Nurses, I Choose Progress. I Bounce a Ball!

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These days I hear a question – always the same question – over and over, everywhere I go. Actually, it’s just with strangers I hear this question. Folks who know me don’t need to ask: they’re already learned. It’s often just two words:

“Tennis ball?”

I’m not sure how long it’s been going on. My best guess? A few years now. It’s hard to say exactly how it all started, but this is how I remember it.

I’m always looking for new ways to do things, better ways, especially at work. There’s not much I can change in a culture that often hates innovation almost as much as nuns did at the height of the Dark Ages: “We do it this way because that’s the way it’s done, that’s the way it’s always been done, that’s the way I was taught. Anything else is a sin, evil, forbidden, and shall be punished severely.” It’s perhaps the single greatest curse on the nursing profession. So many ways to make things better for everyone for all time, more ways than there are grains of sand on the beach, all forbidden. Even speaking of such things is often career poison. Sad but true. Most managers prefer easy – for them – to better for anyone else.

So I change what I can: me, my mind, my habits, my techniques and knowledge, even my clothes, every little improvement my circumstances allow. All the countless ways you can save a second or two, prevent that many more mistakes or other crises, get that much more done that much faster, better, easier. It all piles up! And no one can keep that goodness from you or take it from you, ever. It’s all yours!

Great, Greg, that’s just wonderful, but what does that all have to do with a tennis ball? One way to improve your work life is to find ways to have fun, to break up the tedium, to act and BE an individual, to think and act creatively, to LIVE at work as a human being, not just as a cog in the big machine. As it turns out. over the years, I can recall many fictional characters using balls in roughly this way. There was Steve McQueen, for example, playing the “Cooler King” in The Great Escape from 1963. He broke up his dull times in a jail cell with a baseball and glove, bouncing the ball against the wall over & over, making it his trademark and his most American feature. I’ll never be a Steve McQueen, but I can sure bounce a ball!

Watch this great clip!
Watch this great clip: Nazis are putting their worst local troublemaker in a cell for punishment, AGAIN, yet they can’t bring themselves to take away his ball & glove. That’s the power of Cool! Of being an individual, not just a cog!

Here’s a picture of (part of) me and my favorite ball: it’s an “Official NBA high-bounce ball,” basically a racquetball with cool clothes. I usually go with a tennis ball because they’re cheaper and easier to replace when they go missing.


When I found my favorite ball, I still hadn’t yet figured out why all the boys at my daughters school were so excited to see me bouncing one. As it turns out, Lily’s school bans ball-bouncing, but no one told me. Apparently the boys thought I was a bad-ass rule breaker! So many ball stories over the years…

Here’s another one: On a whim, I told my daughter and all my new fans a story I made up on the spot. It goes like this: I traveled to another planet, exactly like earth but one-third scale. Everything on it was just like on earth, including the people, but one-third the size on earth. Picture all those teeny tiny people! They gave me a tour, and I met their world’s most famous basketball player, a very tall man – to them. He stood almost as high as my belt-line. Well, he really liked me and how tall I was, so he gave me a gift: his own personal basketball. He handed it to me, saying “Have a ball, man!” in his falsetto tiny man voice. I brought it back to earth with me: then I show off the ball as if proving my tale. It’s not my best gag, exactly, but it’s not bad, and the kids sure liked it. So did patients at work: it’s great to watch them wonder if I’ve completely lost my mind, and the relief and laughter once they understand the joke. Balls are the greatest!

No power thingie for you!
Actually, this suit is even better, but it’s also fictional, alas…


Back to my explanation. Stress is a huge problem in nursing, and it seems to get worse every day. We lose lots of great nurses every day due to poorly managed chronic stress, burnout, and so on. We also see lots of other consequences: distraction, errors, misunderstandings and conflict, misery, problems unsolved for lack of creative thinking. And zebras, it turns out, may even lose their stripes: [please keep in mind that I have no evidence for this phenomenon except for the cute comic above…

fire pit pendragons-hearth
Can’t bounce this kind, but they’re SO COOL!
Not quite a ball and not bouncy, but still, I like it!
Poorly managed stress kills creativity and the ability to solve problems and get things done efficiently. People think bouncing a ball at work is wrong because it’s not what they expect. That’s perfect Dark Ages thinking, alive and well today in health care. Which side of the line do YOU choose on innovation? Be honest.
It’s perhaps clear by now that I’m willing to show roundish items that aren’t balls if they’re fun or pretty. I get to set the rules here 😉
Errors aren't about bad people or bad luck. They're about bad planning, bad systems.
Stress even makes people superstitious and prone to needless conflict and violence. How Dark Ages is this idea?
A bouncy ball Master! I haven’t reached such an advanced level just yet.
A fine Beach Bouncy Ball with a great attitude!

Haver you ever had a manager try to shut you down for no other reason than that you exceeded her teeny tiny imagination? Have you found a way to keep at it, with her somewhat baffled approval (another story, another day)? I have. I must say, it’s a pretty sweet deal! What do YOU do to make it all better at work: happier, smoother, BETTER? What have you had to overcome to make it so?

I want to know! Nurses NEED to know! What are you waiting for?


  1. I think you bring up some excellent points…the main one being that we must make a conscious choice to make work a better, more positive place. It’s so easy to get pulled into the unit politics, gripe sessions and whatnot…this is a wonderful reminder. Thanks, Greg!


  2. Love your perspective and humor. Your batman cartoon cracks me up – nurses freak out on my unit if I ever say “quiet” or “slow”. It cracks me up how superstitious they are, it makes me want to say it over and over just to make their skin crawl!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It seems people get more supersittious, like the sailors of old did, when conditions are harsh, arbitrary, random, to give some sense of control. Still, I stick with rationality myself, as best I can anyway 😉 Thanks for your kind support – Greg


  3. Greg,
    I’m taking your lead…taking the plunge…”borrowing” your approach…. and putting together a humorous blog post for nurses to have more fun at disability accommodation request meetings. I’m always hesitant to use humor ….I don’t want to offend anyone. Let you know how it goes!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I fully agree Greg! It’s all about efficacy, efficiency and affectiveness! If the work gets done utilising your mode of operation, what is there to complain about? And if it’s done with humour and joy, all the better! Go to it, you ball-bouncer you! 👍🏻

    Liked by 2 people

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