Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Five People You Don't Meet in the Hospital

Quick --- name the five types of people you meet in a hospital! Almost everybody comes up with the same answers:

  • doctors
  • nurses
  • nurses' aides
  • the folks doing the paperwork
  • "techs" -- respiratory techs, X-ray techs, lab techs, etc.
Well, I'm going to let you see a little bit more of the hospital. Let me introduce you to The Five People You Don't Meet in the Hospital®, the people who work (hard) behind the scenes to make sure things go well for you in ways that are not always apparent.
  • The dietary staff --- cooks, dishwashers, dietitians, etc. These are the folks in charge of getting you that much maligned hospital food. Green Jello! What a treat! In reality, they do the best with what they have, and are usually the most cheerful crew in the hospital.

  • The pharmacists --- miracle centers need to have miracle drugs, and these guys are in charge of purchasing, measuring, mixing, and delivering said miracles. They are there 'round the clock, and their responsibilities include double checking folks like me to ensure my patients get the right doses of the right meds at the right time. In. Di. Spensable.

  • The Medical Records staff --- let's say you take Granny to the ED at 10PM, and Granny has been in the hospital 3 times in the past few years, and she takes enough medications to clog a downspout. But, let's be honest, you really aren't sure whether she had a cardiac catheterization or an echocardiogram last fall, and those medications are all in her medicine cabinet. How is a hard-working ED physician or nurse to figger that stuff out? The send out an SOS to Medical Records, and some poor soul has to search through a warehouse of charts that could swallow a blue whale and come up with the right one. Voila! And for my next trick, I shall pull a rabbit out of zee insurance executive's nether regions! And, please, don't harbor the illusion that electronic medical record systems are on their way to eliminating these folks -- that's a pipe dream smoked mainly by politicians.

  • OR Techs/Scrub Nurses --- I have a soft spot for the members of the operating room crew, which should come as no surprise given my line of work. However, I'm not only the President of the Surgery Club for Men, I'm also a customer! To date, I have had sharp instruments plunged into my body 6 times, so I am acutely aware of the need for a competent group of folks helping with surgery. Having surgery early in the morning? Late afternoon? Middle of the night? These guys are there and ready. This is generally, without a doubt, the most fun group of hospital employees with which to "hang" (sorry, ED crew -- you're way overexposed on TV anyway).

  • Last but certainly not least, the Housekeeping and Maintenance crew --- without a doubt, the least appreciated members of the staff, they tend also to be the most quiet, unobtrusive, and efficient group as well. The hospitals and EDs in my town are chronically overcrowded --- as quickly as one patient leaves another needs the same slot, putting pressure on the housekeepers to get the rooms cleaned and ready to be used as rapidly as possible. The hospital is nothing if not a high traffic area --- it often reminds me of DFW airport --- and does not have the luxury of having areas or equipment that is not usable, so the maintenance crew is constantly busy. Both groups deserve our thanks and kudos for a job well done.
Several years ago, working late on a weekend night, one of the private practice surgeons involved with our training program remarked that he felt that his closest friends in the hospital were not the other doctors, they were the folks listed above. Those of us who spend our waking (and often sleeping) hours in the hospital should do our best to earn their respect.