Essential workers n the ER

1 Oct

September 12–I am writing this from my hospital bed which is parked in the hallway of the emergency room. I am watching the workers, the technician, the people who push hospital beds, the stock clerk, and the people who deal with the mountains of trash that hospitals produce. At the entrance to every room there is a cupboard. I watch the worker—the stock clerk—going through each drawer of the cupboard, checking to see what they are lacking. In one drawer, he places urinals. In another, various types of catheter bag. Each drawer needed to be refilled with the items that he has on his cart. When the nurses, the doctors, and technicians need an item, they know exactly which drawer to go to, and they expect to find it supplied. I know the name of my doctor, and I know who the name of my nurse, but I have no idea who the stock clerk is. I note, as well, the women who are filling their carts with trash bags piled high. They replace each bag with a fresh one. The woman who navigated the labyrinthine hallways to get me to the x-ray lab was obviously expert in what she does. She told me she is working in four different hospitals in this complex and she hast to know the tunnels below ground and the hallways above. My situation posed real difficulties for the x-ray technician. On several occasions she had to stop, scratch her head and devise a way to deal with what the doctor’s orders called for.

I was watching a team at work. Each worker, no matter how humble their task, is essential for the team. If the garbage piled up, if the nurse can’t find the urinal or the catheter bag, if the x-ray technician is not ingenious in doing her work – – the doctor will not be able to make a diagnosis, and nurses cannot implement orders.

There is evidence of our class system here in the hospital. Sociologists tell us that the social class system is the way society distribute status and rewards.The team is not primary in the social class system. Rather, there  is a pecking order of individuals—not a team. And the pecking order does not take into account how essential the worker is. It is not even based on native intelligence – – the x-ray worker displayed a lot of that. It is based on how many years of education it takes to qualify for the position. And then there is the Gee-Whiz factor. Gee-Whiz, the doctor can perform amazing surgery. Nobody says, “Gee-Whiz, that stock clerk is really doing a great job.”

In other words, the work of the hospital requires a team of  many members, interacting with each other in a competent and professional manner. But the people in the team are not rewarded for their teamwork and for their essential place in the team. They are rewarded, both monetarily and in terms of respect, according to the American capitalist social class system, which the French call “savage capitalism.” Karl Marx saw that the whole system is faulty and needs revision. Unfortunately, Marx is passé today, largely because the people who took his ideas most seriously were just as tyrannical and cruel as the capitalist systems that Mark was denouncing.

The last time I was in the hospital, I read about Walt Whitman’s view that his fellow citizens and their needs must become items of his own self-interest. That is essential, he wrote, if democracy is to flourish. 

I think of Benjamin Franklin’s proverb:
“For want of a nail, the shoe was lost.

For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

(c) 9/30/2022 Phil Hefner

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