the name tags, the bar stool, and the Matrix

Last week, we had a power outage at work. It was a strange situation. We thought that a power line had been knocked out because the wind was blowing really hard that day, but when we surveyed the neighborhood, we realized that everybody else in our block  had power but us. Luckily for me, I had to head out to a training session in another office so I was spared the experience of sitting in the dark until the power came back on.

It was not so lucky for my co-worker. I’m going to call her Penny.

She had a lot of work to do that day. Typically, her job revolves around dealing with people, so it was only by some stroke of bad fortune that the power outage happened on the one day when she actually needed her computer. The particular project had to do with printing out these special name tags, which had to be made perfectly according to predetermined specifications. She figured she would need all day to get these name tags the way she needed them, so this power outage was a real dent in her plans. So she packed up her stuff, got in her car and headed home to get some work done.

She had a good set up in her dining area: laptop turned on, paperwork set out, fresh coffee in her cup and her home and cellphone within reach in case the power came back on at the office. She hunkered down to get some good work done.

Just as she was getting into a flow, the house phone rang. She didn’t answer it. She figured if the people at the office needed to reach her, they would call her cellphone. Anyone who was truly important knew how to reach her through that number. Otherwise, it was not worth interrupting her workflow. Not that day.

Seconds later, her cellphone went buzzing underneath a stack of paperwork on her makeshift desk. This must be the office, she thought. Maybe the power’s back on! She hurriedly rifles through her stacks of paper, trying to locate her tiny phone, which was buzzing impatiently underneath. And then, it happened.

She knocked over her coffee.

The five seconds that followed were, in her words, “one of those times when you knew your brain was supposed to be moving fast, but instead it just shuts down.” I know what that’s like. It’s like everything is in slow motion. So as I describe the next chain of events, I need you to imagine it playing out like a scene from the Matrix. I’m pretty sure that’s how it played out in her mind. At least that’s how it would play out in mine. So cue the slow motion, and here we go:

She watched her coffee spilling, flooding her precious name tags, and she thought to herself, I should get the name tags out of here. So she tried to get up from her bar stool, but her feet didn’t quite make it to the floor. She lost her balance and felt herself (in slow motion, of course) tipping over backwards.

Then she thought to herself, Oh no, I’m falling. I should hang on to something. So she reached out her hands to grab the counter. Instead, she grabbed onto the laptop. Of course, since it’s not screwed onto the counter top, it went flying. As she was falling backwards, she inadvertently flung the laptop across the dining room. It landed with a big crash on the floor.

And that’s not even the end of it. Because she was still falling.

With nothing to hold on to, she braced herself for the inevitable. She heard it before she felt it, the back of her head cracking against the hardwood like a bowling ball. Or a frozen watermelon against concrete. Upon impact, she thought, Oh no. I’m going to get a concussion.

Penny’s husband is a doctor. Actually, not just any doctor. He is ranked one of The Top Physicians in Washington State, according to some Very Official Medical Magazine. He’s that good. But if you’ve been married to the same man for as long as she has, you know that some accidents are better kept to yourself because it would do more harm than good to share them with your other half.

So she cleaned up her spill, put together her laptop (now with a giant crack in it), packed up her stuff…and drove back to the office. Because in spite of the fact that she was probably too fuzzy to drive, she knew she would be safer there than alone at home, with a possible mild concussion and a growing desire to nap. And of course, after all that, there were still those darn name tags to be made.

She made it out okay. She did manage to finish her name tags, but due to no fault of her own, the template she used didn’t quite fit into the labels she had. So after all that trouble, they ended up printing out all wrong. I offered to redo them for her, and fortunately she accepted, thus putting an end to the name tag saga.

Ironically, as she was telling this story to another one of our co-workers, we were informed that the power actually came back on within less than an hour that day. If she had only stayed, had lunch, relaxed for a half hour, this whole bar stool debacle might have been avoided.

But then again, if she hadn’t hit her head, I might not have realized she needed help with her project. And she might still be working on those name tags.

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