Friday, July 22, 2011

Dangerous Woman

Today was my first volunteer shift at the hospital since Mythcon. It was good to be back, but I guess my reputation as a wannabe social worker -- which is what a former spiritual-care supervisor always called me, in some exasperation -- has solidified. When I checked in with the ED case manager to see if there was anyone I should see first, he said, "No, the social-service cases are all gone."


So I didn't get to research special-needs AA meetings today, or call shelters to get beds for homeless patients, or hand out business cards for our local crisis hotline to single parents struggling with employment issues. My most weighty visit was with an elderly patient who was having trouble communicating, but who managed to croak out "Food!" I alerted a nurse, who ordered a food tray. When lunch appeared -- turkey and stuffing, Thanksgiving in the ED -- I cut up the turkey and helped the patient eat. It reminded me poignantly of doing the same for my father.

Near the end of the shift, I did a quick sweep of the ED waiting room, which is part of my official territory (although, as usual, no one there needed my services). I jotted down the number of people I'd spoken to, since we have to keep a census of each shift, and was heading back into the department proper when a security guard snagged me. "Hey, Susan, hey, c'mere a minute, okay?"

I know most of the security guards pretty well; they're some of my favorite people at the hospital. This guard, whom I'll call A, took me gently by the arm, swung me around so I was looking directly into one of the ceiling-mounted security cameras, and said into his walkie-talkie, "Hey, B, I think I've found the security threat. Is this her? Hey, B, look at your camera! Is this her?"

"Yeah," came the crackling reply. "That's her."

"What the heck?" I said.

A was laughing. "B saw you on the cameras and told me there was a suspicious woman walking around writing things down."

"Why would that be dangerous?"

"Beats me." A shrugged and went off to respond to some other situation, hopefully one more deserving of his attention, and I went back into the department to finish my shift.

We now have a spiffy new ED with private rooms for each patient, but some of the rooms in our old quarters had three beds per cubicle, with only thin cotton sheets between them. In the old digs, a nurse once came up to me, laughing, and said, "Hey, y'know that lady who asked you for prayer in Room 12? I just brought meds to the patient next to her, and that patient whispered, 'One of your nurses is sneaking around praying over people!' I said, 'Ma'am, that's our chaplain. She's supposed to do that. It's her job.'"

As far as I know, that's the only other time I've ever alarmed anyone in the hospital. But I was really curious about the writing-as-terrorist-threat issue, so after I signed out, I stopped by the security office. When I knocked on the door, I heard A, inside, call out, "Hey, B, it's the dangerous woman!"

B was rather embarrassed, and couldn't really explain why I'd worried him so. "You were walking, and then you stopped dead and wrote something down, and I thought, 'I need to find out what this is, even if it's none of my business.'"

"But what could it have been that would have been dangerous?" I asked him. As Gary pointed out, I'm hardly the only person in the hospital who carries a clipboard and takes notes.

B didn't answer. "You could have been drawing plans for how to take the place out," A said cheerfully. I showed B my notes to reassure him, and then noticed something odd in the office next to his.

"Why do you guys have naked store-window mannequins in here?"

Actually, only one mannequin was naked. The other was wearing a t-shirt and a cardboard smiley face. "They're to model the new hospital t-shirts," A said. (Gary's theory was that the guards use these things to practice pat-downs.)

"Can I take a picture? I gotta get a picture of this." I took a picture, and they admired it, but we agreed that I probably shouldn't post it anywhere online, in case someone decided to magnify it and somehow acquired HIPAA-protected info, like the identity of the mannequins. So you'll just have to use your imagination.

I suspect B took some more teasing from his co-workers after I left. Poor guy! Better for him to be over-zealous in his duties than not careful enough.


  1. Maybe if some of our border crossing guards were more careful we would have less terrorist issues. Sounds like this guy takes his job very seriously.

  2. I think by the time it gets to the border-crossing point, it's too late. If governments (ours and others) were less invested in war and greed and more invested in healing and social justice, I think we'd have less terrorist issues. But that's a much longer and more complicated conversation than blog comments can support!


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