Tuesday 16 October 2018

X-ray girl

The phone rings at 6:20am. 
"Hi, I'm so sorry to wake you, but we need you in the ER. We have a trauma that needs multiple x-rays."
"Okay, I'll be there as soon as I can," I mumble, squinting at the clock and trying to see what time it is. It's still pitch-black, and I'm bone-tired. This is the second time this weekend that the hospital wakes me up early in the morning, and I didn't get enough sleep last night. Damn you, Grey's Anatomy, for keeping me up past my bedtime.

Lily is wide awake in an instant, knowing the routine. Whenever I get called in I take her with me, and my corgi lives for car rides. She's excitedly running circles around me, not caring one bit about the ungodly hour. I slip the clothes on that I have waiting on a chair for an occasion just like this, stumble into the bathroom to splash some water in my face, and halfheartedly drag a brush through my hair, giving up with the job only half done and throwing it in a messy ponytail instead. I live a good 15 minutes away from the hospital, and time is of the essence. Nobody will care what my hair looks like, least of all me. I put my glasses on, grab my red coat, not noticing that it clashes violently with my pink scrub pants, and then I'm out the door, Lily hot on my heels. 
It's -2°C, which means I have to turn on the heater and scrape the windows. I groan out loud; it's only mid-October, winter hasn't even started yet, and already the weather is adding more time and work to my callback. I scrape the bare minimum in record time, and then I jump into the car, right behind Lily. A soon as my legs hit the ice-cold leather seat I remember regretfully that I meant to buy seat covers before the winter - I really have to get on that. On the plus side, I'm more awake now. I speed up our driveway, leaving a cloud of dust in my wake, and jump in and out of the car twice to open and close the gate. It's now been 10 minutes since they called, and I better step on it. 

The expectation is that you're at the hospital within 30 minutes of their call, 20 when it's a trauma. I live within the limit, but there isn't much time for dawdling; plus, I always expect the worst, which I blame entirely on watching too much Grey's.  
A record-breaking 9 minutes later I push open the door to my department. By this time the adrenaline is flowing and I'm wide awake. I simultaneously turn on the lights, shrug off my coat, turn on the x-ray reader and fling my purse into a corner. I don't even wait for the computer to boot up, but head straight over to the ER to see what's going on. 
There is nobody at the nurses' station, just what I expected; when there is a trauma, it's all men on deck, which means nobody has time to sleepily sit behind a computer. They are all in the trauma bay, but it's calmer than I anticipated. The patient is awake and talking, and stable enough for me to bring him to x-ray on his stretcher. One of the nurses, a former x-rat tech, offers to help me, and I gratefully accept. We usually work alone during callbacks, and having an extra pair of hands is supremely helpful; having someone who knows exactly what I need is invaluable. 

The patient may be talking, even joking, but he's still in a large amount of pain, and I decide to do all the images with him staying on the stretcher. It's easier for the patient, because it means avoiding having to roll him, shoving a hard, plastic slider board under him, rolling him onto that board and pulling him onto the x-ray table; but it also means more work for me.
The stretcher he is on has a built-in space underneath the mattress for x-ray plates (we call them cassettes). It's a nifty feature that we greatly appreciate, but it comes with its own set of challenges.
Instead of having the x-ray camera automatically click into place right over the x-ray plate (=cassette), like we have on the x-ray table, I now have to freestyle it.
The patient lies crookedly on the stretcher, and I have to try my hardest to place the cassette correctly  (several inches!) below him, just by eye-balling it - which is harder than it sounds, trust me. And I don't only have to do it once, but over and over again, because I'm x-raying several different body parts.
Just to make it more interesting, there is also the added pressure of working fast, because the patient is in excruciating pain, needs to pee, and you're not completely sure how stable he really is: a couple of times it looked like he may faint (or worse).

Your trusted nurse buddy left you because he has to report to the other nurses for shift change, because of course it's shift change, why wouldn't it? Nurses do 12 hour-shifts, and those shifts are always longer because they arrive early and leave late, and I can't even believe he came over to help me in the first place, so I'm glad he left, because I hope he can go home at a reasonable time.
Besides, we are used to being loners, which is what many of us attracts to x-ray in the first place: the prospect of working alone, at least some of the time. 

I finish the exam, wheel the patient back to ER, and take off. It's an hour past my arrival, the adrenaline is fading fast, and I'm suddenly tired beyond belief. All I want is go to bed and sleep, but I already know that I won't be able to; and sure enough, once I'm home, I'm  incapable of catching a few more blissful hours of shuteye.

I try to sleep; I fail. I make coffee; I drink the coffee. I try to write; I fail. I try to bring myself to wash the windows (they really need it); I can't bring myself to wash them.
I scroll through Instagram; I scroll some more.
Finally, my husband gets up and I plop myself down across from him; but then I don't feel much like making conversation after all.

He talks on the phone; I pet the corgi. I stare up at the ceiling; he talks some more.
There's a gorgeous day outside, just waiting for me to finally get my ass in gear and enjoy it.
At long last, I do; I announce to Rich that I will take the corgi for a long walk.
It's 11:10am.
Despite my monumental reluctance, as soon as we start walking I feel better. The sun is shining, my blood is pumping, Lily is having the time of her life, and the trees look stunning in their fall outfits.
I take pictures like crazy, because this beauty has an expiration date, and it's approaching fast.
At 11:40am my phone rings.
"Can you come in at 12 for the afternoon shift? We had a sick call."
Ugh. Today was supposed to be my day off, and I had big plans of doing absolutely nothing - but I know there is nobody else, so I say for the second time today: "I'll be there as soon as I can."
I turn around and speed-walk back to my car, parked half an hour away from where we are.
At home I quickly get changed into fresh scrubs, tidy up my hair, throw a few fun-sized chocolate bars in my purse and head back to work.

It turns out to be a great shift. It's just the right amount of busy but not hectic, some of my favourite nurses and doctors are working, and the patients are nice too.
Towards the end of the shift I hang out at the nurses' station of our brand-new, shiny ER, observing the banter and joining in too, and I'm overcome by a deep sense of peace.
I belong here.

Some days I really love my job.

All hospital images from Pixabay, a free stock photo sharing community. 



  1. I have so much respect for people who work in hospitals. The stress that comes with seeing someone in pain would be too much for me and then the shifts! I'm so glad and so grateful that there are people like you who love their hospital jobs and make it at least a bit less scary experience for the patients.

    1. Even though it can be stressful
      at times, I love the community and camaraderie I share with my hospital family. It makes all the difference!

  2. Miriam! Get an old blanket and put it over your winshield and side windows. It will save you lots of time, just pull off, shake out, put in car. Easy peasy. Love! P.S. bigger is better in this case, Goodwill is your bud ;-)

    1. I can't believe I haven't thought of that! So simple yet effective, that's an excellent idea. Thank you Marijke!

  3. I love this. I love that you love your job. I've been called into work before out of chaos (not as a recruiter, but as a barista when the OPENER didn't show up for their shift and angry customers are lining up waiting for their macchiatos), and it is such a rush that just sweeps you right up and into 'go mode'. And then when you get that first wave of calm, like 'yeah that's right, you just DID that. You made the day' it's such an amazing feeling. I'm glad you've found such a great team, too!


    1. That's exactly what it feels like! I wouldn't want days like that all the time, but when they happen, they are SUCH a rush.
      I love my hospital peeps, they are the best!


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