On the eighth floor at Florida Hospital, the sound of Canadian crooner Michael Bublé can only mean one thing: Steve Golub is walking a patient.
An elderly woman recovering from bypass heart surgery gently pushes a tricked-out walker Golub decorated with colored ribbons, flashing lights and a plastic parrot he somehow fashioned into a bicycle bell.
On a chain around Golub's neck is an off-brand MP3 player with a tiny round plastic speaker he attached with Velcro. The woman begins bouncing to Bublé.
I've got the world on a string, I'm sittin' on a rainbow …
Golub, 43, is an ambulatory technician and has spent the past six years getting patients on the hospital's cardiac rehabilitation floor up and about. His methods for coaxing them out of bed and in front of a walker — their oxygen tanks and rolling IV stands in tow — are unorthodox.
They're also funny, inventive and just plain sweet.
"He's a character. He's a Parrothead, too," said Carl Jones, 62, of Umatilla, referring to dedicated fans of Jimmy Buffett.
For Jones, who had just undergone triple-bypass surgery, walking around the hallways seemed a big undertaking. When Golub learned that Jones was a Buffett fan, he bought one of the musician's albums and saved it to a tiny memory stick, one of several he keeps tucked inside a small black case.
"It got him up and about," said Golub. "I figure it was the best $15 I ever spent."
Golub also bought Jones a flashing parrot lapel pin in recognition of Buffett.
"I've got a friend who sells blinkie things," said Golub, who pays for all gifts and music for patients out of his own pocket.
He recently bought a blinking Playboy cap for another patient. He has purchased other albums for patients to listen to during their walks. He has made them cherry-vanilla ice cream floats.
For one woman, who refused to walk without her box of tissues, Golub stuffed a bunch of tissues into the V-neck of his hospital scrubs and told her he would be her human dispenser.
"These things might sound dumb to some people, but it's the little things that put a smile on your face," said Golub. "I joke around a lot because I believe laughter is the best medicine. If you're old, or lonely, or just feel like you want to give up, sometimes all you need is someone to come in and perk you up for a few minutes."
As lunchtime approaches, Golub continues his rounds. In one room, he turns the channel to The Price is Right for a patient who he remembers likes to watch game shows. In another, he props a patient's feet up on an ottoman and covers her with a blanket.
In Room 8, Audrey Burch sits straight up in her bed and smiles when she sees Golub approaching.
"He's great. He walks with you, and talks with you," said Burch, 80, who was recovering from having a pacemaker put in her heart.
"I've gotten lots of marriage proposals from 80-year-olds and 90-year-olds," Golub said.
An Orlando native — born in the same place where he works — Golub began his career at Florida Hospital 22 years ago. He worked his way up from warehouse and truck-driving jobs to the front desk and eventually his current position.
Golub said he developed his skill in patient care after looking after his ailing father for 20 years.
"And I enjoy people," he said. "I wouldn't be good at this job if I didn't. Nobody would."
Golub begins his day at 7 a.m. by going over the list of patients he will walk with, typically 25 to 30 a day. Wooden heart plaques placed along the halls — an idea he and others suggested — are spaced 30 feet apart so he can mark his patients' progress.
He makes mental notes of who will need extra help and attention, such as those recovering from the most recent surgery.
His toughest patients are the ones who are afraid of falling, "until they see me and my size," said Golub, a burly man with wide deep blue eyes and thick, bushy eyebrows. "I've had some patients fall, but I haven't missed catching one yet."
As the days go by and the patients begin to get to know and trust Golub, the number of patients he is walking skyrockets. One time, he had 10 patients who wanted to walk with him at the same time. He ended up leading them all in sort of convalescent conga line.
Kristina Barringer, a nurse practitioner who works on Golub's floor, said she is amazed by the progress patients make.
"You see patients with five IV pumps coming out of their rooms, bouncing," said Barringer. "His outlook makes such a big difference. I've never met anyone who can make patients feel better than Steve."
Dr. Kevin Accola is a chief cardiac surgeon at Florida Hospital and one of Golub's biggest fans.
"He's passionate about what he does. Patients need someone to encourage them every day, and Steve can do that," Accola said.
For patients who have just had heart surgery, Accola said walking around is key to faster and better recovery. Walking prevents blood clots from forming; it decreases infection and pneumonia.
"And there's the mental benefit of what Steve provides," said Accola. "Patients are in a compromised state. They need a comfortable environment where they can progress. When you have someone coming around that knows you like the Boston Red Sox instead of the Yankees, that knows what kind of music makes you feel good — that's called personalized medicine."
Fernando Quintero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-650-6333.