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Making Readers Think, React

Columnist writes to challenge readers to ‘see things from another viewpoint’

ROANOKE, Va. — When I started writing columns many years ago, I had two major purposes in mind. The first was to share some of the knowledge that I had accumulated through a lifetime in the laundry industry. 

The second was to challenge my readers to think and see things from another viewpoint. I get the most reader comments when I write a column with the second purpose in mind. 

I recently wrote a column about my experience as a patient in a hospital for total left hip replacement surgery (October 2018). My focus in that piece was to share my feelings as a patient who was in pain, under the influence of pain medication (which in my case causes vivid and unrealistic dreams to occur) and generally not a happy camper. 

I had carefully chosen the surgeon and had the utmost confidence in his ability to do the surgery professionally and competently. My nursing care was great, with the exception of one incident of too much noise at the nursing station at night. 

Readers’ reactions were based on my comment about pulling up the blanket in the morning and finding a large piece of tape on it. This tape had obviously been through the washer and dryer, and the laundry staff had missed it during processing. 

As a patient, I was greatly disturbed at find this on my blanket. My reaction was honest and based on my condition at the time, and my 44 years’ experience working in the healthcare environment. My mind could not understand how the housekeeper who made the bed and the nurses who were caring for me had not seen this problem and already corrected it. Delivering linen to a patient is a team effort and is the responsibility of many people and departments along the way.

Several people e-mailed me and asked how as a professional laundry manager I could be upset at finding a piece of tape on a clean piece of linen. Had I never made excuses for some less-than-adequate linen making it to the customer because it is impossible to hand inspect every item? 

As a laundry manager, I understood their criticism, but as a patient, I was greatly disappointed at the breakdown in the system. If this blanket had been in a warmer and then brought to me, it would be easy to explain why it was not seen. But this blanket was the one on the bed when I arrived in my room. Dozens of people had the chance to see it and correct the problem before I finally found it. Why did it take so long for me to find it? Pain, drugs and numerous hours of sleep.

Over the years, I remember two columns that I have written that have caused the most controversy. Both of these were done while I was employed in Memphis. 

The first was written about my visit to a large central laundry in Birmingham, Ala. The laundry was owned by a university and leased to the operator. The operator’s sons had no interest in the business, and he was looking for someone who the university would be comfortable with to take over the lease. 

The controversial statement came when I described that during my tour, the manager ran over and turned off all the chemicals going into one of his tunnel washers. When he saw the puzzled look on my face, my potential business partners’ faces and our wives, he explained that the linen going through the washer at the time was for a military base, and he was forced to bid so low on the account that he could not afford to use chemicals on the linen. All the linen was simply given a rinse job. He also took the wool blankets directly to the dryer for air fluff and return procedure. 

Many commercial laundry managers called me a liar and said such things never happened in the business. But I had seen it along with three other people, and I knew what we had seen and been told.  

I also wrote an article about a healthcare linen/service provider, wondering if its textile sales and healthcare laundry divisions ever shared information with each other. It was hard for me to trust a textile sales person who had an operational division trying to close down or manage my laundry. I recommended that laundry mangers boycott that company at the time. 

On the flip side, I got an e-mail from a nurse who had spilled hand cleaner, containing a well-known disinfectant that is known to cause yellow stains on linen, on her shoes. She had researched my articles on the web and wanted advice as to how to best clean her new shoes. I explained what activated the stain and suggested she rinse the shoes with lukewarm water containing hydrogen peroxide. She also decided to scrub the canvas shoe with a toothpaste containing hydrogen peroxide. The procedure was successful, and the shoes were saved.

Education and challenging traditional wisdom, or looking at a problem from a different viewpoint, have been the hallmark of my column for all these many years. I appreciate the feedback I get from my pieces, both positive and negative. 

Obviously, I cannot please all my readers with every column, but if I have caused you to think, to ponder about your own operations, then I think I have done my job well.

Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Matt Poe at [email protected].