Most of our waking hours during the week are spent at work and with the people we work with. We get to know one another’s personalities, likes and dislikes, habits, sense of humor, and so on. Positive work relationships have been proven to be important to our overall sense of well-being and job satisfaction, but beyond this, our relationships at work can help us when we need it most.
Thursday, April 30 was just another typical day for the Health Sciences Center Custodial Services group. Erika Alas, lead custodian, and Mira McMillan, custodian, headed to the Family Practice Building after they clocked in at 4:30 p.m. to begin their workday. Almost immediately, Alas noticed that McMillan “just didn’t look right.” She quickly talked to her and asked if she was doing alright, but McMillan brushed her off and said “Oh, I’m fine, I’m fine.”
Alas explained, “I know she was telling me that she was OK, but something was telling me that she was not! I could just tell by the look on her face that something was wrong.” Alas didn’t press McMillan further and together they continued on to the third floor of the building.
For the first hour of their shift, Alas didn’t leave McMillan’s side because something told her not leave McMillan alone in the building. “I just watched her,” said Alas, and just before 5:30 p.m., McMillan collapsed into the arms of Alas.
McMillan said, “I wasn’t feeling well that day, but I didn’t really think anything of it. All of the sudden, after working for about an hour, I felt like I couldn’t breathe and my vision went away. All my strength left my body and I was desperate for help! I felt like I was dying, and all I could do was keep hold of Erika and tell her not to leave me and to let my son know that I loved him.”
“Erika saved my life! This experience humbled me and now Erika and I have this connection…this sisterhood. Always be grateful and don’t take your life for granted.” – Mira McMillan
Alas explained, “Mira was holding onto my shirt so tight that I couldn’t get my phone out of my pocket to call 911. I started to yell for help, and luckily there were two physicians in the building who were working late. They helped us.”
While they were waiting for the ambulance to arrive, Alas did the best she could to comfort McMillan, continually talking to her and reassuring her that everything was going to be alright. Within 15 minutes, the ambulance arrived and transported McMillan to the emergency room for medical treatment.
Thankfully, there was a happy ending to this saga. Alas’ approach to this incident can teach us all something: to listen to that “gut feeling” when it speaks to you, pay attention to your co-workers when out on a job site, and possibly even be truthful about how you’re feeling if someone asks you, “are you ok?”
Dr. R. Gary Smith, associate director of Physical Plant Department (PPD) Environmental Services, suggests that PPD is a department that has been known to be described as a family.
“This is an example of what working at PPD is all about – caring for your work family and friends," Smith said. "When PPD was awarded the APPA Award for Excellence last year, the evaluation team kept saying what a wonderful atmosphere we have here, working with great people, caring about one another, and helping each other out when needed. There is no better example of that than what Erika did for Mira. She was observant, kept calm, called for help, and stayed with her for reassurance – a great example of the PPD Way! I couldn’t be more proud of both of them!”
Alas explained that this experience taught her a lot about herself in handling an emergency situation. “I am happy because I was able to help Mira. I learned to pay more attention to people, and look at their faces even if they say that they are ok, and always trust your feelings.”
McMillan said through relieved tears, “Erika saved my life! This experience humbled me and now Erika and I have this connection…this sisterhood. Always be grateful and don’t take your life for granted.”