About Perrine. Perrine is one of the interchangeable children who work as counselors on 3-6: female, Caucasian, single, under 27, and the recent recipient of a liberal arts degree. They like to wear scrub suits, but not because they scrub anything or want to protect their personal clothes from rough use. The scrub suits are their personal clothes, not hospital issue. The girls wear them because they’re cool. They sit on duty in the day area in scrub suits and jewelry, with long carefully manicured fingernails that they make sure not to damage.
One day there is a large puddle of dark liquid on the floor in the kitchen area. On my way out of the day area, I tell Perrine about it. Later, when I come back for something, the puddle is still on the floor. The patient population includes two women in their eighties (one using a quad-cane), three women in wheelchairs, and several people who are wearing orange bracelets—an orange bracelet being the indicator that a patient is at risk to fall.
Perrine is still sitting at the desk, flipping magazine pages with her perfectly manicured fingernails. Again, I tell Perrine about the spill on the floor. She gives me a look that is dirtier than the water.
The third time, I come back intentionally to see if the spill has been cleaned up. It has. As I leave the area, Perrine says cattily, “Checking up?”
“Yes,” I say cheerfully as I go. “I try to follow up.”
About Richard. Richard is another recent college graduate, a tall, thin counselor with Prince-Valiant-length dark hair. When I make friendly overtures to him while he is sitting at the desk in the day area, he is surly and secretive. Secure, mature adult counselors (both of them) will chat casually about movies they’ve seen, dogs they’ve trained, and vacation spots they’ve visited. It is never appropriate for a counselor to discuss personal issues, but it is always healthy for adults to discuss impersonal things they have in common in order to establish a mutual sense of humanity.
However, the younger staff members are unable to make a distinction between what is personal and what is impersonal. If I ask what their favorite restaurants are, they are apt to reply, “This isn’t about me, this is about you.” Quite simply, they are hiding, afraid to reveal themselves. All human relationships entail risk; to protect yourself from all risk means to reject your own humanity. The 3-6 staffers hide themselves, then get angry when they are not treated like human beings. To be treated like a human being, you must reveal that you are one.
One day, after lunch, I say to Richard, “There’s cake and icing smeared on the floor by that chair.” He curls his lip in a sneer and says, “I’m not a janitor!” The previous evening George, also a mental health counselor but older and without the attitude, saw something spilled on the floor, grabbed a towel, wiped it up, and went on with business as usual. Richard does nothing. I think of the broken hip that can be caused by an elderly woman’s cane slipping on the greasy icing, and try to breathe calmly. Richard sits behind the desk reading a magazine.
I say to him, “The Department of Health requires that hospital space be kept safe and sanitary.”
Richard snaps, “We’re not going to make this a student/teacher thing.”
I reply acidly, “No, it’s a child/adult thing.”
Time passes. I go to the kitchen area for a drink. I have diabetes mellitus, a minor infection in my toe, and am wearing hospital-issue socks when I walk into a flood. The floor is flooded—not a puddle this time, a flood.
Furious, I yell at Richard. He sits his ground, and tells me the housekeeper will clean it up. I ask him if he has called the housekeeper, if the housekeeper knows it needs to be cleaned up. The answer is no.
More time passes, and the hospital maintenance staff arrive with wrenches and climb under the sink to repair something. Unit 3-6 staff knew there was a flood and did nothing to protect the patients. No towels were put on the floor and no marker was set up to warn that the floor was wet.
Patient safety is not a relevant concept to arrogant college kids whose self-perception is that they are above manual labor. They sit on their butts, read magazines, and keep getting paid. Nice work if you can get it and you can get it on 3-6.