This is the 8th installment chronicling my journey into law enforcement. If you would like to read from the beginning, it is best to start with The Foundation.
I grabbed my jacket and made my last walk down the long wooden hallway and outside to cross the street to where the hospital security office was located. It was still dark and pouring rain as it had all night long. In fact, it had rained so much that I had to use a different exit because the main doors were lined with sandbags. I took off my duty belt and radio and hung my keys up in the closet. I ran out to my car to get the large white trash bag full of uniforms that I would no longer be needing. It felt so good to be getting rid of all of that stuff. The other officers on my shift shook my hand, congratulated me, and wished me luck. I turned in my badge and ID card just after I clocked out for the last time. It was the end of my last night of work at the hospital.
I will start work for the South Place Police Department on Monday. Since the police academy does not start for a few weeks, I am told we will be getting paid to do a whole lot of sitting around and hanging out. I figure I can manage that. It is likely that we will be taking care of some administrative things, meeting our Field Training Officers (FTO's), and we'll probably get out in the cruisers a little for some ride-alongs.
I was employed as a security officer at the hospital for almost exactly 5 months, however, it seemed like a lot longer than that. When I started, I figured I'd be gone by Thanksgiving. Then I figured at least by Christmas I would definitely have an offer from one of the departments I had applied to. I guess sometimes things don't always go as we plan.
Before I start at the SPPD next week, I figured now would be a good time to reflect on my experience as a security officer at the hospital. I was fortunate to become friends with a few officers that I think I will stay in contact with. My schedule sucked. I had Monday and Tuesdays off and only had 2 weekend nights off in the 5 months I was there. My boss was known for his strict ways and there were times when I felt like he didn't believe that I would achieve my goal of becoming a police officer. So many people start out there saying the same thing and then get stuck. Despite being a difficult man to work for, however, I did get to know him well enough to know that he was a decent and good man.
I was definitely put in a position to see many different types of families and how they function. Unfortunately, we didn't come into any kind of extended contact with many 'ideal' families, because security is only called when there are problems. There were two specific instances I can remember where a child came in, in a very critical condition, and most of the extended family would be down in the lobby all night. They would be ordering take out, hooting and hollering, laughing and joking, and basically having a party sometimes until 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning. When someone in my family is in serious condition in the hospital, it is a much more somber environment, but I guess everyone grieves differently.
A lot of times after dealing with some of the parents, or hearing the stories that we heard, it made you wonder why people do not have to have a license to have children. Like driving, for example, you learn about driving safely and all the laws, and then you get your license and you are able to drive. Parents should have to be educated about how to raise children safely before becoming parents. I don't really believe this will ever happen, but it's an interesting thought.
One young child was brought in clinging to life because a family member had given them methadone to help relieve their upset tummy. Methadone is essentially a synthetic opioid, most commonly used to help recovering heroine addicts!
In another incident we had a couple who's baby was brought in for some sort of severe health complication, I don't remember what exactly but likely a respiratory issue because I specifically remember that this was brought on because the parents smoke in the house around the baby. This was the second time this baby was hospitalized for the same reason and the parents spent more time outside smoking and playing on the Internet in the media room than they did visiting their baby. Then they decided to make best friends with a homeless couple, give them their old parent passes, and then we had a homeless couple living in the hospital! It took several days before this was discovered because they always wore their passes and we came to know them by the last name on the pass.
I've seen parents standing outside the ER, smoking a cigarette and holding their infant in their other arm while they are waiting to be seen. Luckily smoking on property is prohibited so we can say something but it's never what you really want to say to them.
Many hospitals are partnered with a separate organization that provide housing for families to stay at for free when their child is in the hospital. The rooms are free, food is free, Internet, cable, they really have a nice set up for the families. This, however causes many problems for us that many people would find surprising. So much goes on in the one where I worked that it would not be uncommon to find drugs, weapons, fights, and other scandals such as swinging couples! I do not want to give the impression that all home away from homes are like this and do not want you to think that many of the families that stay there are involved in these things. It is really only a few bad eggs, but they are always replaced by new bad eggs when they leave so it is something we deal with often.
I do believe I have taken my communication skills to a new level thanks to the situations that I encountered at the hospital. Security was responsible for enforcing hospital visitation policies and at night those are very strict. The last thing family members want to hear when they come to visit a relative is that they are not going to be able to go up to the patient floors. This specific policy forces us to deal with angry parents all the time, which since it is something you deal with everyday, it can be easy to develop an attitude. I was fortunate, for the development of my own communication skills, to be able to observe one senior officer on a daily basis, set the perfect example of how you should not talk to people.
This guy just had a very intense personality. He lacked the ability to be able to read people. He saw things in black and white and to him it's all about policy and doing his job. He is known throughout the entire hospital by all of the staff because of his attitude. He would say that he is blunt, but I'll be honest...the only real way to describe it was rude and arrogant. Whenever someone would begin to question why they were not allowed to go up to visit, he would automatically jump to intensity level number 7. This only forces the person you are dealing with to match your level of intensity in communicating. Some nights I just wanted to say, "Relax man, let's not forget where we are and why these people are here to begin with. They are trying to visit a loved one in the hospital for crying out loud. Try to be a little more sensitive." Observing this allowed me to perfect my own skills, such as being cognizant of word usage, tone of voice, and facial and body language you use when talking to someone. I am a much stronger communicator and can de-escalate situations more effectively because I had to work with this guy and learn from his mistakes.
I know that I sound like a horrible person, describing only the negative in families at the hospital. It is mostly just because we never have to deal with families who don't cause problems. However, several weeks ago I was kind of caught off guard in my interaction with one family. I was having somewhat of a bad night and not in the best of moods. This young couple asked me to help them get access to a certain room. They were a very young couple, couldn't be much older than 30 and they had the most adorable little blond haired girl with them. She was maybe 4, definitely not older than 5 and had the brightest smile and was full of life. I noticed that when she was skipping along she would sort of lose her balance often but I didn't think twice about it. I am very outgoing and love talking to people so I began to talk with the mom as we all walked down the hall, the father and little girl being a short ways a head of us. I was not prepared for the conversation I was about to have.
"How are you guys doing tonight?" I questioned to make small talk.
"Oh, we haven't had the best of days" she said, but in a rather positive sort of way that seemed strange to me.
"Oh, I'm sorry" I replied "Have you guys been here very long?"
"No, we just got here earlier this evening. We found out that she (their daughter) has a brain tumor."
"Oh my gosh, Did they find it early?" I questioned.
"We don't know, we are waiting for the test results to come back."
I looked at her not even knowing what to say, "I am so sorry, I can't imagine what you are going through."
Right then the young mother looked me in the eye with the biggest smile and said, "Oh! Don't you worry about us...we have so many people praying for us and God is good!"
I smiled, opened the door for them and walked back toward the lobby.
What is wrong with me I thought? Here I am in a pissy mood because my dream job hasn't come along yet and this family has been dealt the worst situation imaginable and they can still hold their heads high and see the silver lining. Needless to say, I felt so guilty. It really makes you look at life in a different way and realize that your problems are so small. I don't know if I will ever forget that, and I hope for the sake of the lesson I learned that I never do.