Snippets From My Adventures in Government Work, Day 52

The frozen wasteland surrounding our encampment occasionally gives way to thaw before freezing over again. Travel is difficult, and the options for nutrition within the building are especially bleak. Still, if one can brave the icy wind, the nearby “Center” has an amazing 1/4 pound burger & fries special for only $6, on Mondays.

The patients here are starting to memorize my name, and have taken to including me in their plaintive cries for help, every hour on the hour. It is a rite of passage, I’m told, to have one or more of the patients claim you as their particular gateway into their doctor or clinician of choice. Of course, none of us has any more power than any other of us, for the ways of doctors and prescribing nurses are mysterious, but the patients do not understand the hierarchy established here, or do not want to.

Also, the option to “leave a voice mail” confuses the hell out of several members of the community, and not a few members of staff.

My nurses have gathered around me, one at a time, each of them, all day, asking: “What is wrong with you? Are you sick? You look feverish; do you have a fever?” When I reply that yes, I am sick, and have been since this weekend, they reply as one: “Why are you here then?” When I tell them that we’ve been short staffed since last week and if I didn’t come in, there’d be no one in administration on the whole floor, they sigh, and nod, and drift away.

It has become clear that as certain staff have aged, grown closer to retirement, they have grown more forgetful, or less interested in the minutia of our positions. They leave the vital tasks to those of us newer to this expedition, and instead amuse themselves with glossy magazines. I have made a pact with Laura, who began shortly before I did, that — should we begin to fade as our elders have — we end it all. Together.

Have I mentioned that I am ill? The fever confuses me, but still, I soldier on.

The other members of the expedition have a variety of dietary restrictions which make the sharing of a meal or simple treat into a monumental sorting effort. A great many refuse to partake of gluten, or wheat, or sugar, or fats. However, when I bring in desserts baked (with great care!) from home, suddenly everyone can indulge in “just a nibble” and the food disappears.

One woman, wise beyond her years and greatly experienced in the ways of this place, advises me not to come in again tomorrow if I am still sick. When I protest that such an action would leave us virtually undefended from the onslaught of phone calls and influx of patients seeking relief from their ailments, she replied, “But you can’t think like that. It’s not your problem.”

“It’s not your problem.” Wise words, indeed.


One thought on “Snippets From My Adventures in Government Work, Day 52

  1. Ah, my dear Ms. Cuinn, you are likely entirely too brilliantly intelligent and caring to survive too long in the trenches of mid-level bureaucracy! 🙂 I say this lightly, but I urge you to respect its force and the danger of it sucking you into its large, marshmallow-like torpor. Suggest that by engaging in a clever sort of mental jiu-jitsu crane dance, one CAN work with the torpor and make creative use of it (think Kafka and Wallace).

    I did my time in the Big-Daddy of them all (13 years in the federal government) and quickly won the “loose cannon” label, which pretty much kills off any chance your career will go anywhere.

    My private sector workplace is bureaucratic with a small “b” but we are still afflicted with a Facilities Manager who missed her true calling (likely somewhere in the bowels of the Government Printing Office). I tried to write little essay below in the manner of a Soviet worker harvesting the wheat crop. I hope you enjoy it —-


    Each year it comes. The two-day deadline to let The Facilities Manager know how many Holiday cards the staffer needs.

    Each year, there is the statistical probability that these two days fall during someone’s critical deadline (e.g., client on death row about to be executed). We ask for an extension. The Facilities Manager says No. It has always been as such.

    Why is the deadline always “two days”? Why not three? Or one? Or four? Who knows. It is impossible to divine the ways of The Facilities Manager. The staffer ponder these matters over their vodka after a long day in the fields, in a suitably dark and fatalistic Russian manner.

    Washington DC. All the arcane bureaucracy of pre-Revolutionary Imperial Russia, and an East-German/Soviet-era Metro system to commute on.

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