A Thank You Note to the Sutter Folks Who Helped My Wife

This blog entry (well, the part I copied below) is actually copied from an email I sent to Sutter Hospital after a grueling experience getting my wife through a gallbladder surgery. I’ll set this email up by pointing out that we actually went to another hospital in town TWICE before in the last three months with the EXACT same issues, and got all the same tests (and paid for them every time) and yet, nothing. Then, due to the suddenness of the attack, and exasperation of the previous experiences, my wife went to Sutter General (downtown Sacramento) instead of the other hospital closest to our house.

Problem solved.

In fact, not only was it solved, it turned out to be the thing we kept trying to tell the other hospital we were pretty sure it was, given family history, symptoms, etc. (and yes, I get that hospitals and doctors can’t let dumbass patients make their own diagnoses; I’m just saying, we WERE right, and the other hospital people wouldn’t even bother to check that too, along with all the other crap they are obligated to test for, and that they charged us for both times, again etc., which is fine, doing their job, blah blah).  Plus everyone at that other, nearby hospital was cranky. My wife heard them complaining about being tired and about how many people kept calling in sick and not coming in, so everyone was beat down and miserable to even be there. (Probably a cycle that perpetuates itself.)

Anyway, I’m way behind on book 6 of the series even more now, with this major life incident and the week of recovery thus far underway, but I am not behind without a totally valid excuse. So, in lieu of a better update on Galactic Mage progress, I thought I’d share the email I sent to Sutter Hospital thanking them for their work. And, because I am an odd duck, the things I noticed about them in the context of having been at the other hospital—the fine details that observers of humanity as writers are—made me realize how down to the last detail these guys were good. You’ll see what I mean if you read on.

So you’ll notice that my gratitude is directed at “the little guy” so to speak, focusing not so much on the ones who worked on my wife, but on the ones who worked, in a way, on me. My experience is the only one I have to go on, as I did not experience my wife’s, you know? What I saw verifies that no matter how “insignificant” you might think you are at your workplace, no matter how impressive is your W-2, you probably matter more than you think.

Anyway, all that said, here’s my typically long-winded email (which they actually even responded to today, proving they even read painfully long-ass emails from people). My email:

Hi.

So I’m sure you get lots of compliments (and probably complaints too, given the nature of human nature) on your doctors and nurses and other specialists. I can tell you that all of the above were excellent in our experience having my wife’s gallbladder surgery. Props to them, seriously. But as an artist, and a person who essentially makes his living by observing the less obvious parts of life, I want to tell you—and mostly them—that the folks in your housekeeping department are doing a great job, beyond just “cleaning and taking out the trash.” They’re doing more than they know.

My wife and I were there for a looooooooooooooooong time. Like, all day (9:30 a.m. until around 9:30 p.m. just in room 20 of the ER before there was a room and a surgery room … and that was before the actual surgery and then the long night and long next day recovering, etc.). And yes, the doctors and nurses were all great. They were busy. You guys were slammed. Hell, there was even a power outage to keep it interesting. Some guy was brought in who was covered in bedbugs and you guys had to deal with that right on the heels of the guy who’d been freaking out and cussing you all out and … well, put it this way: I wouldn’t want any of your jobs. If I’m being honest, if I had to care for “my fellow man” … the sorts you people deal with … well, my fellow man would be screwed. So, thank you for that.  But, I have to tell you, not only are your frontline doctors, techs, nurses—your experts—doing a fine job, it was your housekeeping people who made me realize how complete your hospital system is.

First, while sitting there for that moaning eternity in room 20, there was this young fellow from your housekeeping department who was working on a rolling garbage can cart sort of thing. He cleaned and mopped the bathrooms, took out garbage and stuff. I watched him come and go over the hours, and watched him at one point rolling out garbage bags in preparation for making more rounds, pulling them out, flattening them, and laying them over the handle of the cart for easy and quick exchange as he went through his route. I had nothing else to do but watch him. My wife was out, or semi-out, and I was just sitting there with my over-sized ass being anesthetized by the brutality of a cruel plastic chair. He looked up and caught me watching. His smile was instant and genuine. “Hey,” he said, taking the time to acknowledge me gazing out from the darkened room. “Hey,” I said back. He kept pulling bags out and flattening them out and laying them on his cart. “This is why they hired me,” he said, noticing I was still watching. “I can fold out bags better than anyone. I’m like an expert.” He grinned and kept at it, looking to his work. Not pestering, just, you know, recognizing that I existed in the world, his world, our world. He wasn’t just some corporate automaton grinding out his hours or checking off the boxes on his daily to-do list. He was human. With me and my wife.

You can’t train that. You can hire that, maybe, if you are really, really good at conducting interviews, or at weeding out the ones who aren’t. But you can’t train that.

But, whatever, nice kid, it’s fine. Good job HR department. But then, ten hours later or so, I’m in the surgery waiting room on the third floor. It’s like 11 p.m. My wife is being infused with chemicals that will shut down her whole body—a body that houses a person around which my entire life revolves—and your surgeons are going to carve out one of her internal organs. First off, your anesthesiologist promised, “I will take good care of her.” I was so grateful for that, but it made me cry, well more like mist up some because manly fellows like me don’t cry. Whatever. He understood.  But then he was gone. He and her … they are doing the brave stuff. So, me, I’m in the TV room pounding two-dollar Pepsi trying to hold it together.

In comes your guy who does the vacuuming and stuff. He’s got his hair net and his silly foot-cover things to cover his shoes. My wife is being operated on, I’m helpless, and now there is a tattooed man in blue-paper booties going to fire up a vacuum and distract me from the boring news that is supposed to distract me.

That guy was so kind. God, he was so nice to me. He must have apologized six times for doing his job. He was clearly avoiding my whole area, quietly, professionally doing his job, both to clean things but to not invade. I am an observer of the human condition, and I am telling you, the poor guy had an impossible task. How do you both “clean up thoroughly” as must be the mandate from you, his employer, and yet he must still be courteous and respectful of the difficulty anyone in that room might be having. He navigated it perfectly. He both kept to himself and did his job and yet still made me feel like I wasn’t alone up there. That’s a gift, man. You are so lucky to have that guy working for you. (Plus he moved everything and vacuumed around and behind stuff that probably nobody would know if he did or didn’t, which believe it or not, made me feel more comfortable about how that anesthesiologist and surgeon might approach their jobs as employees of your hospital too.)

And lastly, there was the young fellow who cleaned our room on the fifth floor. He was so careful and courteous as he cleaned out the other half of the room after the lady went home. I wish I could remember the room number so maybe you would know who was in there at around 3:30 or so on Wednesday afternoon. But he did his job, was quiet, diligent … but, in the few moments where it was just me and him, he was so surprisingly nice. Not that I expect people not to be nice, but, I mean, he could have just cleaned the room and left. And he would have, but he saw me looking at him, saw me tired, out of my element, just … saw me human. He just said “Hi.” We joked about how bad that vinegar-smelling cleaning stuff you guys use smells. The nurse and my wife came back. He was silent, finished. Said goodbye when he left. To me.

I wish you guys could find these three men and give them a raise or, if nothing else, just let them know that they aren’t just “cleaning and mopping.” They are part of the healing experience, the process of consoling people in fear and pain.  They deserve to know they matter.

– John

 

7 thoughts on “A Thank You Note to the Sutter Folks Who Helped My Wife”

  1. Glad to hear your wife is okay, she sounds like an amazing and tolerant person. Having a lot of experience with hospitals, (from various sides), it is nice to know that some people are taking pride in their work. Especially in a hospital. Hopefully these folks get recognized.

  2. John,

    First of all, all the best to you and your family. I hope your wife has a quick recovery.

    Second I have worked in the healthcare industry as a consultant. Your letter to these guys will mean a lot.

    I’m sure I say this for all of your readers… family first books 2nd and we all look forward to the next in the Galactic Mage series but we hope that your wife’s recovery comes first and you take all the time you need.

    All the best

    Rick Benedict

  3. What a great letter! I hope everyone in management read it! I am a RN in the ED and ICU and I get the best information from, you guessed, housekeeping! they always make patients and families feel so comfortable they tell housekeeping everything! Plus they clean and trust me, there are thousands of people through the ED daily counting patients and visitors so it is no easy task. When I was in nursing school a million years ago…our first test was one question. What is the name of the housekeeper in our building? Our instructors had intentionally made her visable and their point was to help us understand that everyone on the team is important! and equal. That is a lesson I have never forgot! Bless and hope you are both healing! Carol

  4. John,
    first of all I hope your wife is feeling better. When I decided to work in health care I only wanted to work for Sutter and that was because as a patient here first, I never feel like a number and truly felt like the staff care about me and my needs. As an employee here I have wonderful interaction with patients and truly care about their well being. God Bless you and your wife.

  5. Wow…what a wonderful story! I work at Sutter at what I consider middle management and receive my care at Sutter more often than I’d like to admit. Not because of the care I receive but because of my lack of taking good care of myself. Not only have I been treated well as a patient by all who cared for me, but as an employee as well. I’m in support services and don’t provide direct patient care, but call upon EVS for needs in my position. Yes the majority of us in healthcare are kind and compassionate otherwise we wouldn’t be in this field nor would Sutter employ someone who was not. I have interacted with EVS on many occassions as an employee and patient. I always interact with them because they are not only human beings with feelings but an integral part of the overall quality patient care at Sutter. Most are shy at first because they feel they are really just the folks in the background and that the important folks are the doctors, nurses, etc. are the frontline people that really matter. My point is…yes I have a point… The folks in EVS are just as compassionate about patient care as any other employee at Sutter and they do matter. We are “One Sutter” and we all matter and that’s why I love being an employee and patient.

  6. I would like to send you a big thank you for this letter i am the young man who was in the ER unfolding bags i deeply appreciate your letter and appreciate you seening where i am coming for we are all humans no matter a janitor or a ceo everyone deserves to be acknowledged.

    1. You rock, and you are awesome at your job, and you will surely keep being awesome in your life because I don’t think what you have can be changed/regulated/or even turned off. I suspect it’s just who you are as a human. Thank you, from me and my wife. And she’s doing great, by the way. So, just thanks and keep doing what you do.

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