Kelly didn’t have the best work ethic. She had a tendency to be lazy and easily bored. But her new employer was willing to hire her, because while finding help was easy, finding good help wasn’t. And Kelly was friendly and seemed eager to work.
Her new job was simple. Follow the policy manual. Maintain all machines on the premises. Report any machines making unusual noises or overheating. The hardest part was discarding machines that had ceased to function, but the system overall seemed to work quite nicely.
Kelly was not a people-person and this job seemed like the perfect fit. Like many occupations, training was mostly on the job and only required watching some videos and practicing on some dummy machines available at the learning center. There was some technical jargon she needed to eventually learn, but a couple of classes at the community college would soon take care of that.
A typical shift consisted of making sure various fluid levels were within range. Fluid leaks occurred on these old machines almost every day, but she got the hang of the cleanup procedure pretty quickly. Some machines needed a wipe down daily, others needed taken to the shop for more thorough cleaning once a week or so. Some of the machines were heavy, so gurneys were provided to help move them or another employee could help in some cases if they weren’t on break. She never could understand why they didn’t just get rid of all these worn-out useless machines; but it provided her a paycheck, so what did she care?
There was no need for Kelly to understand how the machines functioned, because there were always one or two maintenance experts available for advice or for taking care of the tougher jobs. For this reason, stress was minimal. However, each machine was equipped with a bothersome alarm system. These buzzers seemed to go off at the most inconvenient times, for example, during smoke breaks. And more often than not the alarms were nothing, just a simple button needed to be pushed or a filter replaced, hardly worth the trouble of walking across the building to check on them. And sometimes she didn’t. It’s not like these pieces of equipment could “die” on her or something. She laughed at the thought. One day, she got so mad at the continuous alarm going off from Machine 15B, she just gave it a good slapping. It had little effect on the machine, but it made her feel better.
Since these contraptions belonged to various companies and were being maintained in a common facility, Kelly had been warned that if she were caught messing up on maintenance, in rare cases she could be sued. But she didn’t worry about it too much; it is not as if these machines really were people. And her superiors rarely asked questions. As long as the basic maintenance list was checked off each shift, nobody cared whether you went the extra mile or even actually did your job. In fact, it was discouraged. Though this was not a union job, the pressure to not rock the boat by “caring” was overwhelming, especially for newcomers like Kelly.
After six months on the job, the combination of boredom with the routine and Kelly’s laziness finally caught up with her. Three machines had to be thrown out in one week, raising the suspicions of the State Inspector. Apparently, Kelly had been neglecting to add fluids to two of the machines and had put the wrong fluid in another; moreover, none of the machines had been cleaned for weeks and she had been falsifying documents about her care for them.
Kelly was quickly fired, but that was not the worst of it. Days later, she was arrested for negligent homicide. But she was not arrested because some prosecutor thinks machines are really human. She was arrested for thinking certain humans are only machines. You see, Kelly was working at Friendly Manor Nursing Home.
I once worked in a nursing home where, according to Iowa state law, fresh water had to be placed at the bedside of every resident twice a day. I got in trouble by the management, however, for having the audacity to offer each resident a drink of water when the pitchers and glasses were distributed. You see, the law says you must make water available without regard to whether or not the bedridden person could actually drink by themselves.
There are probably already hundreds of homicides each year because the old and sick aren’t really considered people: Some are in “care” facilities, some in hospices, some in their own homes. People like the woman in Room 214B (shall we call her Mother?), are mistreated or lonely and sometimes die because nobody truly cares about some “old worthless machine”. There’s got to be a better way.
David is currently an adjunct instructor of Composition and Speech at Marshalltown Community College in Iowa. His wife and he have also owned a business selling antique and collectible postcards on eBay since 1999. David was an activist with Operation Rescue in the early 1990s. He is a member of Trinity Presbyterian Reformed Church in Johnston, Iowa.