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Rant #405
(published October 23, 2008)
Your First Job: Try Not to Drown the Patients (A Lesson in Humanity)
(A Poor Mojo's "Bad Job, Good Times; Good Job, Bad Times" Rant Contest Notable Entry)
by Norma J. Jones
Many years ago, I applied for the position of Floor Assistant in a podiatrist's (foot doctor) office. Oh, I can hear you now, "feet . . . yuk, are you kidding?" You're gagging, holding your hand to your throat, and rolling your eyes. But it turned out to be one of the most rewarding, and interesting jobs of my life, and the learning experience was second to none. At the tender age of 21 I was green as grass and straight off the street. As I filled out the application, I thought I probably had two chances of being hired, slim and none. Dr. Levine, a tall muscularly built man, towered over me. He had a very soft and kindly face and he put me at ease right away. My luck improving, the Doc was into handwriting analysis (very new and very chic at the time), and he liked the way my handwriting had "ended with an upper slant." Sounds pretty off the wall, doesn't it.

In those days of yore, podiatrists had to be a patient bunch (no pun intended). In order to have a "floor tech" or "floor assistant", the doctor had to train that tech himself. There were no schools, classes, or online courses for him to rely on. The rigorous and detailed training included learning to take and develop x-rays, assist with in-office surgical procedures (yep, with blood and ooze included), replenish supplies in each treatment room, inquire as to how the patient was feeling that day so we could assess and document their "state of mind" for the doctor, and perform an assortment of treatments on the patient.

One of these treatments, the whirlpool, came to be a true adversary to my newly acquired position. Certainly very antiquated by present day standards, the whirlpool was state of the art forty years ago. An enormous stainless steel tub that stood about three feet tall and had one third of its height encompassing an enclosed motor, it looked a lot like an old wringer washing machine, only without the ringer and a smaller tub. It held about thirty gallons of water, had an electric pump to empty the contents (same as that old wringer washer) and had four small wheels attached to the bottom rim. The wheels enabled a tech to push the monster from one room to another.

I would position each patient so that their feet were dangling over the edge of the treatment table, and into that tub, those feet would go. Once securely positioned, I would turn on the juice. The sensation was akin to a "hot tub" effect of warm, pulsating, water for the patient's feet. The apparatus was big, bulky, loud, heavy, and yet the patients adored the way it made their feet feel, so refreshed.

Every patient who walked through the door received a whirlpool treatment and Dr. Levine personally taught me the proper procedures for that treatment. When the proposed time was up, I would first dry and then massage the patient's feet with "special lotion." I was to make sure I raised the patient (and his feet) to a height level equal to the Doc's chest. Since this height was equal with my nose, there was plenty of good natured ribbing aimed my way.

I was then to push the whirlpool back to the "whirlpool room" and thoroughly clean it with a powdered antiseptic cleanser. Now, the hitch to this cleanser was that you were to use no more than one level teaspoon for the entire machine but, of course, after the first fifty cleanings or so, you could pretty well "shake" the proper amount from the one pound can it came in.

Since "overbooking" was a usual procedure, the office was always very busy and ten to twelve hour days were also usual. One very busy day, we had patients in all five treatment rooms, and at least ten more in the outer waiting room. The doctor had two floor techs: Dee Dee, a tall blonde about thirty-five years old who would laugh at the drop of a hat, and yours truly. Dee Dee often kept the sanity in our office when sanity had ceased to exist. On this particular day, we were running like there was no tomorrow in the local weather forecast, pushing those fifty pound whirlpools full of water up and down the halls. The patient was supposed to receive no less than ten minutes and no more than fifteen minutes of whirlpool treatment. The drying, massage, and set up of each patient took at least another ten minutes (more if the patient wanted to chat), and the doctor would take about fifteen minutes or so with each patient. With this timeline, you can see what a madhouse we had going in the office that day. In order to keep the patients rolling, every minute counted and escorting patients in and out had to be done while the whirlpools were draining or filling.

I escorted a very sweet elderly gent into a treatment room. Mr. Forest wanted to tell me his (very long) life story, so while giving him my biggest smile, I edged my way out of the treatment room door. Mr. Forrest seemed oblivious to my exit and continued to prattle on. That's when my heart started pounding. I looked at my watch and saw that I was getting too far behind. The doc was going to have my head! Since I don't do violence very well, I figured this may be an extraordinarily unpleasant option.

Mrs. Hendricks was in room five and she had been in her whirlpool almost twenty five minutes (because of Mr. Forrest and his prattling). I removed her feet from the whirlpool, and with my eyes raised heavenward, I silently prayed the doc would not notice that from her ankles on down, she was very white, wrinkled beyond belief, and sporting two large prunes that were passing for feet. Those prunes were a real contrast to her copper colored hair and there was no way to hide either. As I massaged her feet with the lotion, I tried my best to push some pink color back into those snow white wrinkles that made up the bulk of her toes and feet (and to no avail, I might add).

When I completed my part of Mrs. Hendricks' treatment, I hurriedly pushed her whirlpool back so I could clean it properly for the next patient. Let's not forget, there is still standing room only in the outer waiting room, and Dee Dee and I are still running and sweating, sweating and running. Wiping my eyes, I notice the doc with a magazine in tow, working his way towards treatment room five. With the now famed, wrinkle footed, copper-haired Mrs. Hendricks behind door number five, I think, "Okay, this is it, I'm not only fired, I'm dead." All of a sudden, the doc takes a sharp left turn, instead of a sharp right. He was taking the periodical with him and going into the men's room! My prayers were answered.

I didn't know I was holding my breath until I heard a very loud "swooshing" noise, and realized it was coming from me. "Here's my chance," I thought to myself, "to get caught up a little, and have poor Mrs. Hendricks' feet plump up to somewhere near pink and normal looking. I continued with my task of emptying, shaking some soap, scrubbing, and finally rinsing and attaching the hose to begin refilling the whirlpool. The apparatus to accomplish this feat was merely a three-foot length of garden hose attached to the faucet in a deep laundry tub. (Does anybody remember laundry tubs? For all you youngsters out there, they were a huge sink, about as deep as your arm up to the pit, and about four times the size of a regular kitchen sink.)

The machine usually took about six minutes to fill, so I figured I had enough time to call the next patient. I called Mrs. Kelly and escorted her into the room. As I placed her walker into a corner, and out of the way, I inquired as to how she was feeling. Mrs. Kelly must have been talking to Mr. Forrest, because she felt compelled to advise me of all her problems, and one at a time. She started with diabetes, went on to arthritis, and finally ended with the information I really needed, where her feet hurt! I documented the pertinent info on her chart and started out the treatment room door.

As I was closing the door, out of the corner of my eye, I saw something very strange moving along the floor. It was coming from the whirlpool room, and quickly creeping both toward the front and the back of the office. It took a minute for me to realize that mountains of soap suds were traveling in massive numbers. "Oh Lord, did I forget to rinse, did I use too much soap?" My thoughts were racing. "I must have put in a very large shaking of soap instead of a very small one." Adding insult to injury, the whirlpool was overflowing and the super suds, riding on a generous layer of water, had started a life of their own. I grabbed the huge floor mop (used by the professional cleaning company who takes care of the office after it closes) with no time to ponder any reasons for the mess. I started to mop up the foam that had now encompassed the entire hallway and had quickly gotten within six inches of the waiting room door.

Behind the five treatment room doors were five patients. Behind the waiting room door were more patients. In the back room was Dee Dee, holding her splitting sides and trying to stifle her uproarious laughter. And of course, behind the bathroom door, was Dr. Levine. (Insert learning experience here.)

As I mopped fast and furiously (not an easy task with a twenty pound mop), I saw the doctor exit the rest room, magazine again under his arm. I waited for the scream and the obvious conclusion to my employment. I loved my job and I loved working for Dr. Levine. I loved the x-rays, the patients, the fast pace, and I especially loved being able to help other people.

I stopped mopping. My face, a mirror of both terror and horror, I just stared at Dr. Levine. He took in the entire scope of the catastrophe. His eyes, very slowly, very purposely, roaming along the white flowing magma from the end of the hall all the way to the outer waiting room door. And then his eyes returned to me. A very intense scowl filled his soft facial features, and the tanned hue of his skin was turning a very bright red. Frozen with fear, unable to move a muscle, I stood motionless clutching my huge mop. Suds covered the shoes that I had firmly planted in that white massive mountain of bubbles.

Dr. Levine said nothing. He just stared. The silence was deafening. Finally, he turned on his heel, and very steadily walked back into the rest room, magazine still tucked under his arm. His head lowered, he quietly closed the door behind him, and allowed me to complete my "learning experience."

I worked for Dr. Levine for a few years after that, before moving on. He never mentioned that incident, not one word, and for that I will remember his kindness and humanity always. Perhaps we all can learn from the good doctor, and allow all mankind to learn the lessons that life's experiences bestow upon us.

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