The Day I Was Called A Racist: A Front Line Healthcare Worker Perspective
Posted on November 5, 2020
My childhood was rooted in the 1970s, though my teen years, taste in music, and horror movies clearly took place and developed in the 1980s. I can’t say I grew up in a particularly diverse population in our small city. I remember a single African American student in my graduating class, and one Asian. Not exactly a melting pot, was it? And the only foreigners I met during those years were…well, Canadians. They looked like us, but you could just tell there was something different about them, eh. My horizons expanded when I attended University and then started work after graduation. Ironically, though, it wasn’t until a month or two ago during my foray into healthcare that I was called a racist.
The hospital where I work has very clear rules during the COVID epidemic. I didn’t make those rules. My director didn’t make them. The Transport department didn’t make them. Epidemiology did along with our corporate folks, and they’re designed not only for patient and visitor safety, but worker safety as well. My safety. One of those rules has to do with who can accompany a patient having surgery; one visitor with the patient. That’s it. There are times extenuating circumstances may require two people, but they’re rare and have a clear process for approval.
Unfortunately, some visitors have figured out how to circumvent our system, and sneak more than one person in with a patient. I’m one of several people contacted on a daily basis to investigate why a patient has 2 or more family members with them in a surgical area, and we often have to ask those additional people to leave. Many go nicely, realizing they’ve been found out. Others? Not so much. I was called to one of those areas a month or two ago because a patient had three family members with them.
I arrived in the area, spoke with the staff member behind the registration desk, and wrote the name of the person down who accompanied the patient and listed themselves as the patient’s contact. Let’s call him John (and no, that’s not his real name). I then proceeded to where the three people in question were congregating together, the three pointed out to me who were here with the patient. These three people, two women and one male (the male was eating a bagel), happened to be African American. They were having a conversation when I walked up. I apologized for interrupting them, introduced myself, told them from what Department I was from, and asked what patient they were with. The two women said they were there with the same patient, but that the guy wasn’t, and he was just “hanging out”. I asked who John was.
He raised his hand. I asked if he came in with the patient and gave his name as the patient’s contact. He did. So he wasn’t just “hanging out” and he was actually there with the patient. I politely explained the hospital policy of having one family member or friend accompanying a patient during surgery, and informed them that two of them would have to leave. The two women weren’t happy, but did ask a couple of follow-up questions regarding visitation on the floors, then agreed that they would go. John, however, took a different approach.
He asked me “Are you a racist?”
“No,” I answered.
“Yes, you are.”
“No, I’m not.”
“Yes, you are. You’re a racist.”
John proceeded to insist I was a racist for harassing the only African American people in the lounge. Mind you, nobody else there had a second visitor with them, let alone a third. But he persisted. I informed them again of the policy, the women assured me they’d be leaving, and I left to go speak to the lounge staff member and inform them that the two women were on their way out. I was halfway to the desk when a piece of John’s bagel whizzed by me and hit the desk. I ignored it. No way was I going to get drawn into a confrontation that way.
John appeared a few moments later, picked up the piece of bagel on the floor, walked up to me, and started insisting I was a racist all over again. If I’m guilty of anything, it’s that I wouldn’t let him get the last word in. Every time he insisted I was a racist, I told him I wasn’t. And this went on for quite some time. He also demanded my name so he could report me. I showed him my badge and told him I’d be happy to write down the name and number of my supervisor as well.
I left the area and informed my Director of what happened, and was told to go to Security to file a report. One can let a certain amount of verbal confrontation go, but he threw something at me, of which I had witnesses. That was unacceptable. I made out a security report, then went back up to the area to relieve the attendant for their lunch. Yes, awkward. John was still there, and I provided him with updates on the patient he was there with. At no time was he pleasant, and he took to throwing tissues all over the floor in the area where he sat, as well as throwing other bits of food on the floor. And when I informed him the patient was being moved upstairs to a room, he gathered his belongings and left his coffee cup sitting directly in front of my work station so that I’d have to clean up after him.
Security, meanwhile, never came up to talk to John.
I’ve replayed those incidents in my head over and over again since then, and I’ve come to some conclusions. First, no, I wasn’t being racist towards him or his companions. They knew they weren’t supposed to be there. They didn’t like being caught. They also didn’t like having two of them being asked to leave. They lied about John not being there with the patient. John didn’t like getting caught in a lie, so he reacted. How he chose to react was in calling me a racist.
I returned to the office an hour later and my supervisor asked what Security had to say. I told them they never appeared after I made my report out. He was disturbed by this, and e-mailed their supervisors. It was only then that I received a call from Security. They were looking for John and wondered if I knew where he was. Mind you, this was 2 hours after I filed my report. Super. To my knowledge, they never did find him to speak with him.
Have I ever done something racist? I’m sure I have at some point over the years. Do I feel I was being racist that day? No. I’ve been asked to let people who were breaking the 1 visitor policy many, many times. Their ethnicity has never factored into it. It’s based on safety. That safety is based on a number, that number being 1. Did the incident shake me up? Absolutely. And I was shaking.
I am many things, not all of them positive. But that day? That day, one thing I wasn’t…was a racist.
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.