An orderly life for Wellesley-based real estate agent
By Cathy Brauner/Townsman staff
GateHouse News Service
Her name is Barbara Miller, but you could call her Cinderella. Each Friday, she crawls out of bed at 5 a.m., fights the Route 9 traffic to Boston’s gritty Mission Hill neighborhood, changes into booties and blue scrubs, then heads into an operating room, where she does everything from scrubbing down the walls to holding up a sleeping patient’s arm while it’s swabbed with disinfectant. Then, at the stroke of 12, she changes into her real estate agent duds and heads west to Wellesley to sell some of the priciest real estate in the area.
Miller’s weekly transformation from suburban professional to urban orderly did not come with the wave of a fairy godmother’s wand, however. It took a lot of hard work to overcome the initial skepticism of her co-workers at the 118-bed New England Baptist hospital, especially operating room gatekeeper Barbara McKinnon. The hospital, which prides itself on its high rates of patient satisfaction and low rates of infection, had never had a volunteer in the OR, and McKinnon wasn’t sure if this one would work out. Her biggest fear was that Miller didn’t have the time to dedicate to the learning process — a couple of hours a week just weren’t going to cut it. “I have to be comfortable she knows right from wrong,” said McKinnon, who is operating room manager and a 34-year veteran of the hospital staff.
But Miller persisted, as one might expect of someone with 30 years of sales experience. Aside from her present job as an agent at the William Raveis office in Wellesley, Miller, who has lived in South Natick since 1992, has been a sales representative and manager for a biomedical company. In fact, back in her Colorado days, she sometimes found herself in an operating room as part of the job.
At Baptist, she spent about a month going through intensive training before starting to shadow other orderlies. “Gradually I just took on as much as I was comfortable with,” Miller said. To make her demanding routine work, she began scheduling her real estate closings around her four-hour Friday OR stint.
Being an OR orderly is no job for slackers. The 10 surgical orderlies who work under McKinnon have to know exactly what they are doing as they turn over the room between patients, including each doctor’s preference for set-up. Once in the OR, there’s no room for the kind of sloppiness that could spread infection. “The orderlies are an amazing group of people,” said Miller during a brief break last Friday.
The respect seems to be mutual.
“She just fell right into place,” said Lorna Barrett, a 37-year-old Dorchester mother who, aside from her job at the hospital as an orderly, is raising three children by herself and hopes to eventually become a registered nurse. “I’m so proud of her,” said Miller, who in a former life was a high school history teacher and middle school reading specialist. She helped Barrett study for her GED, and said at this point, “I’m kind of trying to mentor her as she tries to take on increasing responsibilities for her family and her job.”
Miller gets as much as she gives from knowing them. “They watch over me,” she said simply. And that extends beyond helping her to hone her OR skills — orderly Tenor Dulaurier helps her with her French.
The route to New England Baptist
Hospitals are accustomed to having volunteers organize their fundraising galas or serve on their boards. And they count on the generosity of donors.
The Millers do donate to the Baptist. Barbara, whose name can be found on a donors’ plaque in the hall, said she pledges part of her commission when she sells a house. She also serves on the hospital’s Board of Visitors, comprised of business and community leaders who serve as the hospital’s informal “ambassadors.”
But what brought her into the trenches was the example set by her father, a retired city manager and former member of New York Gov. Rockefeller’s cabinet who began volunteering at age 82 at an open-heart clinic in Florida. “I watched that, and I was amazed,” said Miller.
She ended up at Baptist, with its expertise in orthopedic surgery, because of personal experience. Miller injured her knee while showing a house and her husband George needed shoulder surgery. Both ended up having surgery at the hospital — George with Alan Curtis. M.D., and Barbara with Paul Weitzel M.D. “We have a lot of faith in the Baptist,” Miller said.
She had always had a passion for medicine — her family jokingly calls her “Dr. Miller.” About a year ago, she finally made the leap from donor and former patient to volunteer. McKinnon wanted her to commit more time if she was really serious about the work, and Miller agreed. She went through intensive training, and is still relying on fellow orderlies to show her the ropes. They are, she said, willing “to gently correct me.”
Although the orderlies are doing what the hospital considers entry-level work, the job is fast paced, especially on Fridays, when many people have day surgery and take the weekend to recover. Speed is essential if the team is going to stay on schedule, but McKinnon says it’s “a fine line in being fast and being correct in what they’re doing."
While some orderlies stay on the job for years, others see it as a career path to more responsible, better-paying jobs, something encouraged by the hospital. Jamel Ballard, a 28-year-old Roxbury resident, thought he might like to become a teacher, but says the job at Baptist changed his perspective. “I like coming to work every day,” said Ballard, who eventually plans on becoming a laboratory technician. Miller was able to offer him some career guidance as he tried to decide what path to take.
It is this feeling of being part of a team — and of being among friends — that Miller loves. For example, she says everyone remembers to say “thank you” when a job is complete. “It’s a sign of how people respect each other at the Baptist,” she said.
She said volunteering at the Baptist has taken her into a whole new arena, and introduced her to people she never would have come to know otherwise. “It’s a donation to the hospital of my time … but I get much more back than I could ever give,” she said. “It’s not just a job. It’s life lessons.”
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