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Five Steps Away from Paradise…and Misery


It's only five steps from workplace drudgery to paradise. Unfortunately, it's also only five steps back.

The radiologist was back from vacation, refreshed and reinvigorated.

Over the years, he’d come to a semi-serious belief about the mind’s ability to tolerate dissatisfactions with a given job: No matter how long or short a time it’d been since you last had some time off, by the time you were on the verge of your next break, you tended to be just about fed up with your daily workplace hassles. Which, really, made it more a matter of personal temperament or philosophy than actual flaws of any particular job.

Indeed, he’d been pretty grumpy by the time he left the office 10 days earlier. A week of tropical R&R later, he couldn’t easily bring to mind any particular reasons why. There hadn’t been any nasty turns of events during that last week of work, as far as he could recall. Must’ve just been the gradual accumulation of a bunch of annoying little things.

Whatever they were, such things had been cleared from his mind by his first day of lazing on a sunny beach. Indeed, the first swipe of his mental angst-eraser had probably come even before he’d gotten home from work that Friday, when he met up with some friends for dinner and drinks. Sleeping in the next morning had probably been cleansing step No. 2. Indulging in a limo-ride to the airport and business-class seats on the plane might have been Nos. 3 and 4.

So, really, counting lounging on the beach as No. 5, it struck him that, as miserable as he recalled feeling before leaving, it really only took about five steps to return from that depth to his normal, pleasant self. He’d have to keep that in mind, he thought, as he headed from his parking-spot into the imaging center for his first day back.

His first unpleasant reminder of daily reality, after various greetings to and from office staff, was arriving in his office to find a pretty substantial stack of tasks awaiting him. Cases he’d read for which prior comparison-studies had arrived, cases that referring clinicians wanted to talk about, subspecialty exams that others in the office had begged off of reading, and of course plenty of paperwork. Getting through all of this would place him well behind the 8-ball in terms of his morning’s usual work volume. It was almost like punishment for having been away, saving up much of the work he would have done if he’d been around. He couldn’t help noticing that more than a few of the items were things that a couple of the others in the group could easily have handled.

Back-to-work joy No. 2 came when he turned on his computer. Or, at least, tried to. As the thing went through its booting-up routine, he recognized a software error taking place. He’d repeatedly told the support people about this-how at least once per week, the machine would take an extra minute or so getting started, and whenever that happened, none of the software worked properly until he shut the thing down and tried over, hoping for better luck. It wasn’t so much the wasted time of it all, but the lack of any meaningful response he’d gotten from them on the matter. (Like an aberrant noise one’s car fails to make while at the mechanic.) “Well, if it happens again, let us know,” was their inevitable response, (for that, and about half a dozen other technical glitches that haunted him on a routine basis.) Nothing ever seemed to get fixed.

Step No. 3 was when, successfully rebooted, he was greeted with flags on not one, not two, but three cases he’d read that were now in QA status. He imagined that, had he not been away for a week, he might have gotten these one at a time. One of them was actually a case he’d already known about-his alleged “error” was a normal anatomic variant, and he’d already said so in his response. Well, looks like whoever was sitting in judgment didn’t know about that variant, or bother looking it up: The official ruling was a “minor miss.” A quick glance at the other two cases showed them also to be matters of petty quibbling, to which he submitted his best-if increasingly testy-responses. Really, he was beginning to feel like any given QA was a coin-toss as to whether his stats would get a ding or not.

He was just beginning to get to his actual worklist when a member of the office staff came by with an armload of stuff for him to do. It seemed that another rad in the group was out sick today, and these items would have gone to the absentee, had he been around. As it was, the decision had been made (by the group’s managing partner, so not to be challenged) to shunt the stuff here. Hmm, the rad thought. Comparison-cases, studies about which clinicians wanted to talk-precisely the type of stuff they left sitting on my desk for a week until I got back. Step No. 4.

Once again, having gotten out from under these distractions, the rad turned to his actual caseload. He now had about 60 percent of his day left to get through 100 percent of his usual volume. Of course, that’s when he was reintroduced to the tender mercies of the group’s voice-recognition software. It proceeded to make the same infuriating errors for him that it had for the previous three years (the rad had long since lost count of how many times he’d obligingly “retrained” the thing, with no improvement) …and that was step No. 5.

He was now back to precisely the same frame of mind he’d been in when he headed out for his vacation. And it wasn’t even lunchtime yet.

[Readers now feeling a bit low are encouraged to go back and read the first five paragraphs again.]

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