Wednesday, December 12, 2007

UCSF Inspired

Do you drink from public water fountains? I did, because I was convinced by my teachers that even the water that comes out of the shower is supposed to be safe to drink due to governmental regulations. WRONG! As a dutiful citizen, I sacrificed my winter break to do jury duty and was looking for some free water on the 11th floor of the LA Superior Court. I normally just drink the water right off the fountain but lucky for me, I happened to have an empty water bottle yesterday. Half way through with filling my bottle, what I saw in the bottle was not clear but yellow like the one that you would get from a river after a storm. Upon this experience, I informed the clerks in the jury assembly room. They told me that they got an email saying that the water fountains were not working because the plumbing system was down. I told them specifically what I saw and emphasized that it was hard to tell the water was yellow if people were just drinking from the fountain without a bottle. I think I also mentioned to them something about putting up a sign to alert people about it.

Guess what happened this morning? I went back to the same fountain and a lady was about to drink from it. I told her that the water was yellow yesterday and that she should inspect it before drinking. She turned it on and didn't see anything wrong so she drank from it. Afterwards, she decided to prove to me that the water was okay by adding some in her half-filled water bottle. Low and behold, her bottle of water turned yellow and she ended up throwing it away.

By this time, I was angry again at the lack of action taken by the clerks and so I paced back and forth while waiting to be called by the judge into the court room to continue the jury selection process. After a while, I decided to fill my empty bottle with the rust-filled water and once again confronted the jury assembly room clerks. When I went back there, the look on their faces told me what was on their minds: "Crap! That annoying spiky-haired girl is back with the same issue!" I could also detect a little Oops-I-got-caught-ignoring-someone's-concern thought in their heads, but they didn't look like they felt that guilty.

So I showed them what the water looked like and told them that it was a big public health problem if something was not done about it. They told me AGAIN that there was a plumbing problem and the water just started running again. "Goodness! Don't they understand that people are drinking from the fountain and the water is not safe!" I told them something must be done. I asked them who I should contact about this problem but they told me they were going to do something about it. Well, I hope they really did email the building manager like they said they would because I think by now, they know that I am not going to let this slide!

I know I should have handled the situation in a calmer manner, but I did let emotions get in the way even though I got the point across. I don't know if it was the grande latte from Starbucks or the heated encounter but I could not stand still. I paced up and down the hallway, still unconvinced that no one else will drink from the fountain before the problem gets resolved....if it ever does!

Then, an idea popped in my head. I went back to the trashcan where I had thrown the bottle of dirty water, filled it up and placed it beside that fountain. With a posted note pad and a permanent marker (yeah, I happened to have them in my purse!), I made several warning signs about drinking the filthy water. After observing for a while, I noticed some shocked faces as they noticed the signs and the water but no one got really angry like I did about it. The other jurors must have thought I was a lunatic for having such strong feelings about a minor thing. The man that I talked to about this issue just matter-of-factly said: "That's the county for you!"

Before going to UCSF, I might have let something like this go, but I must say, a quarter of immersion in an environment where change is valued and encouraged has ignited my spirit of initiation. Dr. Mike Winter's words, "It's not good enough to just learn how the system works. You must ask how good the system is," ring loud and clear in my ears. The system (LA county) obviously has a reputation for lagging in their responses to concerns, even when it comes to a public health hazard! However, as a citizen and a student in the health care setting, I cannot tolerate something that can jeopardize the public's safety. I will pursue this issue further when I go back to the court tomorrow.