The Seventeen Seconds of Odette
Hidden in Sight
Resentment as a Kind of Relief
Over the Kanawha
Culled from the Flock
The Beauty in Fracturing
Resentment as a Kind of Relief
Within the emergency department of a reputable hospital there was a not-quite middle-aged, not-quite elderly volunteer by the name of “Francine P.” The problem being, of course, that her real name was actually Francine O.
The hospital’s policy regarding ID cards has historically been to print the first name of staff members on the front of their cards, along with their last initials. The departmental designation of each staff member is printed below their name: e.g., Cardiology, Radiology, Intensive Care, etc. Hospital volunteers, however, have a specific designation affixed to their ID cards to distinguish them from official staff, and so the volunteer office handles the printing of their cards. The volunteer office coordinator,1 inundated with a large number of new volunteers and overwhelmed by having to schedule these volunteers, botched Francine’s last initial during her (i.e., Francine’s) orientation and volunteer outfitting. This mistake was then permanently printed on Francine’s ID card. Francine spent a good majority of her first day at the hospital arguing over the inaccuracy with the hospital’s Safety and Security Department (and when arguing didn’t work, pleading), but it was to no avail. Her name was, officially, Francine P.
Several days later, the physically and emotionally exhausted volunteer office coordinator received a note, written by hand with a fountain pen, that was surreptitiously slid under the door to her office by Francine. She began the letter by apologizing for any inconveniences that may have been caused when she attempted to correct the misprint. Francine then briefly recounted her conversation with the Safety and Security Department, and she continued on to accept the coordinator’s yet-to-be extended apology, one that she just assumed would be rendered had the two of them spoken about the situation in person. No harm, no foul, really. It was all “good-good-good,” as Francine liked to say, always with a smile. The coordinator, however, did not smile while reading the card, and, instead, threw it in the garbage and continued on with addressing the “actual problems” that affected the volunteer office.2
In order to cope with her new identity, Francine went online a week later and purchased a personalized, baby pink ID badge holder. This badge holder would replace the standard black, hospital-logo-bearing retractable reel holder that all staff wear. This was, of course, only after a considerable amount of uncertain deliberation and nail-biting reassurance that her coworkers would respect her donation to a worthy cause. Francine’s new badge holder was adorned with tiny breast cancer ribbons,3 which made her decision to clip this new piece of hardware to her volunteer vest, in lieu of the one she had been given on her first day, a pardonable offense. This was her hope, anyway—her coworkers, after all, were one thing, but the Security Staff was another problem all together.
Francine was terrified that one of the massively intimidating, thick-bearded security guards would approach her upon noticing her newly acquired accessory. They would interrogate her, demand to know why she wasn’t wearing the hospital’s mandatory holder instead. And given their exaggerated eye rolls and sighs of frustration that they had, in no
way, even attempted to hide from her when she had requested her name to be changed,4 the Security Staff probably didn’t like Francine to begin with. She further feared that this dislike would be motivation for the guards to leverage the new ID holder against her in
a case of sinister blackmail that could get her fired from her position in the Emergency Department that she loved so much. “I can’t let them fire me,” she thought frequently. Francine forgot that she was only a part-time volunteer at the hospital and not, in fact, a full-time employee, which meant that her “firing” would instead consist of the volunteer coordinator informing her one day that she (i.e., Francine) was “relieved of her service.”5 But that really didn’t matter.
It was for this reason that Francine always smiled at the Security Staff. These greetings were, however, multi-purposed: Francine held the belief that everyone would like her if she smothered them with kindness. With regard to the Security Staff, Francine’s hope was that this kindness would lead to her being able to keep her new ID holder and, possibly, lead to new friendships. But it comes as no surprise, however, to anyone other than perhaps Francine herself that nobody, especially the hospital’s Security Staff, put any modicum of thought into the fact that Francine wore a breast cancer awareness holder
instead of the hospital’s.6
Business, therefore, continued as usual. Francine would walk around the Emergency Department and the rest of the hospital, her ID holder carrying her bright smile in the 1-inch by 11/4-inch headshot on her ID. This smile, it is important to note, was not at all forced, particularly when compared to the smiles of the handful of younger, high school/college-aged volunteers, who were only at the hospital to fulfill their obligatory service hours. Francine smiled, instead, because she was genuinely happy to have something fulfilling to do after having been retired for several years from her position as the secretary of an elementary school. She became a volunteer because of her strong desire to help others, and she chose the hospital due to its close proximity to her home, where she lived alone, having never been married.
Francine never once failed to smile at the younger volunteers, but she did consistently fail in her attempt to impress upon them how important it is for young people to volunteer their time. She constantly cracked jokes that received no laughs nor smiles, brought in caramel candies on an every-other-day basis that were tossed in the trash, delivered
lunches when she sensed blood sugar was getting low and otherwise unwittingly served as the “volunteer grandmother” every time she interacted with anyone under the age of twenty-one. However, the younger volunteers ignored all of this and, instead, resented
Francine’s way of politely telling them to put away their cell phones while working at the reception desk. Resented the times she told them to fasten the top buttons of their polos for appearance/professionalism’s sake. Resented how she would feign astonishment at the appearance of their hands, telling them to thoroughly wash their palms and fingers both before and after using the restroom “because it's true what they say: you never really know when staph infections may rear their ugly heads. The doctors tell us all the time: careful hand-washing is the only true defense!”7
Francine walked with a slight limp on her left side due to her limbs being different lengths, which she had regarded since her childhood as a punishment for something she must have done in a past life. Every day, Francine would attempt to mitigate the problem by packing her left shoe with Dr. Scholl’s® shoe inserts, sometimes using only one insert and other times placing a handful of them inside, gently laying one on top of the other. The problem being that she could never get the measurements/amounts of inserts that she needed quite right, and the attempt to fix the problem in this way typically led to discomfort in other areas of her body, when all of the awkward pressures and shock absorbance stresses would travel up from her foot to her ankle, from her ankle to her knee, knee to hip, hip to spine, and so on until every part of her body was in agony. But regardless of whether she possessed
an intense amount of pain in her left leg or several smaller pains shooting through her entire body, Francine showed up to work every day and never shared this pain with anyone. Though, of course, her silence didn’t help the jokes that came at her expense: “poor ol’ hobbly Francine.”
Upon the passing urging of a physician in the E.R. (it was made in jest), she had briefly considered receiving limb-lengthening corrective surgery. Although ironically enough for someone like Francine who saw hundreds of patients soon to undergo some manner of surgery, the idea of going under the scalpel herself—or of bleeding at all—made her almost unbearably lightheaded. She would occasionally have these invasive thoughts just after eating at the hospital cafeteria (she was one of the few volunteers to proclaim that it had “fantastic food”), which would cause her to say audibly that she was going to throw up. This was one of the few times her coworkers actually agreed with her on anything.8
There were so many aspects of Francine’s personality that aggravated her coworkers that they had, at one point, contemplated posting a list of them behind the small Welcome Desk of the E.R., right next to the informative piece of laminated computer paper displaying the hospital’s codes and what they mean.9 One of the many aspects of her personality that they despised was the way in which she expressed innocent looks of disappointment, looks that had behind them the full force and effect of a mother’s wrath. It was the kind of look she gave the nurse who was guzzling a 24 fl oz. Mountain Dew™ as she sat behind a counter; the translucent, lime-green beverage is just as essential as water to energy-deprived Emergency nurses who work ungodly hours almost every night, but that didn’t matter to Francine. In this particular instance, she didn’t say anything to the nurse, but she didn’t have to. The look on her face said it all: “Why are you drinking that filth, dear? Surely you know how bad it is for you. Are you not energized coming to work and making a difference in people’s lives?” Francine herself needed no Mountain Dews™, nor coffee, nor any other type of stimulant10 to remain her chipper self every moment of every day, which infuriated everyone else who did.
But her displeasure wasn’t limited to the people in front of her: Francine’s look would resurface whenever she was presented with ideas or objects that she perceived as horribly wrong. For example: while cleaning out the tertiary waiting rooms, which had arm chairs and wall-mounted televisions, she would look around at the mess made by the room’s previous inhabitants and her face would begin to contort. She would rearrange the chairs in such a way so as to provide those watching the television with the optimal viewing perspective. She would wipe down the small coffee table and take the television remote off of it, giving the remote a slightly-modified look that said, “These tend to disappear” and she would bemoan those who couldn’t seem to keep anything in order.
Francine also breathed heavily 24/7, as if she were in a perpetual state of having just sprinted, and she would, furthermore, frequently gasp at those things which she found abhorrent. One such gasp was in response to an elderly man dabbing at a wound in his arm with a tissue he drew from his pocket while he waited in the lobby. Francine saw the man (who, along with the wound in his arm, was also bleeding steadily from his head and legs) as being in desperate need of medical attention. She responded by gently taking away his tissue and replacing it with several pre-packaged sterile gauze pads that she had obtained
from a giant transportable medical supply cabinet tower inside the E.R.’s supply room. But that wasn’t the end of it.11
Because later that same day, the injured man was wheeled to his room by Francine.12 Upon their arrival, Francine noticed the “horrid condition of the room” (i.e., a slightly rumpled bed sheet with a candy wrapper on it), and she gasped dramatically. She then
proceeded to push the man into the unclean room, all while loudly admonishing a young nurse who was screaming that the room was sufficiently clean—”IT’S A GOD DAMN CANDY WRAPPER!” The altercation was ultimately diffused by a veteran nurse who, walking by, came into the room when she heard the screaming. Upon realizing that Francine was one of the parties involved, the vet helped the young nurse flatten out the bed sheet and dispose of the candy wrapper, all while lecturing Francine as she would a child, “We’re going to clean this room without making a scene in front of the patient, now aren’t we, Francine?”
This incident, like all the others, ended with the two nurses rolling their eyes as Francine walked away, muttering to herself.13 The same way it had with the security guards when Francine wanted her last initial corrected on her ID, the same way it had when the volunteer coordinator rolled her eyes at the excessively-apologetic Hallmark card, the same way it had when the young volunteers were annoyed by almost everything Francine did or said every day, and so on. The entire hospital rolled their eyes, poked fun at and insulted everything that Francine did. They never got to know Francine on a personal level, never truly understood what she did for them or their patients. Until one morning, when there were almost no volunteers who came to the hospital and the volunteer coordinator was frantically searching for someone who could carry the extra workload, the volunteer coordinator realized that she needed Francine. And so she called Francine’s houseline, ready to let her know how much she was needed on her day off and how much the hospital appreciated her, but no one was there to pick up. And this was because, the night before, Francine O. had died in her bed.
The email blast that the volunteer coordinator would later send out to the rest of the hospital would say that Francine’s death had been due to natural causes. However, Francine’s death was actually due to a latent strain of tuberculosis that had lived inactive in her body since her assignments had increased. Francine had felt like there had been something wrong for a few weeks, but she attempted to overcome her condition with positivity. But as any one of the doctors could have told her, positivity is not nearly as good a treatment as a regiment of fluoroquinolones and amikacin. She ended up dying in her sleep after one last gasp.
But without knowing what had happened to Francine, the volunteer coordinator was absolutely furious, and all of her goodwill toward Francine had evaporated. The coordinator slammed the phone back down in frustration. She swore loudly and rolled her eyes. But all the eye rolling in the world couldn’t summon back Francine. The rest of the hospital would continue on without her, but it would hardly be the same. Nobody would realize it until months after her death, but Francine had done more for the hospital than most of the paid staff. She was the one worked late into the night to clean up workstations; she was the one who spoke to all of the patients, trying to make their days a little brighter. The hospital’s morale had never been as low as it was in the months following the loss of Francine. But eventually, time brought change. The volunteer coordinatorwas transferred away from volunteer office and into another part of the hospital.14 The next volunteer coordinator would attempt to train a new class of volunteers to live up to the standard that Francine had established. In the end though, there was only ever one Francine.
But perhaps that’s all we ever deserved.
1Whose name was Deborah B. and who had a severe case of dyslexia. She had worked in the volunteer office for the past four years, although she wasn’t known as the hospital’s best employee. This was both due to her dyslexia (which was not her fault) and the fact that she didn’t know much about the inner workings of the hospital to begin with (which was). Her uncle was the primary financial donor to the hospital, and she got the job through his request. She was much younger than she should have been when she started working, and she was also very underqualified (she was a business major in college) for the position. Needless to say, if the dyslexia wasn’t the cause for the problems in the volunteer office, her lack of experience was (among other things).
2Namely the fact that a third of her volunteers had been badly injured in the annual “Running With Scissors For Victims of Scissors Charity Run.” The race was started by a few fraternity members from a local college as a joke, but it had gained an enormous amount of popularity in recent years. Numerous departments in the hospital had participated in the event, both because they wanted to raise funds for victims and also because they thought that the irony of hospital workers running with scissors was worth the extra effort. The money raised for the event (obviously) didn’t help very many victims of scissor attacks, but it did help a lot of victims of other physical attacks, such as assault. For this reason, the event was incredibly positive and popular and, remarkably, until the volunteer group had run, no one had ever gotten hurt.
3Francine had not attended the charity run, mostly due to the fact that she really couldn’t run (see: below). She did, however, support the run financially, having given her coworkers a crisp twenty-dollar bill. When the other volunteers were wheeled into the hospital, she immediately rushed to them and helped to move them to the triage. She also relayed the nurses’ call for fresh IV bags to Deborah (the other bags were low and had not, for some reason, been replaced). The available nurses were attending to the injured volunteers, and so she (i.e., Deborah) delegated the task to a volunteer, who was crying over his coworkers, telling him that he needed to help his friends by doing his job. He responded by immediately running for supplies.
4Because it was, after all, incorrect. Beyond the fact that there was an inaccuracy, Francine also reasoned that there was a safety concern in having someone walking around the hospital campus under a false name. This would put the problem squarely on the shoulders of the Safety and Security department, but the real blame was to be placed on Deborah B., who, by this time, was being berated by the hospital administration for ordering a volunteer to grab IV bags in the first place, let alone tell them to grab IV bags that contained dextrose as opposed to saline. The dextrose had led to a dangerous and precipitous drop in the blood level of every patient with an IV line, instead of their levels returning to normal. Deborah, forgetting that she had given the order (see: footnote 10), told the administration that she would never tell a volunteer to get an IV bag—that was under the purview of the nurses. She then proclaimed that she would find the volunteer responsible and, upon leaving the meeting, launched her own investigation into the matter.
5Deborah had not had to do this in quite some time. When a volunteer left the hospital, it tended to be their decision. Recently, this had been happening at an increased rate, which reduced the level of available volunteers significantly. This was due to the fact that Deborah’s investigation was not going well at all, as many of the volunteers were insulted by her questioning. One example being an interrogation of an Indian volunteer as to whether his “pet snakes” encouraged him to deliberately and intentionally hurt patients, which was both racist and ill-informed (the reason being that he owned no snakes).
6Which were ordered in bulk to then collect dust inside of a box that sat on a shelf in the E.R.’s supply room. This supply room was where Deborah conducted her work, not wanting any of the volunteers to know the scope of her investigation. Deborah was also terribly paranoid, which didn’t help her belief that the IV bag debacle was just a plot to ruin her career (she was also a narcissist).
7 At this point, the hospital’s administration had brought in Deborah to see how the investigation was progressing. Deborah informed them that she was “closer than ever” to finding the culprit, and that she would “let them know when she had the guilty party.” She then proceeded to not-so-subtly ask out one of the doctors in the room on a date, telling him that she “knew a place where [he] could stick [his] IV.” No one in the room found this comment amusing or, for that matter, flattering.
8Many of the younger volunteers would complain amongst themselves that the cafeteria’s food was absolute horse shit, some of them positing that it actually was (these comments came most frequently on days when the cafeteria served cream of broccoli soup. They hated cream of broccoli soup). It was on such a day that Deborah B. actually began her interrogation of the younger volunteers (this being before the Indian volunteer had quit). Her first encounter came with a young woman who was sitting with three other volunteers at a lunch table. They were all laughing over a Spanish soap opera magazine, but Deborah couldn’t hear what they were saying. She asked the volunteer to tell her what was so funny, and, before the young woman could explain, Deborah said, “Maybe you could tell me how to say ‘I did it’ in Spanish.” The young volunteer looked confused and began to open her mouth, at which point Deborah said, “Don’t even bother. I know you did it. All you Hispanics are alike,” not knowing that the young volunteer was actually half-black (which would not, of course, change the fact that it was a horrific thing to say).
9E.g., Code RED, Code BLUE or Code PINK. A Code PINK indicates that someone has abducted an infant from the Maternity Ward and that all hospital staff must stay on the lookout for any suspicious and all-but-guaranteed mentally-unstable persons sporting an unnecessarily large tote or duffel bag, the thought being that such bags are ideal for smuggling live newborns out of the building. The last time the hospital had experienced a Code PINK was on the day of the charity run. Deborah was over by the maternity ward later that day and saw a man leaving with a duffel bag that contained a baby-sized lump. She tried to reach him, but he disappeared before she could
catch up. She then put out a Code PINK and gave his description, but she never checked the ward for any missing infants. Safety and Security found the man soon after and checked his bag. His baby was a basketball. For some reason, however, Deborah took this to be an important clue to the IV bag mystery.
10 Interestingly enough, a month before the IV bag incident, Deborah had relapsed on methamphetamine. She was alone in the hospital after most of the other workers had gone home; one of them found her standing on her desk screaming, “I am Pablo.” The story was retold for days, but the one thing that no one in the hospital could figure out was which Pablo she was referring to. Deborah had gotten hooked on meth when she was in college and had been in and out of rehab since graduating. The meth caused her to develop memory loss (among other things) and this caused many problems in her life, almost all of which related to her job.
11 Francine had devoted the entire multi-shelf unit’s contents and their locations to memory, so she knew exactly where the gauze pads were and quickly took them back to the man. But this movement was made only after she allowed another gasp to escape after noticing that something that was supposed to be in one of the drawers was found in another (specifically, medical tape). Francine kept a mental log of such events, such as the great 2012 disaster when she found a pair of scissors with the gauze pads and wrappings, when it should have been placed several doors above. Or recently, when she noticed that one of the drawers was left ajar and found dextrose bags in the drawer mixed with saline bags. Francine thought that this was strange and informed the head nurse in the E.R.
12 Deborah walked by his room, when Francine was momentarily absent. Thinking that she recognized the man for a volunteer who was actually wheelchair-bound, Deborah began questioning him as she had the other volunteers. She asked him if he was the one who had retrieved the dextrose bags, to which the man replied “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” She then told him to stand up, because she knew he was lying about the bags, which meant he obviously must have been lying about being paralyzed. He was not paralyzed. The real volunteer, however, was.
13 The younger nurse actually did attempt to report Francine to Deborah B. But by this time, Deborah was finishing her investigation by interrogating her final volunteer, an ROTC member whom she had suspected was working with the basketball-playing father from the CODE-Pink episode. After this final conversation, Deborah B. was left with only eight volunteers whom she hadn’t insulted, which was not nearly enough workers to support the hospital. Without knowing what to do, she proceeded to go home early to get high again.
14 During her final meeting with the hospital’s administration, Deborah announced that she had determined that the culprit was the ROTC member, who had quit under the pressure of her (i.e., Deborah’s) investigation. Deborah apologized for the fact that the hospital did not have the opportunity to relieve the volunteer of his duties, but she assured them that he would never hurt the hospital again. The administration then proceeded to present their information—unbeknownst to Deborah, they had been conducting their own investigation—and what they had found was rather shocking. When Francine brought the information that the dextrose bags had been placed in the saline drawer to the head nurse, the administration went back and interviewed everyone who would have had access to the supply room the day before the incident. What they discovered was that Deborah B. had, as she did in all of the previous years, distributed the scissors that the volunteers had used in the charity run. Upon checking the hospital’s storage room, they found that there were ten scissors missing, along with the fact that the dextrose had been placed in drawer “I” as opposed to drawer “J.” This led them to inquire further. They went to Deborah’s office when she was speaking with the ROTC member and found a cart from the supply room as well as the saline bags, which had been placed in the bottom of the cart. What they determined was this: Deborah had noticed the day before the charity run that the IV bags were low. When she went to the supply room later that day to get scissors, she also placed the saline bags in the cart, not remembering, first, that she wasn’t supposed to touch them and, second, that she even put them there. She placed the dextrose bags in with the saline bags, mixing up the drawer’s letters due to her dyslexia. Of course, she forgot the whole thing by the next day, which is what had led to the investigation in the first place. Meanwhile, as this was going on, Deborah had shirked all of the duties of her job in the attempt to catch the perpetrator (due to her paranoia), and Francine was left to pick up the slack around the rest of the hospital, which had left her run down and sick, which is what led to the tuberculosis activating in her system. The hospital administration did not know this second part, however, but what they did know was that Deborah had relapsed on meth, which is what they suspected had caused the events of that day. They were right. Due to her uncle being their largest financial donor, they could not outright fire Deborah, but they did transfer her to a department in the hospital that required little-to-no-oversight. Deborah worked there for the next five years before quitting her job after her uncle died, due to the fact that she inherited a good portion of his wealth. She wound up homeless a few years after that, having spent almost all of his fortune on meth. Nobody from the hospital ever heard from her again.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Eric Kubacki is a senior at the University of St. Francis in Joliet, Illinois, where he is working toward a Bachelor of Science in biology while minoring in chemistry and writing. He does not yet know what he will do professionally, but he hopes to synthesize his two passions—life sciences and writing—into one occupation. As a writer, he is most influenced by postmodernist authors. He was published in the 2015 issue of Brainchild.