Thoughts on Casey Jones

I have had the song “Casey Jones” stuck in my head the past two days. This is the only Grateful Dead song that I own; I bought it after hearing it on classic rock stations. Besides the reference to drug use (“Ridin’ that train, high on cocaine”), the song is all about the disaster in which Casey Jones, a railroad engineer on the Cannonball Express who died in a crash in 1900. The parts of the song that have stuck in my head are “Casey Jones, you better watch your speed… Trouble with you is the trouble with me, got two good eyes but we still don’t see.”

Based on my Wiki-research, Casey Jones was not, as far as anyone can tell, a drug addict – in fact he may have been a teetollar! He was a good engineer with a few rules infractions for speed, normal at that time as the railroad companies were always pushing their trains to arrive on time or early. He was a family man with three kids, just trying to do well at his job. The accident that happened may or may not have been his fault; no one knows for sure. But ultimately, he was a hero who chose to stay on the train and apply the emergency brakes, with the result that he was the only fatality.

The song and story show me that speed can be killer (and I’m not talking about the drug although that’s also true). Rushing is dangerous. Rushing through life, through work, causes us to take shortcuts and lose sight of the meaning and intention of what we are doing.

I think God is reminding me of this because I have recently had a few over-committed days. Many times I will look at a blank day on my calendar, and – quick! – try to fill it up with activities, instead of allowing God to own my time and guide my decisions. And what’s the result? Things fall out! The grocery shopping or laundry doesn’t get done. I never have time to make that phone call I meant to make.

In medical settings, rushing can be VERY dangerous for a variety of reasons, and that is why you will very rarely see doctors or nurses running anywhere except a code. Usually, we have more of a “speed walk” going to prevent both panic and falls.

Speed forces us to take shortcuts. Shortcuts may endanger patients. As it says in the song, “We got two good eyes but we still don’t see.” How many times have we missed something that, if we were rushing, we would have known was serious?

Because speed isn’t everything. Integrity is. We have to take time, take responsibility, take a breath and prioritize.

Casey Jones didn’t see the signals, if there even were any; he turned the corner and saw the caboose and knew a collision was imminent. As it says in the song “Come round the bend, you know it’s the end…” He stayed on the train because that was his responsibility.

In nursing, we don’t abandon our patients who need us, even if it’s lunch time, even if shift is over. Even if we are really really busy. No, we find the time, make the time, to pay attention. In life and nursing we prioritize. Time is a gift.

How are you using your time?