Putting out fires

Gosh it’s great to be back at work! (I’m trying to be upbeat about the end of my vacation.) I’ve missed getting up before dawn, sitting in a stifling hot office all day, and then driving back home in the dark. Really, I have!

My coworker Linda likens our job at social services to that episode of “I Love Lucy” where she and Ethel are working in the chocolate factory. Remember that one? They can’t keep up with the candies as they make their way down the conveyor belt so the girls start popping the chocolates in their mouths…? Our job is something like that, but instead of chocolates, it’s paperwork. An endless stream of casefiles of families needing help. If you spend too much time with one client or get too involved with a particular case (or take a few days off!) the work backs up even worse than usual. There are a lot of people looking for help and good management of my caseload is something that has escaped me lately.

I think of it like putting out fires. Where are the hottest flames and the most smoke? Who sends out the loudest alarm? Have other departments been called in for mutual aid? You get the idea.

Where I run into trouble is being objective about how to spend my time. I suppose I should work first on the case that has been on my desk the longest, and in a good month that’s what I’ll do, but there’s often a contradiction in the work I want to do and the work that should be done. Between deserving and needing.

After spending most of this morning returning ridiculous *urgent* phone calls about overdue paperwork, I tried to get some of the really urgent cases off my desk. The family of illegal aliens whose wife and mother was killed in a car wreck last month, the kids ending up in intensive care and none had medical insurance. The teenager who just *discovered* she’s pregnant at six months and hasn’t had any prenatal care. The eldery lady who can’t afford her medicine and pay her rent. In the midst of these real emergencies, the fire I had to put out was that of the single mother who let her (free, on you and me) insurance coverage lapse because she couldn’t be bothered to send back the paperwork. She yelled the loudest today. She and her kids need the help, but are they deserving of my time, before the others? You see why I have a problem.

In case you’re interested, the fire pic was taken from my front stoop last May. An old farmhouse across the street burned down while the neighborhood stood and watched. It took the fire department forever to get water on it.

15 thoughts on “Putting out fires”

  1. And I thought my life was hard. I have had a glimpse into the lives of these types of people (the woman who was too lazy to return the paperwork). The medical office I managed years ago had its share of beligerent patients who never owned their own mistakes, and put me through the hoops trying to clean up their messes for them.

    And what is it with you and fire?
    If you are ever visiting Ohio and come by to see us, warn us first so we can buy extra fire insurance.

  2. I always said it doesn’t pay to take time off. I return to work and put out very small fires in comparison to yours! That’s a difficult job you do, Laura. I’ve worked in a similar capacity before. It’s a good thing you have beautiful things surrounding you to ease the pressure! Look forward to your long break after finals. I AM! That’s what’s great about working in education.

  3. Madcap: Yes, I see a lot of that. Like Susan said it, people who have trouble owning their mistakes.

    Susan: I’m married to a fireman! He did not like me criticizing how long it took for the fireman to get to that house – not his department of course – but I was really scared watching that house burn down!

    Mary: Social services is my day job – I teach at night. And with teaching there is also a fair share of students not owning their mistakes as well! I do look forward to finals because there’s no *extra* work after work.

  4. i hear you!! on the other hand there is no better feeling then when you are able to help someone who is so appreciative. its funny because most of the good things you do in a day are only known by you and the client. this has become enough for me. i had one of those days today. i know i made a difference in 2 families lives, both of which were not my case. some people may have pushed it off on the next person. i left work feeling good about helping those people. i think sometimes when we are being yelled at, we forget the 5 other people that we helped. see you tomorrow. signing off from you know who!!!

  5. That workload sounds exausting! I hope you can satisfaction in the good help that you give. I don’t know how you do it. It must be draining. But you have your home life, bunnies, birds, gardens (and us!) to bring balance. I appreciate that you work so hard to help folks in need!

  6. This story reminds me of a poster in the shop of my favorite mechanic. Everytime I think about bringing my car in an “emergency”, I think about the sign. I use the saying once in a while. Maybe you should post it at your desk. Its says “Bad planning on your part, does not constitute an emergency on my part”. Enough said.

    Work is great ain’t it ? Too bad we were born good looking instead of rich.

  7. Good grief! I’m tired just reading about your inbox. There must be huge random rewards in the cases that go well to enable you to keep trying.

  8. I agree, your workload does sound exhausting. However, your lifestyle seems in balance with time spent outdoors walking and studying nature. I’ve always found that the natural world has such a power to restore energy and order.

  9. I am sure you make a difference in lots of lives. Not many people can say that their job does that. And, your teaching job does it, too.

    Neat peanut ring in the post before this.

  10. Jone: Yes, I think I’ve seen everything. All good people trying to find their way.

    Lynne: Mostly, I’m just the person on the other end of the phone, but once in a while a client will do something or say something to remind me otherwise.

  11. Kev: Good suggestion – better than, “You want it WHEN??”

    You and I were born good looking, Brian got all the trains. 😉

    MaryAnn: I guess there’s something besides the paycheck that keeps me there???

    Bev: Yes! When I was teaching full-time I didn’t have time for anything outside of school. I like my nine-to-five job and teaching just one night a week.

    Sandy: I don’t know how true that is, really. I think I try to make dealing with the *system* a little nicer. I try always to be kind to people, even the rude ones.

  12. I am so glad for people like you who care about their jobs and who take time to make a difference.
    I have a daughter and several friends who have unusual medical problems – they have to deal with the system and often are so ill they should be home or in a hospital but …..
    Thanks for making a difference

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