When you think all is well with the world—when there’s not a ripple on the pond and the elevator music is playing in the background—what you really have done is jinx the rest of the day so at any moment the wheels will fall off the bus!
I was having a peaceful afternoon and actually getting caught up on e-mails when my phone rang.
The lead technician started: “Well, I am going to tattle on myself before this patient calls you and actually complains.”
This is never a good beginning to a conversation. I had flashes that the technician dropped a bottle of yellow dye onto the patient’s white shirt, or better yet, while they were pulling the phoropter into position, it loosened and fell off the arm, skinning the patient’s nose and landing in his or her lap!
She continued: “I just had a patient point out to me that the letters on the chart were offensive to him. The letters were GDFUA.”
The technician and I had a good laugh, and then I ended the call. Then, the phone rang again—it was the patient.
He was irate regarding the chart the technician asked him to read and wanted to know what kind of a company we were running. I tried to ask what in particular offended him when I was accused of being culturally insensitive. He hung up as he threatened to review us on Angie’s List!
I spent the next half hour looking online for any references of GDFUA—all I found was “Generic Drug Fee User Amendments.”
Driving home, I began to think of the instances when life entered the clinic and changed the course of the day in ways I never imagined could have happened.
After being in the field for 35 years, I still wonder, “What is it with these people?”
Here are a few other examples of what I learned from those instances.
1. Things are not always as they seem!
While at the VA Eye Clinic, I had a day that was really starting to grind me down . . . and it was only 10:30 A.M.
I put away the surgery scheduling book and wandered into the clinic to take a little respite and see some patients.
Clinic was bustling so I went to the waiting area to retrieve the next patient.
When I called his name, this jaunty, smiling gentleman, sitting tall in his wheelchair and wearing his Vietnam Booney hat waved his hand and said: “How about a ride Sarge?!” (The veterans called me that due to my sunny personality.)
I wheeled him into a cubicle to begin his exam. As I started his intake, I noticed he had a plaid blanket on his lap and his polished boots were pointing towards me. He was smiling, I was smiling, and all seemed right in the world.
I asked if he needed help transferring to the exam chair and he said, “Nope. Done it a million times.” I turned to write in the chart when I saw him start to fall from his wheelchair. I reached my arm over to keep him upright when he frantically grabbed my hand and twisted my right thumb over by my pinky.
I awoke on the ground 10 minutes later with one of my technicians saying: “Director, get up. This is no time to be taking your break!”
I spent the rest of the summer in an arm cast extending to my elbow!
That day, while his feet were pointing forward, his upper legs were not in his prosthetic devices. He was more comfortable leaving them out and forgot to put them back. I was not paying attention because I believed he had “done it a million times,” not realizing those other times his legs were attached.
Moral: Don’t be lulled by what appears normal—that’s when you are in for some big surprises.
2. There really is a reason for everything—you just don’t know what it is yet.
We had a gentleman who I will call Mr. Johnson who came to the retina clinic once a month for diabetes follow ups. He prided himself on his routine and attention to detail.
One day, the receptionist raced back to the clinic and frantically announced Mr. Johnson had just relieved himself in the waiting room's ficus plant. She was aghast. Strangely, I thought it was funny.
We removed the plant and I had housekeeping find another one. It was still rather amusing until he did it again the following month.
Realizing we had an unsettling pattern occurring, I pulled Mr. Johnson into a room and asked him why he felt it necessary to do this every time he came to the clinic.
He stated his job at home was to water the plants. His wife was always reminding him to water the plants, but she would admonish him not to water the ficus too much.
He explained she recently passed away and he was missing her terribly. When he came to the clinic and saw the ficus, it reminded him to “water the plants.” So, he did.
Moral: After shedding a tear with him, we changed the ficus plant to a large potted fern. We never had another recurrence. We sent the ficus home in a cab with him.
3. What does “normal” really look like?
One day, our cornea clinic was hectic so I jumped in to help with the ever-growing mass of patients.
When you work at a hospital, you tend to keep your eyes open and remain aware of your surroundings.
The next patient I called had a familiar name, but I couldn’t place it.
She was in her mid-forties, dressed for success, and had a pleasant smile. I had high hopes this would be a smooth exam.
We went into an exam room and she said she was having headaches and thought maybe her eye glasses were getting weaker.
The conversation was lovely until I asked her how old she was. My technician heard a thud from the next room, entered my room, and hit me in the head with the oak door—I was lying in front of it!
“Maddy Hayes” had hit me with a right hook that I never saw coming.
As I was clearing the cobwebs, I angrily asked her what was going on. She calmly replied she found it rude of me to be so forward in asking her age when I hardly knew her.
Then it dawned on me: Maddy Hayes was the Cybill Shepherd role from the TV show “Moonlighting,” and this woman looked like a clone of Cybill Shepherd.
Moral: Keep your eyes on the patient—especially the ones that appear “normal.” They are the ones who take you by surprise.
When people ask me what I miss most about being a floor technician, my first response is: “Not the floor!”
I am happy to report in my current role as clinical operations manager, I have never been on the floor, I do not lead any exam or discussion with someone’s age and, all ficus plants have been removed from the clinics.
It has been smooth sailing ever since!