"I'm gonna kill her!"
It was a simple statement muttered under the breath, almost imperceptable to the untrained ear. But it wasn't often you heard John talk about our users in such a manner, so I knew someone had got under his skin. Which was a rare place to be indeed, unless of course your name was JF Honey. If the Mental Health Information Systems, Department of Psychiatry had been an Arthur Conan Doyle novel, then JFH would've been Sherlock Holmes and I would've been his sidekick, Dr. Watson.
That's what it felt like some days, trying to figure out just what the hell some of our users had done to their systems. And one such user had been up to something extra special, judging by the hideous look on John's face.
"Better put on the coffee.."
The familiar reader will of course appreciate that IT departments the world over subsist on quantities of coffee which would make a Brazilian blush and our office was no exception. In fact, John was so legendary in the caffeine quaffing department, he practically ran on the stuff. I was convinced that if JF was ever in an accident and required a blood transfusion, then they'd just as well stick a couple of litres of Camp up there with the saline and platelets just to keep the levels up. It was scary the amount of work he could get done on a white one with two saccharinos.
"Get that down your neck," me, returning with two hot ones, "So what's she done this time?"
John took his customary three gulps (I imagined a little caf-meter in his head registering 'nearly full') and tossed some papers across his desk.
"Printer problem. Again."
"That's the third one this month."
"Jeez, what the hell's wrong with her?" My empathic composure coming to the forefront.
"Can't get the thing to print out decent pictures of her grandkids."
"What!? On the work printer.."
"Well what does she expect, JF?"
"From an HP Laserjet 4L."
"So what did you tell her?"
"I told her it's out of ink."
"Classic. Is she gonna be pissed when she finds out!"
"She's already writing out a stationary order for some colour inks. But she can't find the order numbers for the 4L."
The lady to whom we were referring was none other than Gloria (name changed, maybe), an erstwhile ward sister of some repute, who had been er, promoted to quality administrative duties following a slightly infamous career on the wards.
John and I knew pretty much all of the clinical and administrative staff personally. John was also a Registered Nurse from way back. We had both done our time sluggin' it out on the psychiatric wards and working with the other nurses, psychiatrists, social workers, psychologists and occupational therapists who were now part of our beloved user group. John had been er, promoted to run the Information Systems division for Mental Health. Interesting how many mental health personnel end up doing other, less clinical things. Not surprising though; Psychiatry is a high burnout area for staff. I was starting to wonder if tech support was going to be any easier.
Just then Gloria burst into the office, order sheets in one hand, half a bacon sandwich hanging out of the other, spattering semi-masticated pieces of pork rind across the room..
"John, John, I can't find any part numberf in the catalogue for HP laferthingy colour cartridgef. Do you have the numberf? And also Word's not working again, my computer keepf crashing. And I think the keyboard'f broken.."
There is a psychiatric condition known as Munchhausen Syndrome. Sufferers constantly seek medical attention for apparent physical conditions for which no diagnosable features can ever be found. I'm not talking just hypochondriasis here, some people have been known to undergo multiple investigative and surgical procedures and a body covered in scars is not uncommon. Anyway, if this could be applied to computer problems, then Gloria would be up there with the best of them. Then there are the eating disorders...anyway, I think you know what I'm saying.
John deftly whipped out his number 1 handkerchief and did a fine job of fielding the spray. He was always a smartly presented chap and hated getting his old-school blazer dirty.
"Mr. Mallett, could you go over to Medical Records and see if their erm, MS Access problem is fixed.." You couldn't fault his tact.
Taking the cue from JF I made myself scarce and went to 'talk to the staff in MedRecords.' Gloria had been hassling John for months now; every time he would patiently fix the problem and carefully suggest a different way of doing things and inevitably Gloria would ignore his advice and screw things up even more. I knew she was in for a good talking to as the office door closed behind me.
On my return from a brief sojourn to the toilet block (bloody coffee), I copped Gloria exiting hastily from John's office. She looked pasty white and scampered up the corridor in a flurry of breadcrumbs.
Back inside, I settled down again into the uncomfy plastic chair John always kept for me, but on raising my mug to my lips, decided against finishing my coffee after spotting a few croutons floating around on the top.
"So what's up with Gloria? She looked in a bit of a hurry. D'you really reckon she'll listen to you this time?".
"See that up there.." I followed John's gesture up to his notice board, "Take a closer look."
"What you up to now Honey? Blimey, that looks like a real 22! What's it doing up there?"
"Yep. Take a closer look."
I squinted at the tiny bullet. Carefully inscribed along its shiny brass length, in perfect calligraphic handwriting was the name Gloria. JF had engraved her name on a real live 22 round!
He grinned across his desk, "That's what makes me think she's gonna listen this time..."
And the moral is...sometimes if you want to get the best from your users, you've gotta go the extra mile for them and find out what works. And it did! I sometimes wonder if the bullet is still there, serving as a warning to others..