Frequently, like yesterday, my visits to the Gunnison hospital last mere minutes and consist mostly of waiting. No matter my reason for visiting, though, sooner or later I’ll get a survey mailed to me, usually from someplace in Florida, wanting to know how my visit went. The question that befuddles me every time is: Did you feel safe?
Do I feel safe in the Gunnison hospital? From what? I’ve never actually understood what drives this question, in these surveys I rarely fill out because I was in the hospital for 10 minutes and I’m not sure what I need to worry about. Terrorist attack? Domestic violence? Abusive medical personnel? Random gunfire? Germs? Someone else overhearing the details of my medical issue? I genuinely have no idea why I should be more or less concerned about being safe in the hospital versus, say, the grocery store, which these days can be a lethal place when someone walks in with semi-automatic weaponry.
But I have now found a reason to feel unsafe in the Gunnison hospital. I went yesterday for a blood test to measure my thyroid output, a test that was ordered back in September that I hadn’t managed to make time for. I parked in the lot near the covid testing tent, which had customers — we have had 21 county cases and three visitor cases each of the last two weeks — and went into the building.
I don’t know about “safe,” but “annoyed” is a nearly omnipresent sensation I experience in the Gunnison Valley Hospital. This building has been remodeled and remodeled and remodeled, and there’s rarely clear direction on getting from Point A to Point B unless you go through Point Z.
For instance, when Lynn got a tiny tube taken out of her ear last week, she couldn’t figure out which entrance to use. We were in separate cars, and she told me she’d eventually made ingress via the “south” entrance. She’s only been here 19 years, so she can be forgiven for not knowing that once upon a simpler time, everyone really did enter from the south (that door may be totally gone now), and she was really standing in front of “the old emergency room entrance.”
From the southeast quadrant we walked to the southwest. She got the tube removed by an ENT from Montrose who comes once a month, who was unhappy about the way his mask was pulling on his ears. He feels extra-protected from covid infection since he was vaccinated early on and then got sick recently when his sixth-grader brought it home from school. It was “not fun,” he reported.
Upon retracing our steps following the appointment, we ran into a conundrum, because the door we needed to go through had signs telling us we had to be authorized personnel to be admitted. An authorized personnel came through the door as we were trying to decide whether it was okay to go through it the way we’d come, or if we had to go around the outside of the building. She authorized us, but it’s a stupid building to try to navigate.
How come the surveys never want to know if I felt annoyed?
My journey yesterday was much more direct, and I anticipated no convolutions, although I ran into one anyway. My major annoyance with every visit to the phlebotomy lab or any other trip that starts at the main entrance is the biggest waste of architectural space you could imagine. There’s only seating for five, but Godzilla could stand in there with head height to spare.
It’s a weird, extremely poorly designed space with this entire area to the south that serves no purpose, much like the ceiling that can’t even be scryed out because it’s so tall. I’m only grateful, every time I go in there, that I don’t have a job working in one of the tiniest rooms imaginable like the women who check you in and give you the hospital bracelet you have to wear for your two minutes in the lab.
Yesterday I walked in and stood where people used to stand, even though there was a red tape arrow on the floor pointing out toward the door. The receptionist said she’d be with me in a minute, and because I had this minute and was standing in the wrong place, I saw a sign that for the first time made me wonder about my safety in this hospital.
There were instructional signs all over with a four-step process for keeping safe in this time of covid, and in fact I got mildly taken to task by the receptionist because I didn’t do Step 2: sanitizing my hands. (Step 1: wear a mask.) Under her watchful eye I sanitized, filled out the form I no longer read where I answer “no” to symptoms, held out my wrist for my temperature. And then I asked about the paper taped to the wrong window I had been standing in front of: “The hospital is applying to the state for an exemption from mandatory vaccination?”
“Oh, yes,” the receptionist assured me. “You know, there are women who might want to get pregnant.”
I’m in a hospital, a badly designed hospital with a slightly different check-in protocol that has a four-step process intended to make us feel safe in this time of covid, and they are proudly announcing their intention to let medical professionals wander through the halls and lean over patients while unvaccinated because in some health professional’s twisted view of science, the vaccine presents a higher risk to pregnancy than a lethal virus.
And not just “some” health professional. Intentional or not, the receptionist made it sound like there are many employees of child-bearing age who are not vaccinated and have no intention of being so.
So no. Suddenly, for the first time, I do not feel safe being in Gunnison Valley Hospital. And I think if they’re going to let employees opt out of being vaccinated, it ought to be my right as a patient to know exactly which employees are the most susceptible to harboring covid and then passing it along. And it ought to further be my right as a patient to ask to be attended by someone who is vaccinated.
I’m sure there are issues, in a hospital in a remote valley in a state being overrun by hospitalized covid patients (81 percent of them unvaccinated), about replacing personnel who would quit rather than get a vaccine for a highly communicable, potentially lethal disease that recently claimed its 13th victim here in the county and has given at least two of my friends long-term health issues.
But why we continue to cater to those taking a Fox News-approach to science — although I should note that Fox News has a vaccine mandate, and since neither Tucker Carlson nor Sean Hannity has quit in protest, we might could assume they are vaccinated — I don’t know. And why we’re okay with our local health system, which amorphously extends to medical clinics, rehab facilities and our senior care center, exempting personnel who are dealing with the most vulnerable among us, I really don’t know.
I’ve known, for the last several remodels, that Gunnison Valley Hospital is a stupid building. I never realized before yesterday that stupidity might be inherent in the entire system. And now I don’t feel safe there at all.