FM Frequency: For The Love Of Buildings

By Jeff Crane, P.E., LEED® AP
Published in the February 2008 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Outside of the pages of TFM, admitting a passion for buildings might result in electroshock therapy. But I’m not embarrassed! I enjoy reading about buildings, studying blueprints, walking roofs, inspecting mechanical rooms, tracing electrical conduits, learning building histories, and understanding how they’re financed, occupied, furnished, designed, built, cooled, heated, powered, protected, maintained, and managed.

But despite this fascination with facilities ancient and post-modern, gigantic and petite, I don’t enjoy all facilities equally. In fact, there are a few I avoid. Correctional facilities, hospitals, and funeral homes are probably my least favorite.

Now before making wild assumptions, please understand one thing—I’ve never done time. But as a sales engineer, I worked many hours at a federal prison, providing boiler and chiller treatment chemicals and services.

Fortunately, the equipment area was outside the main facilities’ razor wire perimeter and staffed by low risk inmates. The men were allowed to work as a reward for good behavior and were typically nearing the end of long sentences.

While sometimes intimidating, they were usually good chemical helpers (especially the former “unlicensed pharmacists,” if you know what I mean). Unfortunately (for me), most of them were released soon after being trained. Incidentally, do you know where your water treatment vendor learned his or her trade?

So getting back to least favorite facilities, let me just express my appreciation and respect for funeral homes and hospitals, especially facilities staff, doctors, nurses, undertakers, morticians, and all who help comfort the grieving, sick, injured, or dying. But as far as facilities go, hospitals and funeral homes (in that order) are probably at the top of my least favorite list. With a few notable exceptions, my experiences at both have been unpleasant.

Let me share the story of my most recent hospital facility visit. You see, after helping my sister and brother-in-law install about eight pallets (several thousand pounds) of new sod around their new swimming pool, I suffered a double hernia requiring surgery.

Let’s evaluate the wisdom of this transaction, shall we? In exchange for 10 hours of back breaking work and the in ability to walk for several days, my clever little sister “value engineered” about $1,000 from her project.

(She offered me a cold beer and a hot chicken sandwich, so net savings were probably closer to $994. I’ll offer this free advice. If you’re ever faced with a similar proposal, send a check or fake your own death!)

Anyway, I was pleased to learn that laparoscopic hernia repairs were extremely common. The surgeon claimed to have done hundreds of these outpatient procedures and said I’d be back to work after a few days and fully recovered in only four weeks.

Unfortunately, his only available time slot for the procedure was 3:00 p.m. on a Friday afternoon. They say you should never buy a car built on a Monday or a Friday, so after this experience, I can safely suggest the same about surgery. I certainly didn’t want my doctor hurrying and thinking about the karaoke menu at his favorite tavern when I needed his undivided attention patching my guts.

My gracious wife drove me to the hospital and accompanied me through pre-surgery prep that included at least eight different people asking the exact same questions. After interrogations, a nurse inserted an IV in my forearm (or at least that’s what she claimed). I couldn’t watch, but I’m pretty sure she tried to amputate my right arm with a rusty hacksaw.

As a result of the pain, my face must have turned an unusual shade of green. The nurse and my wife stopped chatting and stared at me wide eyed. I thought I had croaked right there, but I broke the awkward silence and asked, “Are you finished sawing off my arm yet?” They breathed a sigh of relief and resumed chatting.

I have a very high pain tolerance, but the only thing I dislike more than needles, country music, and change orders is general anesthesia. After asking my wife what would happen to my guitars and my hot rod if “I assumed room temperature,” I nervously wondered about the hospital’s facilities management practices. As my wife day dreamed about my convertible Mustang, my mind galloped to a full sprint.

Is the operating room at the ideal temperature? Are the HEPA filters clean? I bet it was a low bid project. Will the lighting be appropriate? This hospital is only three years old; is that good or bad? Is three years enough time to work out the bugs? Bugs? I’m sure they have good pest control. I wonder who did the HVAC commissioning. Should an operating room be at negative or positive static pressure? Will they get annoyed if I ask? What if the power fails while I’m on the table? How often do they test the generators? I bet the UPS batteries have a few dead cells. Did you say dead? Cut that out! Hey, I wonder if the facility manager has attended the TFM Show or if he reads my column. Wouldn’t it be funny if the facility manager and the surgeon end up at the same karaoke tavern tonight? I hope those pain killers are good. Why haven’t I seen the surgeon? It’s show time and he’s not here? Could he be doing another surgery right before mine? I hope he washes his hands. I wonder how many of these things he can do in a day. He must make a fortune—probably drives a Porsche! Is it a licensing requirement for doctors to drive Porsches? I love the Porsche 911. Why didn’t I become a doctor? I could have had a Porsche! Oh yeah, I hate needles and hospitals. You know, this doctor sure looks young. Can an experienced surgeon be less than 50? I bet his dad was a surgeon. Maybe my boys can be doctors and buy me a Porsche—a red one, no, a black one. Can they even get into medical school if I’m not a doctor? I wonder why funeral homes are always run by a father and his sons? Stop thinking about funeral homes!

As I was rolled toward the operating room, my eyes darted nervously back and forth inspecting the walls, furniture, people, and the ceiling. My thoughts suddenly turned optimistic.

Wow, look at those awesome wall bumpers. They’re huge! I wish we had those at work! These supply air diffusers sure look clean. I don’t see any light bulbs burned out. I bet those are T8s. This place looks well maintained. They’ve labeled the electrical outlets. Cool! I bet those colored dots on the ceiling grid are to help find valves and junction boxes. The floor is certainly shiny; bet that’s a fresh coat of wax. I wonder if they use “green cleaning” here. Oh boy, this must be the operating room. Look at that colossal light fixture above the table! Wow! It must have 1,000 bulbs. I bet it’s warm! Hey, there’s the anesthesiologist. Oh, thank goodness. He must be at least 55. This is gonna be ok after all. Um, dude, why are you strapping my arms and legs to the table? Oh, okay, I have to remain perfectly still. That’s sensible. Here comes the gas mask and the special IV juice. Do me a favor, pretend it’s Tuesday and I’ll see you on the otherside………….

I woke up in a recovery room, and my first words to my wife were, “Happy Birthday!” Rusty hacksaw nurse made a comment about this being a romantic way to spend a birthday, but it wasn’t my wife’s birthday. I guess she’s never seen “Frosty the Snowman” to know the secret code for regaining consciousness.

Even without surgical complications, I missed five days of work and was miserable for approximately two weeks. It has now been five weeks, and I’m about 98% recovered—just in time to get back in the gym with the New Year’s resolution-ers.

But now the bills are rolling in. I think I feel sick again!

Crane is a mechanical engineer and regional property manager with Childress Klein Properties, a leading real estate developer and property management services provider in the Southeast.