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  • Writer's pictureValerie Brooke, MD

Things I Cannot Control


The universe or God or fate or just random unluckiness is teaching me about acceptance and control this week.  I was sitting at a gate in the Denver airport several days ago, waiting to board a plane to Minneapolis, one day later then I was supposed to get there for my next traveling doctor assignment.  It all started the morning of my departure from Reno when I woke up to a text from the airline that said, “Flight 1296 from Reno to Denver is delayed because your crew has not had sufficient rest time required by federal law.”  Hmmm…I thought, why was this flight scheduled earlier in the first place?  Maybe the crew’s last flight was delayed?  Who knows, at least I get additional time to tidy up the house, was my next thought and a way to make best of the delay.  

 

On the way to the airport, I checked the flight status again, feeling assured that it was only 30 minutes later than the originally scheduled departure.  Shouldn’t have any issues with my connection, I thought.  I stood in line with multiple other passengers, some with children happily eating snacks, others with briefcases looking serious and in a work mindset, and many with post skiing sun burned faces, after all, I was flying out of the Lake Tahoe area.  A soft male voice came over the loudspeaker, impossible to hear from my position in line, reporting something about our flight.  Immediately the people in the line ahead of me started to shuffle their feet impatiently, irritation already high due to the first delay.  Eventually the message trickled to the back of the line.  “There’s a technical issue with the plane,” the guy in front of me explained, “no estimated time for departure as of yet.” 

 

I sat down on the floor in line, noticing a little toddler standing next to her parents who were also sitting on the floor.  The dad had a handful of nuts and raisins in his hand and would patiently offer it to his daughter, as she picked one nut up, dropped it, picked up another, dropped it, eventually landing on something that she really wanted.  Her “jacket” was a plush pink bathrobe, matched by cute little slippers.  She had no idea of the plane delay or mechanical issues, happily eating one peanut or raisin after another, living as children do, in the present moment.

 

I decided to go sit up against the wall next to an outlet, to stretch my hamstrings and charge my phone.  I opened my book to read until I was interrupted by multiple text messages starting to arrive from the airline.  The departure time changed multiple times.  It was obvious I wasn’t going to make my connection to Minneapolis, so, using the airline app on my phone, I spent about thirty minutes figuring out how I could get to my destination in time to show up for work Monday morning.  There were no more open seats on the last flight to Minneapolis, so I would have to stay overnight in hotel in Denver, paid for by the airline.  I contacted my employer and let them know of the delay.  Fortunately, I had decided last minute to put my small bag with my medications in my carry-on bag, and not in the checked luggage as I usually do.  I’d have to sleep in my clothes, but at least I had a toothbrush!

 

Many years ago, this exact same scenario would have wound me up into an anxious knot.  I could feel that emotion stirring in the passengers around me, as they talked to their traveling mates, trying to figure out how to get to their destination, some deciding to book on another airline, others leaving the airport to come back in the morning for the same flight.  I took some deep breaths, telling myself it was better to fly on a safe plane and be late, then be on the nightly news reporting a plane crash. 

 

I can’t help but think of the serenity prayer, that well known saying , originally written in the 1930s by the theologian Reinhold Niebur, and used by many organizations such as the YMCA, Hallmark, and AA. 

 

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

the strength to change the things I can,

and the wisdom to know the difference.

 

I couldn’t control the plane flight being delayed, so I would have to accept it and make the best use of the time I had.  I quickly texted one of my best friends who lives in Denver, wondering if she lived close enough to the airport to pick me up and hang out for a few hours.  Turned out she was only twenty minutes away, so I was blessed to spend the afternoon and early evening soaking up her and her family’s love, accompanied by a delicious home cooked meal.

 

Of course, not all things that happen outside our control ends up with a silver lining like my dinner with my friend.  I was headed to return work at a rehabilitation unit in Wisconsin, which I was looking forward to as I loved the staff (and the patients, that’s always a given).  But this work stint would be my last as the unit is closing due to the hospital closing its doors for financial reasons.  I have worked at one other hospital that closed its doors many years ago, in Yakima, WA, but fortunately I left before it closed.  I did not get to witness or be a part of that ending but will now get the chance with the staff in Wisconsin.  I was not sure what to expect, though I’m sure there will be distress, sadness, fear, and anxiety. 

 

The closing will affect so many people, as it takes a village to run a hospital.  Where will they go?  Will they get unemployment?  Do they have some reserves in savings to bridge the gap?  These questions also weighed on my own mind, as I now would only have 1-2 weeks of work instead of seven in the next several months.  Another opportunity for me to learn acceptance.  I reached out to my future employer to see if I could start my new job in Alaska earlier.  Unlikely, as I am still waiting for the state of Alaska to approve my medical license, something that takes six months (the state that takes the longest per my traveling company who gets licenses for doctors in all the states.  I’ve heard there’s something called “Alaska time,” which I am slowly learning about).  I am also waiting for my future employer to sign my employment contract so that I can have my income verified to close on a house I am trying to buy in Anchorage.  I am also waiting for some money to be transferred from my investments so that I have the down payment for the house.  So much waiting, and for things that I have zero control in speeding up.

 

So, as I sat at the gate waiting for my flight to board for Minneapolis, I tried to focus on the good stuff.  The fact that I got to hug my best friend in person, when I hadn’t seen her in years.  The fact that I kept my medications with me, as well as a good book to read.  The fact that I had a hotel bed to sleep in thanks to the airline and didn’t have to sleep on the floor in the airport.  The fact that I do have some savings to fill in the unanticipated work gap.  The fact that the hospital in Wisconsin is aware of my delay and is understanding. 

 

And just when I thought the lessons on acceptance and control were filled up for the week, I received a new text from the airline.  “Your flight to Minneapolis has been delayed.” 

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