Don’t Put Me At Risk: A Front Line Healthcare Worker Perspective
Posted on October 29, 2020
A friend and co-worker approached someone a couple weeks ago who walked in the entrance of the hospital. It was early, probably before 5:30a.m., and this particular individual wasn’t wearing a mask. My co-worker walked up and politely told this person, as we are required to do, “Excuse me, but you need to wear a mask.” This person glared at her, then announced “I have one in my office.” Yup, this turned out to be another employee, and we’ve been wearing masks darn near 7 months now. Where? In all common areas, which means this person walked into a common area around other employees without wearing proper personal protection. This wasn’t just for their safety, but for ours, too. My friend informed this individual “You still have to wear a mask when you walk through to get to your office.”
Do you know what this employee said? They walked into the elevator, and, as the doors started to close, remarked “You need to go back to your desk, Karen.” Isn’t that absolutely charming? Or, as my friend says, “Super.”
One might not expect to be spoken to like that by a fellow employee. One would be wrong. Doctors have walked through entrances, rolled their eyes at screeners, and argued with them and their leaders about how they’re too busy or important to be bothered by rules established for patient and employee safety. Screeners have been called names, been yelled at, and berated on a daily basis. I helped out early one morning and overheard a screener being called a name by another employee. I approached the employee who’d uttered the expletives and asked to see his badge so I could write his name down. He refused. He refused the entire time I followed him through to the other side of the hospital and to his work area. His rationale for not giving me his name? “You’ll make trouble for me.” No, I’m pretty sure he did that to himself.
On the flipside, not all employees are like this. Some are very understanding because they’ve either had it done to them or they understand what can happen if one doesn’t protect themselves as much as possible. Some are just damn good employees regardless of whether or not they’ve had it done to them or if they understand. They simply follow the rules.
Now, patients or family members? Things can get a bit dicey. Again, I was helping out at the main entrance one afternoon because they were a little short of personnel. I was having people use hand sanitizer before they advanced to the screeners. That’s how simple my task was. An older man walked up to me and immediately gave me a hard time when I tried to give him the sanitizer. “I sanitized at home,” he grumbled. I politely explained that he was outside and had touched things between home and arriving in front of me. “I’ll go use hot water and soap in the bathroom.” I politely explained I couldn’t let him in to get to the bathroom if he didn’t use sanitizer, to which he shot this at me: “What if I went home and bathed in sanitizer?”
I stared at him. “Then I suspect it would burn the hard-to-reach places.”
He didn’t find it funny. The people in the line who were being held up by him did.
Now, you might be noticing a pattern here, a pattern of drama happening when I help out. Trust me, it wouldn’t matter who was doing what I was. There’d be drama. I had a gentleman come in last week and when I went to perform a temperature check on his forehead, he raised his voice and demanded I take his temperature on his wrist, that I was pointing a gun at his head. No, it’s not a gun. It’s a thermometer. And the thermometers we use can’t take a temperature on the wrist. We know. Our management has reached out to the manufacturer and inquired. We’re not doing this to irritate people. We’re doing it for safety reasons.
Why am I such a rule follower? Because I’ve seen what COVID can do to someone. I’ve been around families who’ve lost a loved one to it. I’ve heard the stories from staff members who care for them. I’ve heard the stories of staff members who’ve helped out for a single shift in the Emergency Center and been around COVID positive patients. I’ve seen them cry as they’ve recounted the experience. It’s real, folks. And I have no desire to be a victim if I can help it.
So wear your mask. Wear your mask over your nose. Don’t scream at me about your right not to wear a mask. Your right not to wear a mask doesn’t trump my right not to come down sick because of your ignorance.
And I’ll leave you with this; don’t lie when you’re being screened. I had someone who came in, lied, made their way all the way up to me, and this person was running a 101 degree fever. They knew it, expressed their discomfort, and lied to get up to where they were because they didn’t want to miss a procedure. Not only did this person put everyone else around them at risk between the entrance to where they ended up, but they put ME at risk. Don’t do that. Don’t be that person.
Your life is important to you, but my life is more important to me.
Kristoffer Gair (who formerly wrote under the pseudonym Kage Alan) is the Detroit-based author of Honor Unbound, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To My Sexual Orientation, Andy Stevenson Vs. The Lord Of The Loins, Gaylias: Operation Thunderspell, several short stories featured in anthologies (to be combined in a forthcoming book), the recently re-published novella Falling Awake, its sequel, Falling Awake II: Revenant and Falling Awake III: Requiem.