On Tuesday I could no longer resist spending the night on the 7th floor of besieged Erlanger Hospital after that day’s surgery stretched into the night. As CEO and President Kevin Spiegel was resigning over a noon lunch, I was sitting in the patients' waiting area awaiting my dismissal paperwork. Every overnight bed was full on the surgical floor when I had just spent the night with a happy crowd. Really. Being around positives is what I adore, and it was easy to take my coffee elsewhere what with the need for refreshed rooms those incoming patients would need so desperately after the OR ‘rock mattress.’ It gave me time to talk to “my newest best friend,” Lynne Sims who may be the freshest face among all the 8,000 employees that have doubled in size since Spiegel, who I insist will always be my friend, did one heavenly job in some places and left one helluva mess in others.
Lynne and I agreed Spiegel did some good things, innovative and energized to right what was most definitely a sinking ship, and, while she’s been at Erlanger just four years after a wonderful beginning as a “Memorial girl,” she’s enthused for the next chapter.
I’m not a good judge of hospital talent, but she sure is. As one who has worried that Erlanger was trying to accomplish too much and not tending to the home fires as well, Lynne is downright cute when she adamantly dares you to find one speck of anything on her floors that any patient wouldn’t like.
“I’ve got a lot of frequent flyer miles in hospitals. Been in a lot of cities where the pain and the discomfort and the rattle is alike,” I told her, “but this is the truth … I am more proud of my Erlanger right now than I’ve been in my life but I’m afraid in the past week or so I wrote what I fear will be the biggest lie I have ever told. While I realize desperate men do desperate acts that’s one thing, but when he told all the nurses would get a healthy raise within the next month, I told Kevin to stretch the deadline another month so we’ll be sure. He smiled like it would be a gimme putt but the next day when the story came out, two hospital trustees called me to say they hadn’t heard the first word about it.
“What do you do, Lynne? Gregg Gentry was sitting beside me and his lurch at such news was noticeable. Yet Gregg has been a prized soldier through four of five other zany campaigns by Erlanger CEOs. Maybe he was thinking like I was, that “maybe” Kevin had a top hat and a rabbit to jerk out of it right at the end, but the money isn’t there, just like the new children’s hospital is no more than a jazzed out-patient center with brickwork that fails to match.” I asked her, and she shook her head. “What we need to do is face some realities. We’ve got the wrong people in spots, or people who never should have gotten a spot …” I thought that’s what she said.
It made wonderful sense at the time but as I watched her encourage two young girls from the Howard School to get back in college at Chatt State and become LPNs, some pills that came with breakfast made a lot of people have two heads. At the time I marveled at the number of suddenly so many twins bopped to the beat, the more we talked about motivation, the fabulous life lessons the nurses who taught her have been replaced by a square box that beeps and the only one to ask is the one with the metallic voice. Siri.
“Hospitals need to get after kids in the tenth and the eleventh year, and by the spring of their senior year they should be so energized they would welcome the challenge of chemistry, simple formulas and learn which drugs help sick people instead of the wonderment you behold when these twin faces can talk in unison and not flub a line.
She told me about her mom who, at age 94, had a hoot at the Rolling Stones concert they attended long ago and how having a wonderful husband who is a big ‘Bama fan is really clouding her loyal Big Orange. We talked a lot about people in management at the hospital and, brother, this girl has ‘em pegged. “A lot of people think they do the right thing but they are scared the right thing will disagree with the teacher’s idea and they are scared if they say don’t give the same answer they won’t pass the class. There is a lot of that I see, and because they teach others that the wrong thing is really the right thing, the wrong thing takes a long time before what is truly good and right and solid can catch up to what this hospital stands for … until it does, the best departments in this great big brick house spend too much time going in circles.”
Me? I’m thinking I’ve met the wizard. Lynne Sims is such a brilliant breeze of fresh late-summer wind and her 7th floor staff runs like a Swiss clock. That said, there is a little bottle on top of my satchel and I’ll take a blue pill and one of those little white torpedoes. “You nut. That little white one is a Zofran … it’s for nausea …”
“Yes, Sherlock, that was my mighty thought as well. But let’s assume your ‘right’ is my ‘wrong.’ Leave the little white blessing right where it is in the jar and come closer so in about eight minutes when I hurl, we can include your lab-coat sleeve and everything south of your left leg with a distinct coffee stain. Your left shoe can also squish when you walk, which patients will mistake for their washing machine’s delicates cycle… Me? I’ll be home wondering why so many struggling spots at Erlanger are understaffed, with a mid-level management so wretched that makes our brightest young players wonder if they’ll emulate the wrongs it might be more fun to come to work.
“But, so help me, I’ve been here for maybe 18 hours and it is more than clear you’ve dialed the right cycle …. this can work … if only you hadn’t defied the little white pill request. If so, a wrong soon could turn into a right (!) and Sherlock would say … what else … “Elementary, my dear Watson.”
One more Lynne. “Here I am reading an email from my phone. Look at it … you can see it. And listen … ‘Hello, Mr. Exum. This is Ben Isaac from Erlanger. I transported you to Pre Op yesterday. I just wanted to wish you well on a speedy recovery and hope that you are doing well. It was a pleasure talking with you on the way to Pre Op. That is one of the joys of my day and job is to meet different people and to help any way I could. So, thank you again and take care!!’
“Lynne, this guy had the scrubs tucked in his waistband, his hair trimmed neat, his enthusiasm was almost radiant and now … less than 24 hours later … he makes my day. Sure, you might say somebody told him who you were … or this kid is slicker than a riverboat gambler. But I say he had the gumption to write me. He had a switch that turns my lights from dull to bright. I don’t care about his motivation for why he sent that note but his willingness to try … Erlanger should snatch this kid up, put him in a coat and tie and star him as a winner.
“This morning before dawn I turned the patient TV on and Jed Mescon, whose been one of my favorites for life, has the great entrée to some sort of deal. But then, in what TV types call ‘B’ roll, they key up two guys who are so ridiculously starchy the hospital won’t have to buy any more Faultless for the next 11 years …. you put my man Ben Isaac with his charm and so help me he can give you a winning Lotto ticket. But what really happens? The Erlanger antiques get little Jackie, who is the second son of Dr. Meter who couldn’t get in truck driver school because he kept tripping over lug-nut sequence and has been in production since – they claim – man walked on the moon.
What with Dr. Meter, who made him king? Well, he’s the one who talked the T.C. Thompsons to spark Children’s Hospital back in the day.
“Whoa, I thought you pulled the Minnesota Famous Slip-Slide when you changed the name on a public building. Heard you had a new pigeon who fell for glitter …. but, wait … what does Dr. Meter still have to do with this?”
“Apparently if them isotopes get too hot on aged plutonium, the osmosis can reverse with alarming results. Dr. Meter should be 146 years old. Jed did a Channel 3 Eye on him when his single vision came back. "Hello, Mr. Exum. This is Ben Isaac from Erlanger. I transported you to Pre Op yesterday. I just wanted to wish you well on a speedy recovery and hope that you are doing well. It was a pleasure talking with you on the way to Pre Op. That is one of the joys of my day and job is to meet different people and to help any way I could. So, thank you again and take care!!, lookey here … If you’ll go to the main lobby, where they have the photo of Baroness Erlanger when it was believed … haurmf! … she was still pure and cleansed by the blood as a virgin devotee of the church, you’ll see why she set up a Red Cross lick instead of going to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and hanging out with the other sacrifices, if you catch the smell of my pipe smoke.”
What are you talking about … I’ve got pain and its reached the tempular lumar. What are you saying?
Just this … you can see Dr. Meter just barely in the lowest left hand corner of that cracked Polaroid. See him, see him, can you see his face ?… now tell me true don’t that look a bit like little Ben Issac? Word is some of the OR doctors in the upstairs suite at the last 200 tile of the famous block-long Erlanger surgery run – which is the longest OR entrance in the Lower 40 of the American state (Minnesota and Mayo actuary go under the streets!)
Now it was Lynne’s turn. She has known for years that football wizard Lou Holtz has three questions for any newcomer. “1. Can I trust you? 2. Do you care about me? and, 3. Where are you and I going from here? So, Lynne asks, “Can you name one thing I can do to be ‘better’ like we talked about?” My reply? “It’s two parts, because one won’t work without the other, kinda’ like when the old Kenmore twists and bounces on the linoleum when the load isn’t even. You’ve got an abundance of superstars on the floor. You make it fun, so they have fun. They are happy, so are your under-sung, under-paid, and under-appreciated clerks and secretaries and staff, who because the patients never see the real soldiers, are still very included on the team.
Only by God’s love for the lame did I get Brittany McTaggert when I got rolled by Isaac and then another nurse, Son Jeon, got me doped tighter than a calf rope up ‘til now. But the greatest diamond in the rough is this 29-year-old female nurse, who's learned how to mumble her first name and spell this long Russian name that sounds like the Democratic nickname for President Trump. You find her … they told me she was a rover nurse but, nope, I learned a little Ruska from watching last-night’s TV a day late … slows down those tough syllables.
“When they asked what antibiotics gave me the best rush, I told ‘em heroin if there was no multiple choice but she spit out 31 household brands in alphabetical order and then cleaned the generic side just as shiny. Do you have any idea how much Big Pharma has made with the ‘mycins’ alone? This girl can slay Family Feud or Price is Right, no difference, but when it comes to today’s best in the World, she’ll get every voice because the Mexy Mob doesn’t care to cure nothing.
On the other hand, while their waffled applause on the first floor was forced, on the seventh there were happy souls who love what they're knowing: Erlanger is on the verge of its greatest decade ever with the next odometer flip in just 15 weeks. Wow! The future is now!