Getting a Result(from The London Chronicle)
Bea Long is an exemplary
nurse, who suffered a personality change which coincided with drugs proscribed
for depression. Her behaviour has become .increasingly erratic. Nobody wants to
work with her. And patients are frightened when she bursts into tears.
My secretary attends the same Baptist church as Bea, and says there is nothing wrong with her, except her husband, the artist. ‘He sits in his basement surrounded by painting that he refuses to sell. I don’t know how she puts up with him’.
I decide it’s a case of ‘ordinary unhappiness’. A sympathetic ear is what Freud proscribed for that. And so I pay her a friendly visit. The pretext was a health education leaflet that needed artwork. But she said ‘Norbert would be wrong for the job. He only does things his own way. And spends his time making sketches of me as a piglet’ and, lowering her voice, whispered, ‘and pigs have no body hair’.
Still Norbert accepts the commission and delivers a design I could not use. All the pigs in it had blue faces. None resembled Bea. After giving her the envelope with the cheque, the conversation flows smoothly until I lie that I would be framing the original for my office, and she says that he wouldn’t agree to that. And the whisper comes back ‘Dr Josh Herbert pinches my bottom, and exposes himself’.
This Polish-Irish surgeon is a notorious nurse chaser, but none of them take him seriously. He dances around tooting an imaginary Pan pipe. I mention Bea’s complaint to him in passing, and he shrugs it off. ‘It was in the changing room and she shouldn’t have been there. As to the pinch, teasing a prudish little madam with a pert derriere is fair game.’ I cautioned him. But I wouldn’t be putting a promising career on the line.
Disciplinary cases related to comportment rather than clinical performance are always ambiguous. They are best kept on the long finger on the off-chance the employee takes the hint and changes his or her behaviour, or resigns. Even with the clear-cut ‘criminal’ cases an understanding can be reached. For instance, when telephone bills became call-specific extravagant phone-abusers were exposed. A secretary confessed to making long distance calls to America everyday, and pleaded she couldn’t help herself being madly in love. The case (and the grand passion) passed without a hearing. She agreed to pay the bill.
But with Bea there doesn’t seem to be a way of stalling the hearing other than getting her doctor to change her medication, and wait for an improvement. However, Dr Marcos is adamant that his regime is good practice for depression, and when I question the diagnosis, he refuses to consider a second opinion. ‘I know depression when I see it. It’s the patient is the problem, not me’.
I tell Cassandra of Human Resources that Bea’s repressed hysteria needs professional counselling, not pills. She suggests I offer her extended sick leave, on condition that she sees Dr Jack, the in-house psychologist. Bea refuses and, as her outbursts with colleagues and patients have become more frequent, I am obliged to suspend her on full pay. Cassandra advises me that the disciplinary hearing cannot be delayed. ‘Bea is ringing me almost daily saying crazy things.’
So a date is fixed. Cassandra regretted that since mistreatment couldn’t be raised as she agreed to it, Bea is likely to lose her job. I feel uneasy, and confide the Josh accusation, and she bristles. ‘That changes things. If sexual harassment comes up, it will be messy. You had better speak to Dr Jack’.
I talk to Josh first, and he’s happy to give evidence (‘I’ve nothing to hide’). But Dr Jack warns me ‘although I’d dearly like to see the boy wonder get his comeuppance, keep him out of it. Or we’ll end up in a Tribunal’. When I tell him that Josh had volunteered to be a witness, he remarks, ‘My God, he’s guilty’.
Next day I ask Cassandra to propose to Bea a return to work but on a non-clinical basis. I interview her with Casandra and Ninette present, and we are shocked when she totters in on ridiculous high-heels wearing a tight pink suit, low-cut in the front and back. Ninette sighs ‘She won’t be going to church in that outfit’. My idea is to involve her in quality guidelines for nurses, but she says ‘No. I’m perfectly happy with my job, thank you. I’ve stopped taking the pills and feel much better’. Leaving, she whispers, ‘I’m my own pig’.
Having seen and heard Bea, Cassandra relaxed on the Josh issue. ‘There has been no official complaint against Josh Herbert. So he doesn’t come into it. Should she raise it even her Union representative would be embarrassed. She is her own worst evidence. Bea Long has to be got rid of for the greater good, not least her own’.
The Long process goes to plan. Bea clams as I expected she would. No tears, or dramatics. No allegation of mistreatment by Dr Marcos, let alone Joss. She sat there, plump and pretty, in her pink piggy suit, waiting for the slaughter. I offer her a last chance to resign, and to her representative’s dismay, she says, ‘No. I must take what’s coming to me. I haven’t been doing my job properly’. And so the black hat moment is simplified, and I formally dismiss her.
In the anteroom Ninette serves Bea a coffee while waiting for a taxi Human Resources ordered up. She shows no emotion, closed down for repairs. I just say in passing that I’m sorry. And as I turn away she whispers ‘Hypocrite’.
I walk off my discomfiture in St James Park. The ducks out of the water keep me company. It’s the time of the year that they’re collecting straw for their nest. Bea was probably right - every disciplinary case is framed to get a result. Otherwise it would be an endless process. The piece of string needs to be knotted. It’s no better than the ‘trial by vomit’ in tribal Africa. The accused is given a potent of sasswood poison. Throw up, and innocence is accepted. If not, you are ‘sacrificed to the gods’ (let die). But at least he or she has a chance…
Putting the finishing touches to the Long report, I overhear Ninette in the typing pool. ‘Bea has left her husband, and no one knows where she is’. A few days later we learn from the newspapers that she walked into the Thames at Tower Bridge, and her body was washed up in Richmond Lock.