Sunday, March 14, 2010

Hospital ICU & Waffle House

It's been four months since my dad passed away. I still miss him. He was my hero. I'm finally able to blog about some of it now. So here goes.

I am still struck with how incredibly tiring all of it was. Going back & forth to the hospital. Making phone calls. Talking to doctors. Eating. Back to the ICU. More waiting. While there was no physical activity nearly at all, the emotional stress of having a dying parent is huge. And there was little sleep, really. Oh, I would go home, sleep a few hours, & head right back to the hospital, afraid I wouldn't be there when anything happened, even good news. The entire process kept repeating, like my world was reduced to 4 hour intervals between meals/snacks/naps. Even at night when everyone had gone home, the same 4 hour process kept repeating itself.

A few mornings I had breakfast at Waffle House before going to the hospital to wait through another day. This might be a really off the wall comparison, but stay with me on this one: Waffle House & the hospital ICU really have a lot in common. First, both run on similar schedules, namely 6AM-noon, then 5PM to roughly 8:30PM. Those are the busy hours with people coming & going. I noticed both were really fast-paced & well-oiled machines. Everyone knew their task & it was performed to a crisp degree. Both had barking orders. Both had patrons who were spent & frustrated. And both cheerfully smiled & treated each person like they were appreciated.

Second, both Waffle House & the hospital ICU staff genuinely seemed to take an interest in the people they were serving. The waitress smiled as much as the nurse. The cook wished me a "hello" & "have a nice day" just as the ICU staff asked me how I was doing when I came in the door. I noticed that after a few days, the nurses/ICU staff learned my name, my family's names & tidbits of info. They knew the schools were my youngest kids attended & that my oldest was a double major in math & physics at Berry College. They knew where I worked. They knew my mom's name, how she liked her coffee & what questions she kept asking. Funny thing is, the people at the Waffle House knew the same things about their regular customers. When a familiar face would walk in, the waitress wouldn't give the "Hello, welcome to Waffle House!" Oh, no. It was: "Robert! Good morning to you! How's the job search coming?" "Good to see you, Mary! How are those grand kids!" The smiles that the Waffle House people gave were as sincere as the ICU staff. They greetings were just as concerned. The familiarity was same. There was little difference in the pain or joy that the customers were going through, in many cases. It is rather odd to think that there would be such similarities in such different businesses.

Thirdly, I saw similar people. Hurting people. Worried people. Desperate people. People that had been brought face to face with somethings they had no control. I'm not talking about just the ICU either. The waitress at the Waffle House told me how one guy was about to lose his home to foreclosure: he had been out of work for a year. Another patron couple had a child on trial for some serious crimes & they didn't know what to do, were blaming themselves & just wanted someone to tell them that somebody cared. Those people walked through those doors to get more than food -- they came in there for some respite from a hard world, a kind word & service that would rival a 5 Star restaurant. If you think that is any different than the service the ICU staff gave, it is not. They did care. They did cry with me. They did want to make things easier, even if they knew they couldn't.

Lastly, I was struck with the idea of "Customer Service" that was given as a Prime Directive at both establishments. While the price differential is ginormous; the educational gap is huge; the job commitment to service is just as real. The ICU staff went out of their way to point out that they wanted to get "all 5s" on the surveys. That was the highest possible rating. The nurses/staff several times said they wanted to keep those satisfaction scores up because they wanted to provide superior service. Now, I happen to know that raises & bonuses are decided partly by those survey results, but that is no different than the waitress at Waffle House & her tips. The last thing I heard as I was leaving the Waffle House was, "Have a great day & come back to see us!" The last thing the ICU nurses would say to me as I left for the day is, "Have a good night & we'll call you if there is any change." Even in the high tech world of medicine, or the low tech world of a making an omelet, showing concern about people goes much further than just being good at what you do.

Maya Angelou once said: I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

Seems that is true in the most divergent of places, from the ICU to the Waffle House.