This is a true story of discrimination, and humiliation. Most of the people involved are still alive: some of them retired, others changed job, but the vast majority is there, where I left them. So I will not tell you in which small town in the extreme periphery of my home Country these events took place. Nor I will mention the name of the hospital, today an abandoned ghost building in the dying city. Let’s call the place Mendaci, and let’s say it has some 40,000 inhabitants, a castle, few cafes.
When I first started to work at Mendaci’s hospital, as ambulance driver, things were just going to change. The man who ruled with iron fist — and strong political ties — the ambulance emergency service had been just removed from his post. The chair he left empty, was about to remain vacant for several months as a result of personal interests, sentimental revenges, illegitimate pretenses and general poor judgement. At the end, a nurse had been appointed as new manager. (She did not last long either!)
I will not tell more, about this. Not because it would not be interesting, but rather because it is another story that I want to tell you. Today.
The driver’s room
The ambulance service was organized, as you might expect, in day and night shifts. Twenty four hours a day. Seven days a week. Two teams were active during the day, one team in the night (with a second, available, on call). Now, let’s say it, Mendaci was (and still is) quite a boring town. And often, all the night could pass by offering just one or two occasions for the ambulance’s team to enter in action.
There was this room, on the left once you entered the section of the hospital where the dispatch was located. It was a small room, with a window, a chair, and an old hospital bed. Yes, the driver’s room. Here, during the night shifts, when no one in Mendaci was calling for help, here the ambulance’s driver was laying down, and resting.
The other member of the team, a trained nurse, was instead spending the night shift with her/his colleague sitting at the dispatch, answering phone calls or helping at the Emergency Room. Or at least so it was, until the manager of the ambulance service has been replaced by a young and inexperienced nurse.
The old sofa
Her first decision: the driver’s room had to be reassigned to the nurses, for their rest. The drivers were then given the old sofa, in the meeting room. The nurses had also obtained to get a new bed, a new mattress and a new pillow. The old sofa, well, be happy you have something to sleep on.
A year or so passed, and a new manager arrived. Most important, medical doctors were going to take service on the ambulances of Mendaci, for the first time since the hospital existed. A positive change for the health and the security of the citizens of the small town. However, the doctors made it quite clear from the first day: they needed a room. To rest.
Would you believe?
The new manager immediately assigned them the old driver’s room, now in the hands of the nurses. The doctors obtained a new bed, a new mattress, a new pillow, someone to change their bedsheets, a desk, a new chair, and a computer connected to the internet. That room, let’s be clear, was not meant to be a place to visit patients. Now, it was the place for the doctors to rest. And eventually entertain extra marital affairs, browse porno websites and make international phone calls. Oh, yes, they also got an external telephone line, sorry, I forgot to mention.
The nurses had to move to the sofa in the meeting room. A new sofa. And the drivers? Well, the new manager decided that it was duty of the drivers to be awake and alert, and they had no contractual right to sleep. Nor did the nurses and the doctors, I objected. Would you believe that the manager did not even answer to my observation?
A place for squatters
After passing some nights on a chair, we collected some money among us, and we bought a folding bed. After some discussion, we were allowed by the manager to open it, in the night, in the corridor, out of the meeting room (where the nurse on shift was comfortably sleeping on the new red sofa).
Is this all? Of course not. A new manager, a medical doctor, one morning around 6 AM decided to visit the dispatch. And he found a driver, oh yes, it was me, resting on the folding bed. He yelled: “this is not a camping place for squatters!” — From that day, we could place our bed just in the changing room, in front of the toilets, the only place where there was enough space.
They smile and shake my hand
No one among the medical doctors and the nurses sympathized with the ambulance drivers, all keeping their own privileges. So, it was a night in front of that toilet door, that I decided to register at the university.
Almost fifteen years passed. Sometimes I have been back to Mendaci’s hospital, to visit my old “colleagues”. They call me “doctor”, now. They smile. They shake my hand. But I still remember when you made me sleep in front of the toilet, strong of your three years degree in nursing or your underpaid job as medical intern. I still remember.