Could it be called that? I was walking on air. I had a few days to get ready for my new job which caused mixed feelings. I wanted to start sooner so I could be making MONEY. However, I also had butterflies. This was going to be a new experience all the way around. I’d never worked in an office setting with so many other people around. It was decidedly different from fixing hair in a beauty salon. No way could it be compared to an assembly line in a factory. I’d worked in an office in academy but not like this. I’d be in uncharted territory.
Vivid dreams in color aren’t unusual for me. One recurring dream I have even now is being late for class or for work. Sometimes I can’t find the place I’m supposed to be. I’ll find a pay phone and not have money. The phone book is either missing pages or the words keep changing. I’m sure there are “experts” who could find deep meaning but I’m always relieved when I wake up and find it isn’t real. That first morning, I crawled out of bed in plenty of time to be at work when I was supposed to.
Since DD’s school and the hospital were about a mile apart if that and her schedule and mine were essentially the same in the morning, she rode down the mountain with me. I’d made arrangements for her to go home with her classmate’s mother in the afternoon.
I walked in the office that first day with fear and trepidation. Besides not being familiar with the workings of a hospital, I didn’t like asking people for money. That was my assignment. I decided I’d have to suck it up and do what had to be done.
My desk was just that—a desk. It was ugly brown metal with a fake wood top. Someone must’ve had trust issues. There was a hasp and padlock to keep people out of the top drawer. My task chair had seen better days. The only thing on the desk was a phone. I opened the drawers one by one. There was an assortment of Stuff in them that didn’t seem to have anything to do with collecting on accounts.
The other staff was friendly enough. My boss took me under her wing and showed me around the hospital. When mealtime came, she directed me to the cafeteria but I’d taken my lunch. If there were one thing I knew, it was finding vegetarian food in a hospital cafeteria is iffy at best. She got her food and we ate together in the break room. It was located about as far away from the office as it could be and still be a part of the building. There were several other employees and when the meal was over, they lighted up cigarettes and enjoyed their after-lunch smoke.
The lobby and office were outfitted for smokers as were all the patient rooms. None of the employees in the office smoked but patients would indulge in the filthy habit. I couldn’t imagine how I could have enjoyed it once upon a time.
The manager came in to see what I needed at my desk. She fixed me up with legal pads, pens, pencils, all the accoutrements of the clerical force. I was missing a calculator but not for long. She ordered a NEW one! I felt so special.
Much of the rest of the day was spent filling out the endless forms for my employment.
After my shift was over, I headed up the mountain on the opposite side of the valley from home. I was tired but exhilarated. When DD got in the car, she said, “You smell like SMOKE!” It was true. I did.
My second day and the days and weeks to follow, I would go to the enormous console in the data entry room and feed it account numbers. It would oblige me with printouts on green bar paper. There was one computer in the whole office and it was used for crunching numbers for the monthly reports. The keypunch operator sat at a little desk hour after hour and fed information into a keypad. I don’t remember all the steps but at the end of the day, she’d load everything onto an 8″ floppy disk. The system was called McAuto. I later found out it was a McDonnell Douglas company. I’d thought McDonnell Douglas was into aircraft but it was more diversified than that.
I got rather good at collecting. I’d call people and let them know what my business was. I was nice about it but I was also insistent. It was important for people to be honest and pay their bills. I’d hold the phone down to the calculator so they could hear me figuring up monthly payments. Many times, I’d be successful at setting up schedules and the money started coming in. Not a flood but more than a trickle.
Everyone had to be cross-trained. I learned to register outpatients and admit inpatients. The outpatient forms were filled out in longhand but the inpatient forms were typed. There was a machine called an Addressograph that cranked out the embosser cards that were used by the unit secretaries to stamp each page in the patient chart. We had to fill out medical record cards manually. It was only the tip of the iceberg.
Payday came every other week. I notified the Department of Human Services that I no longer needed food stamps. I was a wage-earner. It was so nice to have my own money for a change.
Then, one day my boss and one of the insurance billers were huddled over in a corner. I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop but I overheard, “Tommie is the obvious one.” WHAT? The obvious one? What did it mean? How long would it be before I found out?