13 October 2010

I would never have guessed

I try to be polite and respectful to all the members of our care team, from nurses to techs to paramedics and on down the chain of every care provider who works in the ER.  I thank them for doing their jobs, whether it's security, housekeeping, social work, you name it. I try to make each and every one of them feel like I recognize and value what they do for the team and for our patients.

But it's hard. There are 300 nurses alone in our ED.  How am I, name-impaired individual that I am, supposed to remember all their names, with nurses coming and going all the time?  Which tech has a sick kid?  Which housekeeper was it whose husband I took care of when he hurt his eye?  I try, but I confess that I am just not good at it, and more, when I am in the department I'm usually pretty focused on the task at hand -- moving the meat, as they say.  Which doesn't leave me much time for socializing.

So it was a pleasant evening which gave me some leisure to chat with the rest of the staff, as we had nothing much going on.  One of the folks hanging out in the department was one of the security guards.  I remembered him, among all the guards, because he was a bit older, he always wore all the gear -- bulletproof vest and harness and everything -- and he was impeccably professional in the way he interacted with everybody.  I liked him, when we had occasion to interact.

I was unpleasantly surprised when he referred to his impending departure from our hospital's employment.  I asked what he was planning to do, and he explained that he had landed some mid-level executive security position at the local major international airport.  He seemed enthusiastic about the move so I congratulated him, but noted that it was a little bit of a jump, both geographically and industry-wise.  He commented that it fit real well with his background, in a way that made it clear that he expected me to understand the reference.  I bit: "Do you have experience in aviation?" I asked.

"Well sure, didn't you know that?" he responded.

I insisted that I had not, but being interested in airplanes I was curious.

"I was a captain with [major airline] for twenty-five years," he replied, "but they make you stop flying when you turn sixty."

My first thought (suppressed) was "You're over sixty?" which was followed immediately by "Holy crap! You're an airline pilot? That's so cool!"  We spent the rest of the quiet shift engrossed in the planes he had flown and interesting experiences he had in his career.  Curious note: he had gotten into security because as a pilot he had enrolled in the pilots' Federal Air Marshal program after 9/11, but he had never imagined that would be his "second career."

I reflected on how unfair it is that pilots are forced into retirement when they are still very much in the prime of their productive careers, and how odd it was that he had come from a job that, prestige-wise, was every bit the equal of an ER doc if not greater, to a "lowly" security officer in a hospital.  He seemed happy enough, or at least content.  Ultimately, the most important thing I took away from that conversation was a reinforcement of the fact that you cannot make assumptions about people based on their current role.  You just never know what skills or experience or history people have that may not be apparent on casual interaction.


  1. Our next door neighbor is a captain for American....he's 56 years old and if I had to chose between him and someone with less experience- I'd go with experience every time.

  2. At least they increased the age to 65 now. I used to be an air traffic controller and they have to retire at 56. A lot of good people are lost that way.

  3. What is odd though is that so many people retire early yet we nurses are expected to tear around on our feet til age 65.

    Its fine for those of us that keep active and sort of athletic, you know riding bikes etc. But for the men and woman that are kind of lumpy being on your feet all day is not easy. A lot of people's feet and lets cannot take the abuse.

    Airline piloting is not the prestigious job it once was. Since the Reagan days and deregulation the starting wages have gone way down and seniority doesn't mean what it used to.


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