McHenry County Opinion

Oliver: Keeping cool amid life’s heated crises can be handy skill to develop

Life has a way of throwing us all opportunities to work on our crisis management skills. Just when you think you’ve gotten over one hurdle, along comes another.

I learned when I oversaw the Northwest Herald’s front page that I needed to work on how I handled crises. Whenever I’d get too married to a plan, some important news would come out of nowhere to blow up my best-laid plans. I had to learn to go with the flow.

That said, I also came to appreciate that I need to have a moment to panic. I’m hard-wired to not like change. Try as I might, this hasn’t miraculously disappeared. However, I’ve learned to work with it.

First, I let myself freak out just a little bit. This is something I do in private because not everyone sees my panic the way that I do. Once I’ve had my moment, I collect myself, put on my game face and deal with the crisis.

Of course, sometimes I don’t have a lot of time to panic. It all depends on the situation.

I recently had to go into full-on crisis management mode on one of our particularly hot days.

All day long I hadn’t been feeling quite like myself. I thought I was a little warm because of the hot flashes that have come with my cancer medication. I even checked my temperature, which was normal.

When I went to take a nap, I discovered that the usual cool breeze from the vent in our bedroom wasn’t doing the trick. It began to dawn on me that I should check the thermostat.

The screen was completely blank. That means that the air conditioner hadn’t been running for who knows how long. No wonder I was warm.

My first thought - after the inevitable “Oh no!” – was to get Tony out of the cardigan sweater he always wears. With his Alzheimer’s disease, he wouldn’t be able to tell me if he were overheating, and I was taking no chances. Happily, he wasn’t showing any signs of heat distress, so that was a relief.

The other thing I learned from working in the newsroom was the value of going through all the simple things to diagnose a problem. For example, if the printer wasn’t working, I’d check to see if it needed paper, if there was a paper jam and everything I could think of before I’d call our IT team.

With the thermostat, the obvious fix was to change the battery. I tracked down some AAs and switched them out. Unfortunately, nothing happened.

My next thought was to check the electricity going to the AC unit. I found the junction box and, just to be on the safe side, put in a call to a friend who is a general contractor. It’s times like this when I miss my healthy Tony the most; he always was the one I’d talk through these things with.

As it turns out, it wasn’t the electricity, either. A call had to be made for an after-hours visit by the heating and cooling folks. That was scheduled for later that evening.

In the meantime, I had to prepare dinner. My initial plan was going to make the house even hotter, so I slid my plan over to some microwavable leftovers. One problem solved.

As I waited for the tech to arrive, I’d occasionally check the thermostat … just in case. About 15 minutes after I had scheduled the service call, the thermostat suddenly was asking if I wanted to set the time. Uh, yes.

Soon after that, once I’d cycled through the options back to “cooling,” the air conditioner kicked on. Hallelujah! The temperature in our house at that time: 85 degrees.

For a moment, I thought about canceling the service call, but I figured I’d like to know what in the world had happened.

The tech reassured me that I was right in thinking it was the thermostat, and that the problem had been that the old battery had corroded enough to block the contact. I must have jiggled it just enough to make the new battery eventually make contact. So he cleaned that up, made sure the rest of the system was OK and went on his merry way.

Although I’m a little lighter in the wallet, I’m more than happy to know that my newsroom-developed crisis management skills still work. Because no doubt I’ll need them again soon.

Joan Oliver is the former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at

Joan Oliver

Joan Oliver

A 30-year newspaper veteran who has been a copy editor, front-page editor, presentation editor, assistant news editor and publication editor, as well as a columnist and host of an online newspaper newscast.