“Well look who decided to show up. Only 25 minutes late this time.”
Joshua didn’t even bother to respond. It was the third time in less than an hour that he’d been berated by someone. Even if he tried to explain, it wouldn’t matter. The radiology tech had already made up his mind. Just like the nurse did. And just like the patient he was transporting did. None of them knew what kind of day Joshua was having, and truly, none of them cared. He was just a transport tech, after all.
A transport tech making seven dollars an hour. But one with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Colorado. One who dropped off his resume at the Denver Health Human Resources office once a week for three months – even though they didn’t accept paper resumes – just so he could get a job pushing sick people around a hospital 12 hours a day.
But his education didn’t matter to the patient needing an x-ray. And it didn’t matter to the radiology tech who was running behind and was supposed to be going to lunch with his girlfriend. And it certainly didn’t matter to the nurse back in the patient’s room who went so far as to call him lazy, and that one really stung since he would likely walk a little under twelve miles during his shift that day. He had one purpose to them. And that was to be on time. The circumstances didn’t matter. Only his punctuality did.
As frustrating as it was for Joshua, he knew it was a means to an end. Prior to pushing people around for a meager wage, he worked for the Forestry Service riding dirt bikes into the forest to clear hiking trails of fallen trees. That was his paying gig – on the side, he volunteered at a physical therapy clinic, which was a career path he thought he was interested in. Instead, that time helped him weed out the possibility of going to PT school.
A conversation with his dad – who is a physician, by the way – helped steer him toward looking into being a Physician Assistant, which turned out to be a much more attractive career choice for Joshua. Hence, the reason he took the Transport Technician job. He needed patient contact hours.
Unfortunately, he later found out that the three months he spent getting yelled at by a wide range of people wouldn’t count toward those patient contact hours. In the end, it all worked out – he was able to transfer to another position in the cardiac stress lab to get the hours he needed. (Funny aside – he walked into to the clinic unsolicited and asked if they had any openings. They did and asked him if he could read EKGs. He had no idea how to read an EKG, but he really needed to get a new job, so he lied and said he could. Over the next two weeks, with the help of a friend and a book, he taught himself how to read EKGs. He got the job. Now he’s a PA in the cardiology service at a major hospital in town, and he’s my wife’s go-to resource when she has questions about her patients’ EKGs. Go figure.)
But why tell this story? There is an important lesson Joshua learned from his time wheeling indignant patients around from agitated nurses to frustrated radiology techs. Those experiences sucked. They hurt, even. One particular memory still stands out in his mind.
Joshua’s friend was a 3rd year medical student working at Denver Health at the same time Joshua was there. As a student, he would round with the attending physician, the fellows, and the resident physicians, and they would travel in a mob from room to room. Before going in to assess a patient, the group would circle up outside the room and discuss the case. Joshua remembers coming upon one such group while transporting a patient, but being unable to get around the group – no one bothered to move – so he waited five minutes for the group to file into a patient’s room so he could finally get by. Of course, this made him late to his destination.
The idea that he was basically invisible was infuriating. To this group of doctors and students, Joshua’s job was so insignificant that they couldn’t even be bothered to notice him, much less move out of the way. He would likely catch grief from one of these docs later in the day, even though it was their fault he was running behind. And the fact that his friend was in the group and couldn’t manage to move over a few steps, well, that was the icing on the cake.
We’ve all heard of the ‘Golden Rule’ – Do to others what you would have them do to you. In other words, treat others the way you want to be treated. In theory, it’s really simple. Yet we can be so bad at it sometimes. Go on Facebook or Twitter for more than 45 seconds and you’ll see someone breaking this rule. And not just breaking the rule, but actually getting joy from being a complete jerk to another person.
So why do we do that? There isn’t just one answer, obviously. But it’s my opinion that part of this disconnect with other people comes from the inability to understand another person’s perspective. This lack of understanding can be genuine ignorance, but I also think some people don’t care to understand a perspective outside their own. And that’s a major problem.
How can you “do unto others” when you can’t (or don’t want to) understand what that other person wants or needs?
This is where Joshua’s story resonates with me most. He remembers – vividly, even – being treated like he was invisible. He remembers how it felt to be yelled at for something that was out of his control. He recalls being berated by coworkers with far less education for asking simple questions. He knows what it’s like to have a college degree and be embarrassed to tell anyone about it because he was making barely more than minimum wage.
Now, a few years after his experience at Denver Health, Joshua is a PA in Raleigh. When he’s walking to see his next patient, Joshua makes sure to hold the door open for the transport tech and his passenger. He takes a few minutes to answer the nurse’s question about an EKG. When someone doesn’t do what they’re supposed to do when they were supposed to do it, he tries his hardest to give that person the benefit of the doubt. Because who knows…maybe that transport tech is working a second job to help out his sick brother with his bills. Or maybe that nurse is considering going back to school for a master’s degree and is interested in cardiology. Maybe that person who didn’t do what he was supposed to do when he was supposed to do it had a valid reason for missing his obligation. Then again, maybe he didn’t. I know this might be a hot take, but a lot of times, we don’t know all things at all times.
But that’s the point. Don’t we all want the benefit of the doubt? Don’t we all want others to assume the best about us? And when we screw up, don’t we want grace and forgiveness, even though we know we probably don’t deserve it? I know I do.
Joshua’s way of keeping that rule is making sure to always remember his experiences as a transport tech. Sure, I think most of us would like to believe we’re intrinsically motivated to uphold the Golden Rule. But frankly, until we go through some sort of humbling experience like this, it can be pretty difficult to understand what someone else might be going through. The good news is that 99.999% of humanity has had a humbling experience like this in some form or fashion. (The other 0.001% is either, A) unbelievably lucky; B) lying to you; or C) a newborn baby). It’s a lot easier to have empathy for others when you’ve been there before.
Now the onus lies on each of us to give others that benefit of the doubt. To treat others the way we want to be treated. At the risk of sounding too preachy, I think it’d be good to ask yourself this question a few times each day:
“How can I give the benefit of the doubt to __________”.
It could be your spouse. Or the person who cut you off in traffic. Or the coworker who sent you an overly terse email. Maybe it’s your kid. Or maybe it’s your parent. The idea here is to recalibrate your thoughts and reactions toward other people. I think a lot of us can relate to Joshua’s story, but the way he chooses to use those experiences is something to emulate. ♦
So, yeah, I got a little preachy up there, so let me finish with something goofy.
Joshua went to Campbell University for his master’s degree (shouts to Buies Creek, NC). How did a kid from Colorado hear about a university with a total enrollment of a little more than 6,000 students, whose mascot is Gaylord the Camel? Leave it to video games to open up these sorts of opportunities. Joshua and his buddy used to play NCAA Basketball on XBOX. On the game, there’s something called “Dynasty Mode”, where you act as the coach of a team and work your way up from a small school to a major university. They were trying to find the perfect starting point from which to start their dynasty, and they thought the Campbell Camels had just the right level of swag for their liking. A few years later when he was researching PA schools, North Carolina was one of the states he was willing to move to for school. And guess who has a PA program. I’ll give you a hint: their mascot is a camel. The rest is history.