Swedish Hospital: The Cost of Truth

Lola Bean - Posted on 18 November 2010

Aaron Crosetto - PNN Washington Correspondent


The pretty and the grizzled, the kind and the embittered, all have lives and stories they have worked hard for that with God’s bidding may help other’s. In this process I survived to learn that fear comes in many forms, flavors and textures.

This story took place between 1988 and 1995. I was a lead Communication’s Specialist with the engineering department for Swedish Hospital Medical Center. The latter five years were a nightmarish experience I will never forget nor how it affected my future after that job. It followed me to my next job where I also worked very hard only to help cause me to be equally smeared and to fall further into depression, PTSD and a finally a schizophrenic break. PTSD grows out of this interminable pressure over periods of time.

For moments I only hear the click click click of the circular clock. Industrial cool white tube lights painfully overpower my vision leaving few shadows but for edges of computers and alarm systems on the console around me.

Absently for hours I now realize I am clenching my diaghram forgetting to breathe. I look into the reflection of monitors to see who is behind me at the plexiglass window. No one is there in this moment of tense respite. Soon an engineer or team of two walking by the window mouthing unheard explicatives through sarcastic smiles or making sleazy hand motions aimed at me will appear. Who knows what new round of cruel lies and engineered derision or death threats they have spread creating an entangling web around my weary life throughout this campus juggernaut.

I worked hard to protect and prevent blowing a whistle on the dangerous fryable asbestos “life and death” issue presented to myself and another I was aware of by one of our contractors; their was great concern expressed by him on a weekly basis. He could have lost his job had he talked to anyone else other than us Communications Specialists; I thought I would surely lose mine once my steely nerves gave way and which did happen leading an eventual future of mental illness. “Asbestos is estimated to account for 3,400 to 8,500 new lung cancer cases in the United States each year. The disease type Mesothelioma is a cancer of the lining of the lung, heart or abdomen.” (Goldberg, Persky & White P.C., The Mesothelioma Center, 2010, pg. 1)

I gave my department managers and supervisors many chances to correct this issue internally. They chose instead to fake studies with negative results and lie like well-heeled politicians. There were weeks of lies to save the hospital money and perhaps a bonus. A co worker who wanted revenge against the department called in OSHA. OSHA declared the situation all over the hospital very serious and so a long period of asbestos removal began. My manager called me into his office and asked me why I had to do this? He said, “We are all going to die some day.”

It all could have been avoided if the asbestos issue had been dealt with internally. But instead management tried to save money at the health risk of its mostly oblivious staff and contractors and patients who were all unaware. We were all exposed.

Click click click goes the circular moon-shaped clock. That continuous sound pounding coffin nails by the inch into a coffin three quarters in the ground already. The sweet smell of metal combined with the dull, creamy scent of oil based paint was all that permeated the air. It felt like there was nothing organic within miles but the orange peels left in the garbage can from dinner. And possibly what was left of myself.

For the first two years I was their welcomed, bright golden boy being greased for a lead position and an eventual recommendation for management. When I later was offered the supervisor position, I refused it do to the management philosophy of “divide and conquer” of the workforce and how they tried to make them feel “alone and on edge” so to avoid their uniting as a team and to close the union shop.

I feel as though I am waiting for Godot in a bank vault mausoleum. Ironically, the dispatch office used to be an old bank vault before Swedish gobbled it up. With the continual character assassination caused by lies fed to the hospital and human resources to get rid of me; also human resources lead me on that I could transfer to another department without any real intention of ever helping me at all; I felt my days of work to pay my bills, survive, and pay my college loans back were numbered and that I would end up pretty soon joining the growing numbers on the streets. A whistleblower basically has the “perspective of one who has been pushed not just out of the organization but halfway out of society, ending up with no career, no savings, no house, and no family.” (C. Fred Alford, Whistleblowers, Broken Lives and Organizational Power, pgs. 97-98)

Everywhere I see the maze of gray and white sprayed walls support this life-sucking fortress known as Swedish Medical Center . I feign a joke and a practical laugh to someone needing help at the window to my aft. Their ghostly eyes a disappearing reflection on the battery of monitors. For the next jump of time, I furiously dispatch needed work on the phone, respond to orchestras of unrelated and related alarms and finish writing work orders and organize calls for an undeserving skeleton crew of engineers.

Did I tell you I also did call cord repairs to help out Biomed, repaired canister vacuum cleaners and made extension cords for environmental services, and helped the engineers with an array of patient room needs, repairs in mechanical rooms and jump starts for desperate customers and staff wanting to depart. I did this to help get a break out of the dispatch office but to also help work get done expeditiously to help workers get their equipment back so they could get their work done in a timely manner. My goal was to aid other department’s desperate needs and keep work from being left waiting or forgotten in the daytime jumble. Yes, in addition I wrote all the training manuals and trained and oversaw the staff as a lead Communications Specialist.

Does that make me valuable? Since no one else bothered to do work to my knowledge beyond their job descriptions you might think so. Did my honed sense of humor gain points? Enough that they would pick me off slowly with an array of lies used as slow torture like how it was spread that I had AIDS disease, that I was gay, dumb, mean, evil—any lie they could use to make me a leper in the Swedish community. I forced snickers and cruel stares everywhere I went and most people stopped being friendly, or even talking to me. I was alone in that prison to face whatever cruelty they chose to dish out. Human Resources even asked me if I was going to ever get married? Even though I am straight, this was an illegal question they asked to see if I was gay which is what they perceived me as do to the lies and smear campaigns spread about me. SMC was known to be anti-homosexual. I stood up for gay worker's rights and anyone being targeted the best I could. I tried to put an end to the targeting of others (those before me as well until my number was called; I tried to put an end to this) so it would not happen in the future to other’s. This was an additional issue to the asbestos issue. When the lead engineer (who was a married, closet homosexual) took out his anger and frustrations on me, I tried to defend myself and could not get help. I was foolish to believe Human Resources would help. Instead when the lead swingshift engineer and other engineers next turned on me and targeted me, Human Resources turned on me as well because they went with the majority as it became too difficult to band-aid this disasterous situation. The other engineers were afraid of angering the lead, so they were forced to turn on me as well. I hoped to pay off my college loans and survive financially as I had no one to turn to, before I was destroyed by the smear campaign and falsely fomented rage aimed at me. A lot of this cruel targeting was caused by a really ignorant day dispatcher as well who had connections to the HR department and the Director's secretary. I just had to continue working under fire and kept it light with as much humor as I could conjure. It was only a matter of time as I was psychologically slipping away and would be permanently politically ruined and forced into banishment. “As a psychopathic creature, the corporation can neither recognize nor act upon moral reasons to refrain from harming others. Nothing in its legal makeup limits what it can do to others in pursuit of its selfish ends, and it is compelled to cause harm when the benefits of doing so outweigh the costs.” (Joel Bakan, The Corporation, the Corporation, the Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power, pg. 60)

Click click click went the mechanized cricket, a reminder that 5 hours in a frenzy of crazed, but mindful zen action engaged in the flow went by in what seemed like a few minutes. It is the end of a long shift (sometimes double shift) where I now gather my belongings robotically and flee this elongated coffin into the shadowy night’s bustle.

Shifting about at the bus stop, I restlessly gazed about at what the lamplit night might bring hoping to not be a victim of violence (I had been mugged and witnessed Crip gang attacks on my bus and in a bar where I lived) before the warm, lonely oasis of Metro arrived. I no longer hear the tick tocking of the dispatch clock and yet woke to the fact I am tense still and reluctant to breathe. With a large, forced exhultation of breath, I jumpstarted myself allowing color to return to my translucent face.

Over the years I would face repeated sexual harassment from the lead engineer and a seriously hostile work environment*; a collective attack on my person. Once collapsing from this job my despoiled reputation would be spread to my next job down Broadway at Safeway where I was then again targeted and driven to a schizophrenic break. My depression was pounded into PTSD which was pounded into a psychotic break over this course of years. Imagine this after knowing and being repeatedly told by your workers and management that you are the best communications specialist they had in the position. I oversaw all the dispatching employees with genuine care and concern. This series of events and attacks left me nearly homeless and in a state of isolation and complete desolation.

My parents and friends were freightened by my experiences and could not believe anyone would treat me that way. They knew what a kind soul I was. They were deep in denial. They repeatedly dismissed me and my serious troubles as if nothing were really wrong each time we met and that to mention it was a burden for them that they did not want to hear. They did not want to be bothered with the details either and so years of terror were dismissed with the proverbial wave of their hand. All the time I had become just a paycheck away from homelessness. I fell into a space where I was mostly alone and for almost a year I hardly could get out of bed. I had been diagnosed with Schizoaffective disorder, while my psychiatrist overlooked the crucial clinical depression and PTSD which was hardly recognized at the time thinking that only happened to war veterans. I spiraled further into darkness and there was little remorse.

Tick tick tick, How will I sleep tonight? How can I face a succession of tomorrow’s with no hope? I didn't realize this yet, but this was to be only the beginning of a series of nightmares that would last the next twenty years...

*Any action that materially affects the value of your job is an adverse employment action. A discharge is clearly adverse. A demotion, cut in pay, denial of promotion (if someone else gets that promotion), or denial of benefits would also be considered adverse. The Department of Labor will also recognize a claim against a "hostile work environment," although courts still disagree about what employer actions would make the workplace sufficiently "hostile." Other employer actions that have been held to be adverse and therefore against the law, include a refusal to hire or rehire, blacklisting, reduction in work hours, reassigning work, transfer, denial of overtime, assignment to undesirable shifts, reprimands, threats to discharge or blacklist, providing unfavorable reference, damaging financial credit, close supervision, unpleasant assignments, evicting from company housing, and a sudden drop in evaluation scores after the protected activity.

latest poem in reflection of 1995
I propose we listen
and not lie, hearing
feathery logic simply undone, lingering
between each morbid sigh.
I know what it is to caste the lowest die, ignored
for ignoble lattitudes, impertinent
energy from eltist idioms.
Impressed I am
into confined crystaline stature;
burned to ashes my pitiful sum.
and then blood sprays bright red
turbidly with new found
turgid fingers, full of life
and handfuls of joy,
bursting, releasing
from my old scuttled hulls,
screaming through shackled stature of
personally impaled statues;
ignored for a clutching century of
personally held breath, gasping
for new gathered life, ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh .

Check out these articles and more on our sister sites at Real Change and the International Network of Street Newspapers: INSP Vendor Blog: http://www.insp-blog.org/ INSP Main Website: http://www.street-papers.org/ Real Change Blog: http://www.insp-blog.org/realchange/ Real Change Main Website: http://www.realchangenews.org/ 

good work from Bad News Bruce


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