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Short honeymoon

November 2009

Someone complained about my handwriting. I’ve been working here only two months and already someone complained about the swirly, pointy, tilted inkblots I call words and letters. Granted, my handwriting is horrible. It is so bad that the only failing grade I got in middle school was in calligraphy class. Calligraphy … oh, the joys of a Catholic school education!

But I have been at my new job for only two months. This must be some kind of record! Usually people wait four or five months to complain about a new employee. It’s called the honeymoon period, when the administrators and heads of the group still congratulate each other on their hiring acumen; when the nurses overlook weird dosages of acetaminophen as exotic thinking; when students and residents interpret your silence during morning report as deep contemplative analysis, as opposed to not knowing what the heck “Wittgenstein syndrome” is.

(By the way, there is no Wittgenstein syndrome, although it is thought that Wittgenstein, the philosopher, suffered from Asperger’s syndrome. Wittgenstein wrote, “A confession has to be part of your new life.” OK, I confess!)

I guess the honeymoon is over.

I met my new boss to go over my three-month evaluation. This was the first time I had undergone this ritual in such a formal fashion. In my previous jobs, it was more like, “So, how’s it going? OK? Alrighty then!” and that was that.

Here, there’s even a questionnaire to fill out. Then again, apart from my handwriting, I had plenty of gaffes during this 90-day stretch.

There was the “reply all” incident. One day, an e-mail appeared in my inbox. It was from my boss, alerting the group that one of our new colleagues (not me) should correct some “inappropriate comments.” I wrote a sarcastic comment about how people around here think they are such urbanites, only to act as provincial as the rest of the state. Then I hit reply.

Except I hit reply all. I immediately sent a corrective “Oops” e-mail. And that was that, until my boss reminded me during our meeting to be careful about responding to e-mails.

Then there’s the “where I used to work” trap: It’s inevitable that people will refer to their previous workplace as an example on how to do things. Once in a while. it’s fine.

But constant references to “where I used to work, we did this …” can be pretty annoying. If things were so great in your previous workplace, why didn’t you stay there! Idealizing a previous workplace is like idealizing your first girlfriend: She looked great back then, but go see her now! You might be disappointed.

Bad jokes/inappropriate comments: Sex jokes always worked in my previous workplace, but it took a while to calibrate them in such a way that they wouldn’t offend, just provoke a roll of the eyes and a “there goes the doc again” smirk. I tried a slightly off-color joke two weeks after starting my new job …

Did I mention that you need time to ascertain the comedic environment of your new workplace? I wasn’t accused of sexual harassment, but my comment about Viagra and someone’s uncle made its way to my boss. “Just be careful what you say at the nurses station,” she implored.

So, to summarize: When you start a new job, write legibly, do not reminisce about your former job and keep your mouth shut. Better yet, just see patients, go to meetings and take your time to get to know the new system. Hospitals are like your wife’s parents: It takes time to get them to pay for dinner.

Did you hear the one about the hospitalist and his penlight?