Way back when, half a lifetime ago when I worked in a lab, I learned the lesson of follow through. Or to be more exact, I learned the consequences of not following through. Let me clear up your confusion by sharing some back history.
My mother and most of my family go to a doctor in my little hometown, I will call him Dr. Big Stuff. I never cared for Dr. Big Stuff, I just couldn’t relate or talk to him, ever. I think it’s important to be comfortable with and able to talk with your doctor, to share intimate details about yourself. Not going happen with Dr. BS. I was a young adult when I realized I didn’t have to see him, I could choose to see someone else, which is what I did. Dr. BS discovered this fact one day and he was never nice to me again, not that he ever was in the first place. I worked in the local hospital and had many occasions to interact with him. He treated me with barely veiled contempt. Whatever. The fact that my Mom and family were his patients didn’t give me a pass. Nope, I had rejected him, HIM, and deserved his contempt. Again, whatever.
One day I received a call from his office nurse who phoned in a lab order for one of his patients. I quickly jotted it down, and instead of going to the front office and filing the order, I shoved the paper in my pocket, I would do it later. Procrastinate, procrastinate, procrastinate. I was a procrastinator from way back. To be fair, I wasn’t such a procrastinator anymore and was very busy, running my fanny off that day, but I should have filed it right then and there. I didn’t.
Back in the day we wore paper lab coats and they got gross, covered in all manner of body fluids. Can you say DNA? The following day I was wearing my shiny new, clean lab coat, going about my business when it hit me. I remembered the lab order from Dr. BS that I had shoved in my pocket and neglected to file. It was gone, still in the pocket of the lab coat I threw in the biohazard trash at the end of my shift. Horror! I struggled to remember the patient name and orders, but of course, that was also gone. Nothing for it but to suck it up and phone his office to beg Sue (his nurse) to forgive me, pull the chart, and repeat the order. It really was no biggie, not really. So who do you suppose answered the phone when I called the office? Why, Dr. Big Stuff, of course. And heaven only knows why, I still question it to this day, but he was delighted to hear from me! He was so pleasant and kind, downright cheery. Until I confessed my sin of not following through and throwing away his lab order. His voice got really flat and he handed me off to Sue as quickly as possible. I know my face was burning with shame. Seriously? It was not a big deal, not really, an honest mistake, but it was a big deal to me.
What is it about shame that teaches us (me, for sure) some very valuable life lessons? I need to search psychology books on this phenomenon, it’s kind of fascinating to me. I swore that day to always follow through and try my very best to complete a task as accurately and quickly as possible. And for the most part, I do a decent job with follow through. When asked about qualities I consider most valuable in colleagues, I always reply with the practice of follow through, it’s right up there for me. It tells me that my request and time is important, that the person who follows through cares about me and my needs. Or the needs of our students and colleagues.
I learned a painful lesson that day, but it has stuck with me through all of these years. I am grateful to Dr. Big Stuff. He was a player in an interesting chain of events that reinforced a quality I hold most dear. Our relationship has mellowed over the years and grown to one of mutual respect. I email him for news of my mom’s health, and he always follows through, replying to me very quickly. Thank you, Dr. BS, I appreciate you and all you do for my mom. Thank you for teaching me this valuable life lesson.