The first thing I do when I arrive at the Family Waiting Room at the Heart & Vascular Center at the hospital is go into a cabinet behind my desk and chair, and take out two medical supplies. First, I put on a blue powder-free nitrite exam glove, the kind the doctors wear, and take out a white, moist Sani-Cloth, a germicidal disposable wipe. I disinfect the counter top of the table I sit at, the chair armrests, and the phone I use to speak with the Cardiac ICU. I wipe the receiver of another phone nearby used by patients who arrive for a stress test, echo cardiogram, vein mapping or other outpatient procedure done in the lab.
The wipes are a preventative measure to protect the family members, and the patients in the Cardiac ICU and Step Down units whom they have come to see. It protects me too. The disposable wipes are drenched with a disinfectant that fights bactericide, tuberculocidal and virucidal within minutes.
After disinfecting my workspace, I walk down to the Step Down unit, and pick up the day’s census, the record of the patients. The two page spreadsheet indicates the patient first and last name, age, reason for admittance, doctor’s name and codes. (Only once have I seen DNR (Do not resuscitate). Anyone can enter the Step Down unit to visit; the doors are open, but this is not the case for the Cardiac ICU or the Vascular Lab.
The germicide disinfectants are necessary, especially when you learn that there are new resistant infections like Candida auris, a resistant germ that is highly contagious and preys on people with weakened immune systems, newborns and the elderly alike. Resistant germs are often called “super bugs” but they don’t typically kill everyone. Scientist from the CDC and hospitals elsewhere say that unless new medicines are developed and the unnecessary use of anti-microbial drugs is dramatically curtailed, the risk will spread to healthier populations, causing millions of deaths in the decades ahead! Today, worldwide fatalities from resistant infections are estimated at 700,000.
My title is “Greeter”, but I do more than simply smile and welcome. I think of my role as a customer service agent. I am a resource for the visitor, answering questions and allaying concerns, as well as being a conduit from the visitor to the nursing staff. I am a gatekeeper too.
Access to the Cardiac ICU is restricted, requiring a hospital badge to enter, and to receive the ICU census from the nurse. The average age of the patients in the ICU are older than those in the Step Down unit, and men seem to be in both units about 2:1 to women. The diagnoses in the ICU are varied: cardiogenic shock, acute diastolic heart failure, coronary artery disease, shock, septic, myocardial infarction, organ failure, aortic aneurysm.
My workplace is positioned at the intersection of the corridors to the ICU and Step Down units, opposite the locked doors to the Lab.
The family waiting room is large, probably 20×40, carpeted with couches and chairs, coffee tables, vending machines and a television attached to the wall, about ten feet off the ground set on low volume. The Red Sox Opening Day Boston baseball game was on last week. Most people chat or are fixated on their phones rather than read a magazine or watch TV. Otherwise it’s pretty quiet in the waiting room.
I like the quiet. I gravitate to quiet places. I like museums, libraries, study halls, airport lounges, houses of worship, even funerals (to some extent). The quiet helps settle me down, recharge me and come to terms with all the changes and information that bombard me.
Aside from the squeal from a sticky wheel on a stretcher or wheelchair, it’s quiet in the corridors too, though there is some conversation amongst medical staff who go from here to there, sometimes in a rush to get somewhere important. This is real life drama; it truly is a matter of life and death in this section of the hospital. How naive and unrealistic of me to think, before I started, that I would be able to query the medical staff about patients’ conditions. I am a volunteer, and very much part-time, only four hours a week. I am one of over 700 volunteers at the hospital, helping to enhance the patient and visitor experience, to reduce the anxiety and worry that comes with visiting a loved one in the hospital.
One of the most rewarding tasks is accompanying the wife, husband, son, daughter, grandparent or friend of the family, to the patient in the ICU. It’s a personal touch that family members appreciate. While the ICU is relatively calm, or appears that way to the outsider (both the visitor and I) and it reminds me of my college undergraduate thesis “The Control of Social Relations in an Emergency Unit of a Small Community Resort Hospital”. For ten weeks in the summer of 1974, I engaged in field work at Hartville Hospital (a fictitious name), in a resort community in southeastern Massachusetts in an attempt to understand the Emergency Unit way of life. I found that the physical layout of the setting afforded control for the medical practitioner and there was limited access afforded me to the “back region” of the medical professionals. This is done deliberately through its “impression management”. The medical professional, in his or her white coat, maintains or even maximizes his position in the physician-patient relationship, by managing the impressions that others make of him, and the patient and visitor honors this interpretation of affairs.
And they should! The medical professionals provide intelligence and dedication to the public’s welfare. It’s so rewarding to volunteer in a setting that does so much good for so many people from all over the world. The Worcester hospital serves with interpreters available from over 120 languages from Albania, Arabic and Armenia, to Bengal, Haitian Creole, Hindi, Hmong, Italian, Russian, Serbs-Croatian, Somali, Chinese, French, German, Khmer, Laotian, Thai, Urdu and scores more. It’s an incredible enterprise serving those in need when they need it most.