Sunday, April 15, 2007

In Praise of Security Guards

Over the two and a half years I've been volunteering, I've spent a lot of time talking to the hospital security guards. They spend a lot of time in the ED, and in the winter -- when I park in a garage several blocks away -- they give me a ride back to my car after each shift, so we've had time to talk. They're a wonderful group of people.

I've seen guards come and go; the younger ones tend to leave pretty quickly. But there's a core of older men who've been at the hospital for years, and they bring much more than muscle to their work. Of course they occasionally need to subdue an obstreperous patient, and they have the background for it. All of them have served in the military, and at least one's a former police officer. But I no longer think of them as backup bodyguards. I think of them as people who listen, and who help.

At our hospital, all psych patients are watched by security guards until they've been evaluated and referred to a mental hospital. This process can take hours; on occasion, it's taken up to a day. The guards spend more time with these very unhappy patients than anyone: more time than the doctors, than the nurses, than the referring psychologist -- or than the chaplain. They can often tell me more about the patient's background than the medical staff can, and they often seek me out to ask me to speak to a particular patient.

And they speak at length to the patients themselves; I suspect they're better at pastoral care than many of us chaplains are. Because psych patients are almost always so lonely and in so much pain, the compassionate presence of another person -- someone who'll be with them without judging them -- is especially important, and the security guards provide that presence. They're unfailingly kind, and often very wise.

Because the security guards function as quiet observers, they know a lot. They know the staff; they know repeating patients. They're an invaluable source of information and perspective. More than once, one of the guards has comforted me after a tough shift or after a difficult interaction. They always make me feel better. Before I started volunteering, I wouldn't have defined security guards as healers, but now I think they are -- or at least, the ones I work with are.

There are lots of unsung heroes in the hospital. Tonight I had a nice conversation with the guy who, week after week, keeps trying to fix a malfunctioning printer in the ED. The department would break down without its housekeepers and admitting clerks, without a small army of techs, without the people who wash tons of laundry every week.

But the unsung heroes I know the most about are the security guards. In addition to listening to the patients, and to me, they've unlocked doors for me, warned me away from dangerous patients, and helped me with my car in bad weather. We've chatted about our families over coffee. Last summer, we mourned the sudden death of one of their number to cancer; all of us attended his funeral, and one of the other guards tirelessly helped his widow, giving her daily rides and helping her with the bewildering mass of paperwork that follows any death.

Thanks, guys. For everything.


  1. And housekeepers and janitors and meal delivery transporters and patient transpoters.... All of the invisible people who often are more therapeutic than the therapists. ;^)

    Thanks for writing about the safety and security fellas. They are important to patients.

    I'm so glad you write about the events and the people you do! What richness!

  2. You always leave such nice comments, N=1. Thank you!


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