I’ve worked in a hospital for over a decade, and it still comes up and smacks me in the face with reality from time to time.
I work in I.T., and have little to no patient contact. In my current job I work in a corporate center a mile from the actual hospital, and at my previous job I.T. was in a tower with a patient-free floor. Every so often, though, things break through the bubble and remind me where I work.
One day several years ago I was doing whatever, and walking through the hospital. I was griping about the taco bar in the cafeteria — they’d changed the meat and it wasn’t as good, and I’d told all of my team-mates that it had ruined Taco Day, and Taco Day was the high point of my week, and — at that point a patient was wheeled around the corner of the hallway, in his hospital bed, with a halo device on him and with his family following with worried frowns, wringing their hands. My Taco Day suddenly seemed pretty stupid.
The worst was a day that I was working on wiring in the ER. Across the hall in a Trauma room, they were working on a high-school girl who’d crossed the centerline in her little car and gotten hit by a dump truck. The ED staff said the side of her body was “pulverized.” Usually ER staff has a certain bluster and bravado to them, but the staff coming from the trauma room did not. They looked shaken. I listened to that girl moan for an hour as they worked to stabilize her. Some time after I left the ER, she died.
So, today wasn’t as bad as that, not by far. I was walking around the hospital, waiting for a prescription to be filled. A patient was wheeling himself up the sidewalk in a wheelchair to have a cigarette — the hospital is tobacco-free and you have to leave the hospital-owned land to smoke. When I was about 10 feet away he rose out of his chair, grasped his shoulder and doubled over. I thought he was headed for the sidewalk.
“Sir, are you okay?” I asked in a loud voice.
“Yeah, I guess so,” he said. I helped him back into his wheelchair. “My neck’s all jacked up,” he said. I breathed a sigh of relief — NOT a heart attack.
Then a security guard rolled up on his Segway and called the patient a ride to the smoking area. It was only 20 seconds or so, and nothing actually bad happened. Still, it’s a hospital-provided reality check. They still get to me.