Thursday, September 25, 2008
Not My Best Moment II: The O.R. as a Cultural Anthropology Lab
I have friends who are nurses.
I have friends who are surgeons.
I have friends on the housekeeping team.
I have friends who are physicians in other departments.
When we are acting in our professional capacity, we sometimes have to assume certain roles according to our expertise, with some roles more directive than others. In the lunch room, though, we're all Red Sox fans together.
Or I should say, almost all.
I've heard some disillusioning things about some of the nurses' attitudes to members of the housekeeping staff. Some of the nurses have told the night crew to stay away from the leftover coffee in the coffee pot. Others have warned the night cleaning staff not to trespass into the area behind the main O.R. desk, which begs the question, how then are they supposed to do their work and empty the waste paper baskets or sweep the floor in that area?
It sounds very much like the housekeepers have been spoken to as if they were children or chattel. I am sick at heart to hear about these things. One of the reasons I prefer life in America to life in the Philippines is that here, people aren't supposed to expect "lording it over others" to be acceptable, as it often is in countries like mine. Here the people we serve are not supposed to be our "betters;" they pay us, we work - it's a contractual rather than a feudal relationship that demands mutual respect of people's rights.
In theory, that is. But the sad truth is that there is classism here. There are people who look down on those who have less education, less income, or more menial work than they have. There are those who would refuse to recognize the intrinsic dignity of another simply because she's holding a mop rather than a scalpel.
One of those is the woman I once rebuked for behaving unacceptably during a crucial moment in the O.R.
This same woman, Nurse X, yelled at my friend on the housekeeping staff, let's call her Z, to get her cleaning supplies cart out of the way while a patient was being wheeled out of the O.R. I saw the incident. The cart was not in the way to begin with. Nurse X took Z by the shoulders and shoved her to the wall, crashing her into the cart in the process, causing the cleaning water to spill into the corridor and Z to nick her shin. Nurse X roughly manhandled Z, who is small, in a way she would never dream of doing to a man "of rank" in the hospital.
It happened so fast. I was so shocked I didn't know what to say, then it was over and people went back to the hustle and bustle of O.R. life, and I got pulled away to take care of some medical thing. Later I kicked myself for not saying something - for being a weak leader, and succumbing to Bystander Effect - then rationalized my shocked silence by telling myself that Nurse X would have made an ugly, unprofessional scene right there in full view of other staff and patients, and it would have been fruitless to allow a scene to be made. But I should have done more. What's that famous line - "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men [and women] to do nothing."
I talked to Z afterward to see if she was ok, and she was not. Later that evening Z's supervisor approached me to ask about the incident and I spewed my guts out, not just about the horrifying incident but also about the stupid coffee pot thing and the behind-the-desk rule. But I don't think that "testimony" will do enough, and I went to bed that night knowing that in a very real way I had failed a friend.