Overheard on the Train

Riding in to work on the train today before sunrise, I could not help but overhear a conversation the two women directly behind me were having.

It started out with the flat statement, “My father-in-law is in the hospital with stage 4 cancer.”

Being the person that I am, I immediately started silently praying for this person and their family. I work for a hospital in a non-clinical role, and I sometimes feel like my job is really tangental to the patient care aspect, but one thing I have done is taken to praying on those rare occasions I do see patient identifying information.

Silently, and quietly, and never writing it down or telling others what I’m doing or whom it was. Because I take HIPAA seriously.

The woman, oblivious to what was going on in the seat before her, continued to discuss the situation with her friend. From what I was hearing, and my tangental connection to patient care, I heard her discuss the way the doctors were handling the case which sounded to me like the traditional treatment of stage 4 cancer, but she was complaining that, because he wasn’t getting better, this was a sign that the doctors didn’t care.

She then brought up other situations where her family members had been in hospital and things that had happened to show that the doctors just don’t care.

Doctors are doctors. I can’t do anything about doctors. I can’t make them sit down and describe to every relative of every patient exactly what they are doing, and why they chose that course of treatment. Especially if the relative is not the primary caregiver or legally approved medical decision maker. HIPAA again.

Her friend, in an attempt at comfort, told her, “Hospitals just don’t care.”

Doctors are doctors. I can’t do anything about doctors. Or nurses, or CNAs, or administrators, or management. But by God and all the saints above, *I* care.

I wanted to turn around in my seat and demand recognition for my work. I wanted to explain to these women the nature of the healthcare system. I wanted to explain to them how absolutely dumb they were for expecting one magic pill to cure all ills. I wanted to grab them by the shoulders and shake them until they acknowledged they were wrong and I was right, until they acknowledged my anger and frustration at a system I am embedded in, a slow moving behemoth with tendrils in every life for better or for worse, was just as valid as theirs.

The train trundled across the Steel Bridge, and I looked at the pink ribbons of clouds reflected in the windows of the downtown skyscrapers. I said a prayer for those who were angry and frustrated, whether they were on the patient’s side or the hospital’s side or somewhere in between.

When my work email booted up, I saw an automated note from the HR people, autosigned by the President of the hospital, thanking me for five years of service.

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