Washington Hospital Switchboard Operator Honored for 45 Years of Service
Almost every day, Nancy Tondag runs into people who have known her for years but have never seen her face.
“The only thing most people know about me is my voice,” she said. “In a way, it’s my little secret. Every day I get to help people anonymously.”
And just like that, she walks back down to the switchboard desk. No one knows where that is either.
A switchboard operator at Washington Hospital, Nancy has been connecting callers to patient rooms and answering all kinds of questions from employees and physicians inside the hospital since June 1968. Every weekday from 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., she sits next to two other switchboard operators re-directing phone calls in a small office on the lower level of the hospital.
She may be on the phone most of the time, but in between calls, much of her life has played out in the hospital where she has worked for more than 45 years. That’s where so many of her stories take place.
Like at 5:04 p.m. on October 17, 1989 – when the Loma Prieta earthquake struck the Bay Area.
“What a day that was – as soon as I made sure my family was okay, I rushed back to the hospital,” Nancy remembers. “With so many phone lines down, there were a lot of people that were frightened about not being able to contact and get in touch with their families. But we all pulled through and I’m proud of how many people we were able to finally connect and bring together that day.”
Nancy first came to Washington Hospital as a volunteer in the main lobby and old coffee shop. It was her mother Emma who worked in the Washington Hospital Housekeeping Department (today’s Environmental Services) who encouraged Nancy to apply for a job at the hospital.
The quiet solitude of the job has always appealed to Nancy. Hour after hour, she answers questions, fixes problems and calms people down. Through the years, the job has actually become a little easier. Today, she simply connects callers with the press of a button whereas when she started, Nancy had to plug and pull at a series of jacks and cords while sitting in front of a huge panel.
Tondag says she remembers when the operators were in charge of sorting the Hospital’s mail, petty cash, and when the switchboard staff used the old cord-boards to connect callers to their party.
Most of the several thousands of calls Nancy has answered over the years have been fairly straight forward but one call involving a simple misunderstanding is still fresh in Tondag’s mind.
“I remember taking a call from an employee who said "Fryer" in 2 North 3, or some room, and I said “Did you say Fire in 2 North 3?” and the employee verified yes "Fryer" in 2 North 3, so I called a Code Red (Fire Alarm Response),” Nancy chuckles. “Most of my interactions with staff members go much smoother than on that occasion.”
“When I walk into work in the morning, I sometime just stand and stare at the all the new construction that has taken place at the hospital,“ Tondag said. “We have a new Central Utility Plant, a new Center for Joint Replacement and so much progress has taken place inside the hospital as well.”
Reflecting back on 45 years, Tondag has no plans to step aside from her duties.
“This place has become a big part of my life,” said Tondag. “It’s who I am. In a way, I grew up in this hospital. I have a hard time thinking about leaving because I love my job and I feel good. I feel very proud and lucky to still be working at Washington Hospital.”
On Saturday, October 19, Washington Hospital will formally recognize Nancy Tondag for her 45 years of service. From all the employees, thank you Nancy for being an inspiration to all of us.