On a normal day, I register a hundred patients.
On a normal day, I help lost patients figure out where their appointments are.
On a normal day, I can offer a consoling smile to help an anxious patient.
Today, I register maybe 20 patients.
Today, I write the date/time on hall passes for Cancer patients going to their treatments.
Today, I wear a mask and have a fear of running out of hand sanitizer.
I am a “people” person. Growing up, I’ve had various cashier jobs. I taught school for 12 years. I currently work at a hospital. I’m not a nurse or doctor, but I do play a pivotal role. I am the first person people see when they enter. I am the first impression patients form when they enter. I set the tone for the rest of those patients’ visits.
In my 15 years here, I have formed long term relationships with some of the patients, exchanging Christmas cards every year. I have grown close, only to lose them to cancer. A new co-worker once told me that he sometimes just watches me. Then he’ll ask, “Let me guess....do you know them from High School? College? Thriftway? Norwood? Teaching?” He’s amazed at connections I’ve had with many of the patients that have walked in.
Two years ago, a woman came in for pre-surgical testing. As I registered her, I noticed that she was around my Mom’s age. Her first name was the female version of a guy that graduated from Purcell Marian a year ahead of me. Her last name was the same as his, so I asked her if she was related to him. She grinned and said, “Yes, he’s my son.” I grinned and told her how funny her son was and to tell him I said hello. She came in a few weeks after that to register for her actual surgery. She looked at me and told me that she had something for me. She placed a beautiful rosary in my hand that she got from Jerusalem. I told her that I couldn’t take that from her. She was adamant. “I want you to have this”, as she placed it in my hand and held it there, “I was so scared with this surgery’s diagnosis. Seeing you calmed my mind. I was hoping I’d see you today. I want you to have this.” I was so touched by that gesture that I vowed that day to keep that with me. It is my “work rosary.”
Even if I don’t know the patient previously, if they are having a hard time with their diagnosis/visit, sometimes I quietly take out my work rosary. I explain the thoughtfulness behind it and the meaning it now has for me. Then I make the sign of the cross and tell the patient that I will keep them in my prayers. I can only hope that that has a calming effect on them and helps them get through what they are fighting.
This is what I do. No, it isn’t what I got my Bachelor’s Degree in, but it gives me a purpose, a real meaning. Now, especially, I’m thankful that I have the experience here that I do.
The things that have been “defining moments” to me in the past have been the Challenger explosion and 9/11. Both of those events showed me that the United States could come together in times of need. Faith carries us, and politics take a back seat as we come together to fight for a common goal.
I never thought we’d experience a “defining moment” like COVID-19, Ever. How incredibly fast the country adapted is mind-boggling at times. My “normal” workdays are evolving into “today” workdays, sometimes at a breath-taking pace.
Unless it is life-threatening, we've canceled all surgeries. CT and MRI scans are very limited. We've canceled all X-rays and ultrasounds. Instead of 15 people in the elevator at a time, it’s now 4. Employees and patients have their foreheads scanned to take temperatures and are all required to wear a mask. Women having babies are allowed one visitor, and patients nearing the end of their lives are allowed a few. Other than that, no visitors are allowed. After they have their temperatures taken, they come to my desk to get a hall pass (Does that take you back to high school?). I direct them to where they need to be.
All employees are trying to keep each other upbeat when the only thing we want is to be safe at home with our families. But, we know that there are ones out there who need us. That is the gift of humanity, to be there for one another. Our patients depend on us. As much as I want to be at home, that is the extent of my needs right now. I am not fighting cancer; I am not pregnant with an unborn child; I am not experiencing heart issues. I could go on and on. THAT is why we are here.
When patients come in, they are scared of their original diagnosis. Add the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, and that just increases the anxiety.
As patients approach my desk, I sit with a mask covering my mouth and nose. I make eye contact. I remain calm. I call different departments to answer any questions the patient may have. I reassure them that they are in excellent hands. I apologize that they aren’t allowed any visitors, still making eye contact, trying to help them grasp this new (temporary) reality. I try to get them to the department as seamlessly as possible, keeping in mind Viktor Frankl’s quote, “It’s normal to act abnormal in an abnormal situation.”
I know the patients are anxious to get to their departments as quickly as they can so they can get back to the safety of their homes, so I don’t take out my work rosary. I do still have it in my scrub pocket, though. If I think it merits, I take it out and secretly say a prayer for that patient. Then I pray for all of us going through this, hoping we have something in us that makes us “Outstanding Among All.”