“Maybe he’ll go back to sleep,” I said, in what I knew was an egregious act of wishful thinking.
“No, he’s not going back to sleep and, if we don’t get him soon, he’s going to throw up,” responded by wife, as our infant took his crying up a notch. It was about 4 AM.
Having already been up once with our older son who, as usual, sauntered into our room at 2 AM to announce: “Daddy … I’m not tired,” I went downstairs for a sippy cup of milk to see if that would sooth the savage beast our little one had become.
It didn’t, and every time my wife or I tried to put him back down, he was apoplectic. The only thing that seemed to calm him down was Nick Jr.
At 5:30, my wife pleaded, “Can you take him downstairs for an hour and let me sleep, then I’ll take over?”
As that sounded like a fair deal, I accepted and headed off with the baby. Before we hit the stairs, we were joined by our 3-year old, who asked, “Can I come too?”
“Sure, why not,” I wearily replied.
On just about no sleep, I watched the two of them from 5:30 to 7:30, deciding to give my wife an extra hour of sleep and planning to extract as much in return. During that time, I absorbed a few episodes of Wow Wow Wubbzy and Kipper, changed a number of diapers, gave them breakfast and admonished both frequently not to do something or other.
At 7:15, I laid the groundwork for my escape.
“Good morning darling,” I said with thinly veiled sarcasm. “I hope you had a nice rest. Please come downstairs by 7:30 to assume control of your offspring.”
At 7:22, I went back upstairs to find her still in bed. “Hi Darling,” I said through teeth that refused to part, “I must warn you: at 7:30, I’m getting in that bed and, if you’re not downstairs, your children will be left to their own devices.”
At about 7:32, with every fiber of my being in desperate need of sleep, she yelled from upstairs, “We’ve got a big problem. The bathroom sink has backed up. It’s a mess. There’s water all of the floor and the plunger isn’t working. My dad is coming over to fix it.”
My mental unraveling commenced.
Being that the bathroom in question is off our bedroom, I knew that — like a desert wanderer falling upon a mirage — my rest had been dangerously postponed. I was now on the edge, all patience gone, ready to snap. What I didn’t know what exactly how much bandwidth I had left.
Turns out it was about 2 hours.
With my wife cleaning up the bathroom and her father working on the plumbing, I was still with the children far past my expiration date. We were up in the younger one’s bedroom when it was about time for another round of diaper changes and snacks, but apparently such tasks were then beyond my ability to perform. Eventually, they were both crying about something, and I was sitting unresponsive in a rocking chair looking like an extra from the first half of Awakenings.
Hearing the commotion, my wife came into the bedroom, took one look at me (paradoxically, my eyes communicated both rage and exhaustion) and jumped into action.
“Dad, why don’t you get going, and we can work on this again later. I’m going to take the kids out for a while so Anthony can get a break.”
“I think that’s a good idea,” I muttered.
Anyone with even a cursory familiarity with “professional” wrestling knows about the tag-team match, where two wrestlers are on each side, but only one from each team in the ring at a time. To get the other person in, you need to make the tag.
I desperately needed to make a tag and, though I finally did, it was about 2 hours too late. In that last hour or so, I was not the parent I wanted to be – I was snappy and short with those little ones. After a three-hour coma, however, I was good as new and ready to embrace them again. I didn’t need much of a break, but I very much needed a break.
As managers, the lesson here is to keep an eye out for folks who are 2 hours beyond their expiration date. With so much on the plates of your departments, they will not be few and far between. The biggest cause of breakdown is when an anticipated break is cancelled — when someone is told they can’t take a vacation they had planned or when a day-off request can’t be granted.
All agree that the current healthcare IT environment will not slow down anytime soon — that this is a marathon, not a sprint. Marathon runners must always know where they are in relation to the finish line so they can pace themselves. Having a respite which you’ve planned for, which you’ve paced yourself to fall upon, yanked away, is dangerous and cruel. Your folks may not need much of a break but all will, at times, be in desperate need of one. Recognizing this need, and accommodating it whatever the cost, is a key element of your job. Get it right, and your staff will always be the employees they want to be.