David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Stress Competency Testing

September 7, 2017

My health care went the nuclear option today. 

I underwent a nuclear stress test to determine how strong my heart is post cardiac arrest and recovery.  My doctor decided that this test would be the best way to confirm that I could return to work, a necessary step in the wonderful process that is the Family Medical Leave Act, commonly referred to as FMLA.

As a side note, in my boredom the last month, I have discovered the website FML - fmylife.com - where people post "everyday life stores" that verified how f*cked up their lives are.  When the bureaucracy behind FMLA--the usual best-intentions-worst-implementation of our government--gets overwhelming, the F* My Life Act rings very true.

The nuclear stress test involves having a radioactive tracer "dye" injected via I.V. into my bloodstream (Blue Oyster Cult screaming in my head, "poison in my bloodstream, poison in my mind"), pictures taken of my heart via the localized tracer, 2 hours of waiting, 8-10 minutes of intense treadmill time to get a heart rate up to 140, and then more tracer "dye" injected, followed by more pictures.  It takes at least four hours, although the patient is only active for that 8-10 minutes on the treadmill.

I had stressed about my stress test for a couple of days, in part because my blood pressure has been high and needed to have drugs switched to manage it, and because I didn't realize that the bulk of the procedure for me came down to just 8 minutes.  I had visions of being on that treadmill for a half hour, an hour, even more.  As a general rule, I hate treadmills.  Feel like I could go flying off the back at any minute. Give me a recumbent bike any day of the week.

The good news is that I passed the test with negative results and will be cleared to go back to work.  And for that, I think I am happy.  However, it seems the wrong kind of stress test for someone resuming administrative work within higher education.  We need our own stress test that can determine our competency for returning to work.

For instance, I would have started said stress test poorly.  Two days after getting out of my medically-induced coma, I was texting people at work saying I would be back soon.  Stress test indicator number one that this guy is not competent enough to return to work.

What would the full academic competency stress test look like:

Step 1) Administrator/Patient sits down with his or her administrative assistant and reviews the month's upcoming meetings.    Any sign of "gee, I can't wait to get back to that meeting" is already a strike against their competency.

Step 2) Baseline competency assessed: Patient completes survey that asks him or her to remember the charter and committee make-up of every committee he or she sits on.  There are no right or wrong answers here.  This is no different than the radioactive tracer showing my heart before the test really begins.  However, extremes in terms of answers (barely remembering or remembering all too clearly) are noted and passed onto the campus counseling office.

Step 3) Competency Prep assessed: Patient is led back to a waiting room and given minutes from all missed committee meetings for review.  Staff observe him or her for first signs of sleep.  Falling asleep within 15 minutes is considered a good sign; taking more than an hour to fall asleep is counted as another strike against their competency.  If the patient fails to fall asleep at all, the test is rescheduled.

Step 4) The threadmill test: Patient is hooked to a blood pressure cuff and a heart monitor and watched as certain threads from campus conversations are shown via videotape.  The videos capture two separate indicators: resistance and stupidity.  As more and more entrenched faculty and staff resist changes and recommendations for improvement, the patient's blood pressure and heart rate are monitored. At the same time, the level of stupidity by his or her colleagues increases, much like the resistance and the speed on a treadmill increases. Both the resistance indicator and stupidity indicator range from 1 (least intense) to 10 (most intense).  The most intense of these interactions between resistance and stupidity, when both are at 10, almost always focus on the topics of food, parking, outcomes assessment, and student-athletes.  This is the most critical part of the competency stress test.  If the patient can't keep his or her blood pressure and heart rates under control as either one or both indicators creep past level 4, he or she can not be cleared to go back to work.

That is not all bad.  In those cases, the patient often is encouraged to go home, drink heavily, and post something at Fmylife.com.