A Day in the Life at UNMC

Some help through a sad birthday

I’m out of the office today celebrating my 30th birthday. Exactly four years ago on this day, I didn’t have much to celebrate.

I spent the morning of my 26th birthday on the fourth floor of Swanson Hall here at UNMC, in tears. It was 2008.

Just two weeks prior to that day, I was expecting a baby. A miscarriage at seven weeks took away my mother-to-be title. Never having had the chance to share the good news with my family (we were waiting until 12 weeks) I didn’t want to burden them with the bad. So I told a stranger. I told Susan Smith.

As the manager of the Faculty/Employee Assistance Program, Smith is no stranger to sad stories. Miscarriages, along with divorce, sandwich generation parenting struggles, alcohol abuse and financial hardship are all -begrudgingly- on her resume.

She and her colleague, Marlene Schneider, are here on campus to listen, give guidance, listen, give feedback and listen some more to OPP (other people’s problems). Sometimes they are work-related, sometimes not.

As I cried that day, Susan passed me a tissue. Actually, it was a Puffs Plus.

“There’s no cheap stuff here,” she said. “We have that ‘Barbara Walters’ effect on people.”

Everyone’s heard the saying, “Leave work at work, and home at home.”

If it weren’t for that floral couch and Susan Smith, I would’ve kept “home” bottled up, negatively impacting anything I touched at work.

Smith agrees.

“Mentally healthy employees are a more productive workforce,” she said.

While I’ve chosen to share my story with you, Smith reinforces that what is said in her office, stays in her office.

About 7 to 8 percent of the UNMC population utilizes the FEAP services, but that doesn’t mean that’s all who need them.

“Physicians have a hard time asking for assistance,” Smith said. “They think they’re well educated enough that they should be able to take care of things on their own, or that they don’t have the time, but they are not immune.”

I sat down with Smith about three times. Each time, I needed fewer Puffs. Smith said most employees schedule between one to five sessions. Some schedule occasional “tune-ups” so to speak.

If the person needs more counseling, Smith makes referrals.

The next time I contacted Susan, it wasn’t to schedule an appointment. I e-mailed her the following:

…”It brings tears to my eyes to think about that sad time in my life, but I’m writing to share my good news with you. My husband and I are expecting a baby girl any day now…..I just felt compelled to tell you my happy news since you were there for me during one of the hardest, not-so-happy times in my life. I know it’s technically your job to listen and counsel people at UNMC, but I truly felt that you cared and empathized with my situation and for that I am very grateful.”

When I came back from maternity leave that fall, I wanted Susan to meet my little girl, Faith. She hears so many sad stories, I wanted mine to end happily.

So why am I telling this now? Well, I want our campus community to know this service is available. That it doesn’t make you weak if you use it. And that it can help. It’s OK to cry if you go…they have soft tissues…er, Puffs.

For more information or to schedule an appointment, call Smith at 559-5323 or Schneider at 559-5175.

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