If Allen Long learned one thing from working as a certified nursing assistant at an inner-city "safety net" hospital, it was to get high-quality health insurance and only to go to highly rated health care facilities.
Long has chronicled his harrowing five years caring for patients at a hospital he calls "Malmed Memorial" in his recently published book, "Praying for Restraint."
The title has three meanings, Long explained.
"One, I wanted the hospital to restrain the violent psych patients, which it almost never did," he said. "Two, I wished the bad management and staff had restrained themselves from being so abusive. Three, still carrying the remnants of PTSD, I had to restrain myself from striking patients who hit me."
Long, 64, lives in Pleasanton with his wife Elizabeth, and he tells the effect of the job on their marriage as he ranted about his frustrations each night. Finally he realized he should vent to his therapist, who was already helping him deal with his PTSD after a childhood of beatings by his father. All this is covered in Long's first memoir, "Less Than Human."
"If you have something really hard to bear and you're in pain, I think it's fine to let your spouse know what's going on," Long concluded. "But if you need to hammer on and get it off your chest, you need a therapist."
In "Praying for Restraint," Long relates incident after incident of dealing for hours with suffering, erratic patients, while coworkers were often uncooperative and administration only cared about the bottom line. Plus, the hospital was understaffed and lacked equipment.
He was surprised to see his hospital given three stars in a rating.
"It's scary that an 'average' hospital can be so awful," Long said.
He also tells heartwarming tales about patients he likes, and he does not hesitate to point out his own mistakes.
"If you spend your time on the defensive trying to make yourself look perfect, the book will lack authenticity," he said.
Long has a Master of Fine Arts in fiction writing from the University of Arizona. After years in the corporate world, he realized he would be happier in a "helping" profession so trained to be a certified nursing assistant and landed the job at the inner-city hospital.
Horrified by the toxic work environment, he started to journal his experiences.
"I was collecting rich material almost daily," he recalled.
Long eventually realized that he had a book, organized the materials, and changed the writing to the past tense.
"I viewed that job as putting my body, soul and marriage at risk and thought I should show those dimensions," he said. "Luckily I came through it one piece."
Allen hopes the book will be read by those in the medical field who might be able to improve the situation. He also suggests it for anyone considering a career in health care, who cares about hospital administration and health care reform, and those interested in reading about the lingering effects of PTSD.
"I would love to see this book used in entry level classes in nursing and hospital administration," he said. "That's where a lot of the change could come from."
Published by Legacy Book Press, "Praying for Restraint" is available at retailers including Towne Center Books and Amazon.