There are always those coworkers you can count on to provide entertainment at work—from the harpie with her squeaking shoes of judgement to The Goat Man and his paranoid vendettas, I am rarely bored. But it’s still a nice surprise when someone on the sidelines decides to take center stage with a remarkable act of awkwardness.
It was a routine Tuesday afternoon, I was sitting at my desk dragging all the things I was supposed to do that day over onto Wednesday’s task list. The shadowy little e-mail notification box popped up on the bottom of my screen. I stop troubling myself with these pesky things around 8:17AM every morning but the subject line was enough to snag my attention:
It was from one of our psychiatrists, Dr. M. Poor Dr. M also completed her Residency at our hospital, though no one has any idea how, because by all counts she does not speak or understand English. Her inability to properly communicate with patients was not, by itself, a good enough reason to not hire her. Instead, they just assigned her to the Admissions department where she evaluates patients as they walk or are dragged through the door. Surely one doesn’t need to have a mastery of the English language in order to determine someone’s mental state.
I’ll be honest—I don’t have much first hand knowledge of her inability to speak English because I’ve actually never heard her speak. While I would love to direct her to something like Effortless English language training, I cannot be entirely sure if she absolutely needs it or not. In staff meetings, she prefers to just shake her head and look at the table any time she is asked a question. In doing so, she manages to fly under the radar and because she actually bothers to show up to work she is no where near the top of the “Shittiest Employees” list.
I’m not saying she doesn’t speak English because she has an accent or a different first language—that describes about 85% of the people who work in the hospital. What I’m telling you is that Dr. M. truly has no idea what is going on at any given moment.
Only a few days before her email had shown up, we’d begun to zero in on her lack of ability to communicate with the English-speaking population of America. An insurance company had cried foul over the poor quality of clinical notes she’d entered in a patients chart—apparently they expect complete sentences from people with $100,000 educations. The insurance company refused to pay for the services until Dr. M entered a more thorough note.
She tried, and she failed.
Our reimbursement office used the excuse that she didn’t possess excellent writing skills but would be available for a phone conversation. This was scheduled, but Dr. M failed to get on the call. Her boss sat down with her to try and understand why we were about to lose thousands of dollars in insurance reimbursement.
“I don’t feel comfort.”
“You don’t feel comfortable?”
“You don’t feel comfortable with… what?”
For the life of me, I can’t figure out how someone can be uncomfortable with a phone call but feels okay with handing out psychiatric diagnoses and prescribing incredibly sensitive medication. One thing would soon become clear– Dr. M did not appreciate the scrutiny and was prepared to communicate this in an e-mail to the entire executive management team:
Subject line: “For Effort”
Signed: “Sent from MY ASS.”
I nearly fell out of my chair when I read it.
I faced an epic collision of priorities—do I first hit “print” or “forward?” I decided to be selfless and put my needs last (this had “File of Awkward” written all over it) and instead did the generous thing and forwarded it to my coworker A, who frequently cleans up Dr. M’s silent little messes.
“Oh my God,” she replied, “is that her way of quitting?”
My phone began ringing. I picked it up to hear the Director of Finance howling in laughter.
“Have you seen it? Oh my God, it’s so good, so good. I forwarded it to HR, I just, I can’t….”
My second line began ringing so I switched over. It was the Director of Admissions & Evaluation.
“What do you make of that? Should we be scared? Is she going to bring a gun up here?”
A third line on my phone started ringing. I had absolutely no idea it was even capable of that– who needs three phone liens. It was Tim, from IT.
“Mandi just forwarded that e-mail to me, I’m dying…”
Wait—how did Mandi get it? Only 3 minutes after sending that e-mail from HER ASS, it had gone viral.
I took care of the print job and then hit “Reply-All.” All I wrote was “What?” I figured I should keep it nice and simple.
Footsteps came clicking and clacking from opposite ends of the hallway as people walked in, holding out their phones and asking if I’d seen it. Apparently such open defiance was not routine here at the hospital.
When they’d gone, I pulled out my File of Awkward—the same one where I keep The Goat Man’s “Witch Hunt Timeline” and slid it in amongst my other treasures. I couldn’t help noticing a small bit of notebook paper folded at the bottom. It was the very first thing I’d ever put in The File of Awkward, a note that spawned it’s entire existence. It had been in a folder labeled “Suggestion Box” that was left behind by the woman who’d retired from this job before me.
It was just a short little pencil scrawling on a torn sheet of paper:
“Want a suggestion? Try hiring nurses that didn’t buy their degrees off of Craigslist.”
Two and a half years ago, when I’d worked on the wards amongst the most evil of nurses the Nursing Director had placed “Suggestion Boxes” in all of the breakrooms as some sort of guise for communicating with the staff without having to actually interact with them. When they’d installed it they hadn’t bothered to remove the two standard keys that came with it so I went ahead and helped myself to one of them (call me Robin Hood) so that I could amuse myself by reading people’s suggestions. Unfortunately, no one ever submitted anything because they knew better than to question their dark and hopeless reality.
I decided to test whether they actually bothered to check for them and wrote my own… yep, that same pencil scrawled note that would later be waiting for me when I got my promotion. Apparently they were checking them, but it must have been read by someoe with Dr. M’s grasp on English because it would appear that they had taken this a suggestion to move beyond hiring Craigslist Nurses and started hiring Craigslist Doctors as well.
A few hours later, Dr. M replied to my “what?” e-mail:
“I don’t no. This must virus.”
Sure thing, Dr. M. I’m sure that’s what it was. I still give you mad props though, because we can’t all hide behind the anonymity of a suggestion box.
Have you ever left a snarky suggestion or other inflammatory feedback? What’s the most awkward e-mail you’ve ever received? Have you ever acted out of anger or frustration and then immediately tried to pretend like “it wasn’t you?”
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