t happen this year in many vacation towns.  I guess being outside in the mud was more attractive than ordering takeout and walking around empty cities. 
    It makes one wonder what the new normal will look like as many realize that some degree of working from home actually works.  UMP recently sent a survey about working from home. Target announced that it was reducing its office space in Minneapolis by one-third as some of its employees will move to a hybrid of home and office work. But this is coming with a cost.  Instead of being used for personal time, commute time is being subsumed by virtual meetings, and the end of the workday is creeping into the evening. Remember responding, “Just one more minute” to the call to come home for dinner?  Now it’s “just one more short meeting.”
    I was talking to a hospital colleague who has accepted a new job in another city at another academic medical center. This colleague said that the residual stress in everyone is no longer tolerable. “The grass isn’t any greener where I’m going, but I need a change. I’m tired of listening to increasingly hostile complaints.” Another nurse manager told me, only somewhat jokingly, that “I schedule counseling hours for all the other managers.” The effects from work are invading personal lives; it’s becoming difficult to leave things at work.
    While the pandemic may be easing its stranglehold on the rest of society, the cost of the last year on the healthcare community is becoming clear, and personal bank accounts are calling for the loans to be repaid. Much was said over the last year about caring for each other, showing kindness and grace, and being patient and tolerant. I’m afraid that as normality returns, we may expect our work environment to return to the way it was.  It can’t…at least for a while longer. And in some ways, it never should. The rest of society may be ready for normal, but we aren’t.

    Jeffrey G. Chipman, MD, FACS
    Frank B. Cerra Professor of Critical Care Surgery
    Division Head, Critical Care, and Acute Care Surgery, 
    University of Minnesota
    Executive Medical Director, Critical Care Domain, M Health Fairview