Joan Greland-Goldstein

The Patient Side of the Door

During my fifteen years as a health educator and project manager for a large HMO, I met frequently with the physicians, managers and medical staff in their offices. Sometimes these were formal meetings, and sometimes I just dropped by to run through an idea or check out a procedure. Perhaps we met to work on a new outreach program. Or perhaps I gave an in-service about the databases we used to track patients with chronic conditions. Even though the doors between the waiting areas and the offices and exam rooms were locked, many of the receptionists recognized me and buzzed me in when I waved to them.

I loved my job and the camaraderie.

Upon retirement, one of the most difficult adjustments was the loss of that sense of belonging, of being an integral part of the medical community. Nowadays, when I go to the clinic for a visit with my physician, I am just one of the hundreds of anonymous patients passing through each day, restricted to the patient side of the waiting room doors, no longer allowed access to the inner sanctum of offices and exam rooms unless accompanied by the medical assistant.

To combat this loss, I …

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Transition

“Hi, Sue,” I said. “Here’s my letter of retirement.”

“You know I don’t want to hear this,” she replied.

“Yes, but the time has come, and I’ve been clear about my intentions for several months.”

“Do you think you could work a few extra months so you can help us find and train your replacement?”

Floating

Although the hospital where I attended nursing school in the ’60s was large—about 500 beds—the hospital where I got my first job was twice its size. I was intimidated and knew only how to get from the front door to the nursery, where I worked, and from there to the cafeteria.

One evening in my first year there, the charge nurse said, “I got a call from the Staffing Office. They need you to work on Five Center tonight.”

“What’s Five Center?”

“Medical patients.”

“Oh, geez, I don’t know how to care for medical patients,” I responded.

Sitting Alone

I was one of two managers covering the hospital one quiet Sunday morning when my pager beeped.

“Cafeteria,” said the voice that answered my call.

 “Hi, this is the nursing manager.”

“A child’s alone down here.”

In the cafeteria I approached the bevy of workers huddled by the phone.

“The little girl’s over there,” one of them said, pointing.

A small child was sitting quietly at a table. She had a round face and light brown hair pulled back with a pink barrette, soft curls falling below her ears. There were no toys or food in front of her. 

Sleep Deprivation

Jeez, I’m tired! Hope I make it home without falling asleep! Okay, windows wide open, radio blasting. Here we go.

I had just finished working the 11 p.m.-to-7 a.m. shift at a hospital in Burbank, California. Now I was facing an hour’s drive home. Because I was afraid of falling asleep at the wheel, I always kept my right hand at the twelve o’clock position. That way, if I nodded off, my hand would relax, fall off the wheel, and awaken me. I was thankful the freeway congestion kept my speed slow.

Old People

 I grew up hating old people. As a young child, I was engulfed in a sea of gray hair and wrinkles and had no playmates. Mama was forty-one when I was born; Daddy was forty-five. My siblings and cousins were older than me by at least eleven years. None of our neighbors had children. The people we visited were all in my parents’ age group or older.

The Epithet

She appeared suddenly in the doorway and hissed, “You’re very rude!” 

With her words echoing around the darkened room, the evening nurse stomped off the ward as I went back to assessing my patient.

It was 1966. As a third-year nursing student assigned to the night shift, I shared responsibility for a twenty-bed unit with a nurse’s aide. The evening nurse and I had just finished the two time-honored traditions that occurred with the change of shifts: patient report and counting narcotics. 

Death and Forgiveness

“We need to leave. Joan’s father just died.”

My husband, Richard, our newborn baby, Andy, and I were in Binghamton, New York, where Richard was interviewing for a postdoctoral fellowship.

I had been in our host’s guest room nursing Andy when someone called Richard to the phone. As I overheard Richard’s words, my consciousness split in half. One part registered the information with dismay. The other continued cooing to Andy, enchanted that he had just awarded me his first smile.  

I Quit!

I HATE nursing! 

I was at Wernersville State Mental Hospital doing my three-month psychiatric rotation as part of my nursing program.

Deciding to leave school, I approached the phone with trepidation. I was nineteen years old, and I needed to convince my parents to let me quit.

Saved from Myself

My obsession started with Anna Mayfield, one of my labor patients. She had a normal labor, but the baby’s heart rate dropped precipitously in the delivery room.

When the baby was handed off to me, he was dusky, not crying and limp as a piece of cooked spaghetti. I pressed an oxygen mask over his nose and mouth, suctioned mucus from his stomach, rubbed his back, flicked the soles of his feet. He remained unresponsive.

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