“I remember every wand I’ve ever sold, Mr. Potter. Every single wand. It so happens that the phoenix whose tail feather is in your wand, gave another feather – just one other. It is very curious indeed that you should be destined for this wand when its brother – why, its brother gave you that scar.”
— Philosopher’s Stone, chapter 5 (Diagon Alley)
On January 1st, 66 Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists in Michigan lost their jobs. The reason? Outsourcing.
Several weeks back, Providence Hospital System offered its CRNAs two options: A) Stay working at Providence under an inferior contract with a newly formed anesthesia firm or B) Lose their jobs on January 1, 2016 and also risk losing unemployment benefits. Still, the 66 CRNAs did not sign the inferior contract and are now unemployed.
My take? The 66 are heroes, and I should capitalize on it. I plan on fictionalizing their story and incorporating it into my next novel, Sleep Tight, which (hopefully) will be flying off the shelves later this year.
Many of us have been in situations similar to those of the Michigan 66. I’ve been a CRNA for 23 years, and the “take a cut or get out” ultimatum has been issued to me twice in my career. I got out both times. The first time, I had good alternatives and was able to actually increase my standard of living. The second time it cost me a small fortune. In both instances it would have been easier to bow down, accept a small cut in compensation, and stay employed but—and this is important—I was willing to take a job somewhere else, anywhere else, for even less compensation. Matter of fact, I was willing to eat dog food rather than allow my ungrateful, incompetent employers to show such disregard for my value.
For the Michigan CRNAs, standing on principle will be costly. They, too, will probably have to take jobs elsewhere for less compensation than was offered on the newly outsourced contract. Selling their homes in the Detroit area may be next to impossible. For recent grad CRNAs with 6-digit student debt, deferrals may be denied if loans have been bundled and re-financed. Spouses of the 66 will have to find new jobs with subsequent relocations, or families will have to temporarily split and communicate long-distance. Children will switch schools. Family members who’ve sacrificed so much to support the 66 will not all understand why the CRNAs couldn’t “compromise.”
So, why do it? Who actually learns a lesson if hospitals lower wages while we CRNAs play musical chairs with our homes?
Well … the Providence hospital system will learn its lesson if CRNAs can stay strong and stay out of the Providence ORs. Other hospitals across the nation will realize that they risk similar consequences if they employ such tactics. Hospitals need to recognize that CRNAs should be included in all contract negotiations—and they’ll have to be fair.
The amazing part of all this for me is not that any one of the 66 CRNAs were willing to stand on principle and refuse to sign the outsourced contract. Many of us have individually refused these types of crappy deals during our careers. But incredibly, unbelievably, the 66 did it COLLECTIVELY!
These are CRNAs after all. And lets face it, it’s hard to find a handful of us who can agree on who’s ‘first out’ on Friday afternoon. We’ll fight tooth and nail over the temperature in the cysto room. We can’t even agree on whether we should call ourselves nurses.
Yet … the 66 became one unit. It’s the stuff of lore. Heroes all. And as an author of fiction, I’ve given this a lot of thought.
When I was writing my book Sweet Dreams, my crotchety old writing coach told me about heroes. “They have to be different in some way,” he groused, “and they must be flawed, because there’s got to be conflict. If you feel a need to make your hero a goody-goody fireman, he’d damned well better fall in love with an arsonist. Got it?”
As it turned out, he was right. Heroes do have to be different than other characters, in fiction and real life. And they must be less than perfect. They also have to be similar to the villain, if in no other way than the magnitude of the passion each shares for his cause. It was not a coincidence that the wand that picked Harry Potter and the wand that picked Tom Riddle (Lord Voldemort) came from the same stock.
But for me, the best heroes (like the MI66) come reluctantly. A hero involuntarily burdened with a quest is the farthest thing from the knight errant looking for dragons to slay. J. R. R. Tolkien recognized this when he created the characters of Sam and Frodo in his Lord of the Rings series. As stated in Wikipedia’s explanation of reluctant heroes: “The wonderful aspect of a reluctant hero is that he or she doesn’t have to adhere to any stereotype, such as being incredibly strong or a trained kung-fu master. These can be average guys off the street; indeed, it’s often their simple, homespun down-to-earth thinking that saves the day. This ordinariness is an important factor in allowing the audience to understand and bond with the hero.”
I don’t know any of the 66, but I wonder what kind of relationship they had before they banded together. Undoubtedly, they didn’t get along perfectly all the time. I rather imagine any of them on a typical day saying, “That sonofabitchin’ Gretta was supposed to let me out at midnight, but she didn’t show up in my OR until a quarter after. I bet she was sitting on her fat ass in the lounge again, schmoosing with Darrell. And would somebody tell me how she got Christmas and Thanksgiving off? I’ve been here 23 years and I’ve never had both holidays off in the same year.”
The ultimate questions the 66 faced were: A) Do we act as 66 me’s, or can we put our differences aside and act as one we? and B) If it’s we, should we stay or should we go?
I can envision their angst while deciding. Those with 20 years experience at Providence may have initially assumed that their opinions trumped those of the CRNAs fresh out of school. Those who passed gas for B&B cases may have been swayed by those from the CABG patch. The F word was probably bandied about a lot. I’ll bet Xanax were shared and tears were shed.
And yet … they hashed it out.
At what point, I wonder, did they realize the enormity of it all? Their decision would affect the livelihood of 50,000 CRNAs and ultimately the health of millions of patients. 66 individual flawed, passionate, reluctant heroes somehow morphed into something larger. A collective unit fighting for the greater good.
They did what CRNAs should have done years ago. They banded together. And we should band with them. Help the 66 and their spouses find jobs. Stay the fuck away from temp or perm job offers from the Providence hospitals, stage a national sick-out day to show our support … anything at all. Please, for the love of all that’s right, let’s support them.