Monday, April 25, 2011


Patrick's Point State Beach 12 April 2011
The entire forest behind him is full of Varied Thrushes and Pacific Wrens

Mr Blue, meet Mr Brown

If you watch TV, you know what a Code Blue is. It’s when somebody’s heart stops. Well, TV doesn’t find Code Browns to be as dramatic, but if they ever start manufacturing smellivisions, everybody will know what a Code Brown is.

It’s when a patient shits in their pants, and smells up the whole god damn hospital. I think it’s the stupid hospital air circulation ventilation systems: They recycle the poopy air.

You know how when your dog farts in the car, while the air conditioner is on, you have to open the windows, to change out the air in the air conditioning system? If you don’t, your car will re-circulate the same dog fart over and over again.

Well, I’m pretty sure that’s what happens in hospitals.

Well, I was hungry, nothing was going on in the ER, so I got into the Celica, drove away from the hospital, and went to lunch. While driving, I called up J, who asked me, “Any exciting stories at your hospital?” (the place where I only work part-time on the weekends)

I said, “No. Nothing.”

So he says, “Well, we did a nuclear cardiac stress test on this dude in his 50s who came in with his 30 year old girlfriend. You could tell he’s one of these guys who has done a lot of booze and drugs. He did the treadmill, we injected him, and scanned him. When he was done, he got dressed, came back, and said, ‘I don’t feel good.’ Then he coded.”

“Holy shit, J! That’s the first time I have actually heard of someone going into cardiac arrest because of the stress test!”

I’ve been doing nuclear cardiac scans since 1994, and have never had a patient code on me. (When you’re running on the treadmill, there is a cardiologist 12 inches from your face, staring at both you and the electronic monitors [EKG, BP, HR], and constantly asking you how you feel)

“Yeah, they worked on him in our waiting room for 45 minutes, before they brought him back.’

Wow. I wonder how many vials of epi they blasted him with. J told me that they zapped (defibrillated) the guy EIGHT TIMES.

So I was quite happy that my weekend was much calmer than his, and when I drove back to the hospital parking lot, there were 3 ambulances, a cop car, and a fire truck. I stood next to my car, a Starbucks doppio con panna in hand, and gasped, “What the fuck?”

Well, during the 30 minutes I was gone, one ambulance brought in a Code Blue, and the other brought in a major Code Brown.

The Code Blue patient was declared dead before I even walked in the door, but the Code Brown was the gift that keeps on giving. And giving. We’re talking Weapons of Mass Destruction. We should drop this guy over Libya. Qaddhafi would instantly surrender. All the employees in the ER and Radiology had to take turns standing outside the building, breathing fresh air, while the others had to stay inside, on duty. It was like the buddy system for SCUBA divers, when you have to share one tank, because of a malfunction.

The Hemp-smoking Hippies of Humboldt County

Yes, we rented a Dodge Caravan (the Toyota Siena that Enterprise gave us a year ago was a much better vehicle—I wouldn’t buy a Caravan; the Siena rocks.), and we drove up to Arcata for the Brown Shrike, who obligingly waited for me. In just universe, I should have never seen the bird, but hey, I got lucky. Yes, we visited the Giant Redwoods, and oohed and aahed while walking around in the forest. Yes, I got Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Pacific Wren, and Varied Thrush for easy year birds.

Yes, I should have spent those 4 days working on getting a job, but hey: I know that if we hadn’t chased after the Brown Shrike, a year from now, when I’ve been steadily employed somewhere, I would have been really pissed at myself for blowing the opportunity.

Brown Shrike, Lanius cristatus in Arcata 13 April 2011
Digiscoped with my Droid cell phone via my Brunton spotting scope
What I wanna know is this: what the hell is the deal with all of those unkempt hippies up in Humboldt County. I mean, seriously, Oh My God—I have never seen so many dazed idiots wandering listlessly in one place in my life. Here’s why I have a problem with them:

They have kids.

When you’re in your 30s, you have blond dreadlocks, shabby clothes, and your kids are hanging out with you at the bus stop while you’re smoking a roll-your-own cigarette, there is something really wrong going on, here. The whole freakin’ county is like that: hippies and their lost children staring listlessly at the middle class sell-outs like me who stare back at them from the safety of tinted mini-van windows.

The Circle of Life part 1 : Back in the scanner, again

I really enjoyed the last 5 years at USC, working in Radiation Safety. There were also a lot of things that I didn’t like. That’s true about any job, but I think it’s doubly true about an office job. I had lunch recently with some people who work for a company that supplies Nuclear Medicine Departments. They’re both former Nuclear Med Techs who have moved on to bigger & better things. They laughed when I told them the following story: a couple of months into working at USC in the Environmental Health & Safety Office I stopped, looked my coworkers dead in the eye, and said, “You’ve never had a real job, have you?”

The two former Nuclear Med Techs nodded knowingly, and chuckled. There are certain job fields where there is no time for office politics a.k.a. bullshit, and I must say I truly won’t miss that aspect of working in an office—especially in an office full of people who “have never had a real job.”

If you work in health care, law enforcement, or fire, you don’t have time for petty squabbles with coworkers. You show up at eight o’clock, there’s work to do, patients to take care of, and that takes precedence over everything. The last job I had before USC, I worked in a big hospital as an outside contractor. I worked for a registry. Officially, the registry was my employer—not the hospital—and the hospital paid the registry to send me there 5 days a week on a long-term assignment. Here’s the joke: I wanted to leave that assignment and get hired by USC for two reasons: (1) I really did want the career move of becoming a radiation safety inspector/health phycist, but (2) I felt that USC was a stable employer, and that if I got hired there, I’d have a secure job.


The other registry techs that I left at The Big House are still there.

Fortunately for me, both that registry that I used to work for, and that big hospital they used to send me to, are happy to take me back. Thank god.

So, of course, instead of being highly appreciative, I’m being a pain in the ass. Well, it’s not my fault; they should get their shit together.

Well, first things, first: In my mind, the clock started ticking in the hiring process on March 31st, when the registry called me up, and told me that they would take me back, and send me to The Big House. The problem was that nothing could happen until I renewed my Nuclear Medicine license, and that, Ladies and Gentlemen, is entirely my problem and my fault, for not renewing it in a timely manner. If anything, I should be thankful that the registry has been so patient while I took 11 days to crank out 21 on-line Continuing Education (CE) credits in Nuclear Medicine via a free, on-line service, and went to a seminar at one of the local Kaiser Hospitals, pushing me up to 25 credits or CEs. I only needed 20 credits to renew my license, but the State of California’s Radiologic Health Branch specifies that your 20 CEs have to be 5 hours or CEs each, in 4 different categories: Imaging, Non-imaging, Radiopharmacy, and Therapy. Good luck finding the right 5 hours’ worth of CEs in each topic.

Therapy’s a Bitch

Finding continuing education hours i.e. CEs in Radiation Therapy for Nuclear Med Techs is a complete pain in the ass. Most of what we do in Nuclear Medicine is diagnostic, in nature. We inject you with a little syringe full of a drug that just happens to be slightly radioactive, and use the scanner to see what your body does with that specific drug. Which particular radioactive drug we shoot you up with depends on what’s wrong with you, in the first place. Sometimes—and this is not very common—we inject you with something that’s (a) very radioactive and (b) designed to kill cancer cells. The guys over in Radiation Therapy—whoops, they re-named themselves “Radiation Oncology”—aren’t trained in handling unbound i.e. loose isotopes that you can spill on the floor. That scares the shit out of them, so we deal with it. Their usual modus operandi is to point a particle accelerator at you, and hide behind an 8 foot thick concrete wall while zapping your tumor.

So, it’s easy for the State to say, “Thou shalt obtaineth 5 hours of Radiation Therapy credits,” but actually getting them will leave you pulling your hair out.

So, I did it, and now I’m legal, and I finished filling out a ridiculously long on-line application to get re-hired by the same bozos I worked for, for years. It’s unbelievable, how much info and documentation they want.

So I called them up and asked, “Don’t you guys already have a bunch of this stuff in my file, from when I worked for you, before?”

“We shredded your file.”

Exsqueeze me?

So, even though it’s all a done deal, now I have to sit on my ass, and twiddle my thumbs while they do a background check on me, and run my credit report. Well, that’s not why I’m so irritated. Supposedly, The Big House wants documentation of when I turned PPD+.

How HealthCare Partners gave me TB

Nu, I’m exaggerating—but only a little. I have been PPD- all my life. That means that when they do that TB skin test on you, you go back the next morning, and the spot where they pushed the TB antigen under your skin has cleared up, leaving no trace. The nurse would look at my unblemished Nordic skin, and pronounce me healthy.

Until that one muggy, summer night at HealthCare Partners’ downtown Los Angeles urgent care. The nurse called me up from the urgent care down the hall, and said, “Tom, we have a really sick patient who needs a chest x-ray. Can you do the x-ray, and I promise we’ll get you the paperwork?”

Because I’m a nice guy, I said, “Yes.”

They brought the patient, a lady who coughed repeatedly in my face the whole time I had her in the room, and then the idiot nurse gave me the x-ray request, which said the following:

Chest X-ray. Rule out TB.

My blood ran cold.

Summer ended, and one fine October day I got my annual injection under the skin of my left arm, and drove home to Pasadena. That night, while I sat in statistics class at Pasadena City College, the injection site grew redder and redder, spreading outwards at an exponential rate. My injection site didn’t just turn red—my whole freakin’ arm went up in flames with The Immune Response From Hell.

Did anybody get fired over this?


Did I sue Healthcare Partners for being a bunch of negligent dumbasses?

No, but I should have.

So, now I get a chest x-ray every year, instead.

Okay, fine. Lots of people get an employee annual chest x-ray, and for the last 12 years I’ve been one of them. So some dumbass at The Big House wants documentation of when I turned PPD +.

Exsqueeze me?

That was 2 jobs ago, and to get the documentation that nameless faceless bureaucrat at The Big House wants, I had to spend several hours on the phone Thursday and Friday with various nurses and medical records clerks at HealthCare Partners, and I have no idea if they can find documentation from back then, because in the name the Father, the Son, and the Holy Internet, all of the medical records from that period are being scanned into PDFs by a retired East German Stasi agent in a warehouse in Rejkjavik.

Well thank god it’s late April, while the Idiot Brigade processes my paperwork, I’m going birding.
My wife and kids walking on a fallen Giant Redwood log that is 300 feet (100 meters) long.

The Circle of Life part 2

B wrote me an email that fried my brain. He wrote, “Dude, remember back in college—25 years ago—that woman, S, I was so in love with?”

I remember her very clearly. She was intelligent, beautiful, and had a great personality. The fact that B was in love with her made perfect sense. She was one of those women that you stay up talking with until two in the morning—instead of rolling over, and falling asleep, after making love. Women think that men are pigs. Well, some men are pigs, but my friends all have one thing in common: we need a woman who can talk about politics, the Civil War, and the Gold Standard while naked, with a bed sheet pulled up to her shoulders.

S was one of those women. They didn’t break up, in the traditional sense. She informed him one bright frigid Cold War morning that she was going to San Francisco for a year to live with her aunt, and practice her English. Back in those days the opportunity to practice a Western Bloc language in its home range was an awesome career move that guaranteed a good job upon return to the mother ship—I mean the Warsaw Pact.

B was heartbroken. His English was also pretty good—amazing, actually, for someone who had never been to an English-speaking country (I met an ornithologist in China named Liu Yang who’s like that: blows my mind.), so he made the mistake of going to see this Woody Allen movie, Manhattan, in English. At the end of the movie Mariel Hemingway says to Woody, “I’m only going away for six months!”

That was all B needed. Talk about rubbing salt into his wounds. So, S left for San Francisco, and toward the end of her year in California she met a dude in the library. They got married, and she stayed in America, where she watched the Berlin Wall’s collapse on CNN with the rest of us. She was the love of B’s life, and he never saw her again.

So, a couple of days ago B took an electric street car across Buda to one of those computer parts swap meets, looking for a new hard drive for his PC. The swap meet is now the site of what during the Warsaw Pact used to be a 24 hour Italian Bistro where young people went to eat Hungarianized versions of Italian food at two in the morning.

Things change.

B was walking around the computer parts swap meet, and he got annoyed because some old broad with gray hair plopped down on a stool, blocking his view of the very same hard drive he was looking for.

She gazed at him, blinked, and asked, “Excuse me, but by any chance is your name B?”

He stared at her in vague recognition. Neurons desperately tried to utilize B’s face recognition software, but to no avail. He knew her, but was drawing a blank.

She smiled awkwardly and said, “It’s me, S. Remember?”

B’s blood ran cold.

He’d spent most of 1986 tossing and turning at night, muttering her name in his sleep, and here he didn’t even recognize her.

The rest of B’s email was about how life has passed him by, it’s all over, etc. I’m not making fun of him—quite the contrary—I really feel bad for him. The thing is, I know what B’s real problem is:

He doesn’t have any kids.

If I ran into SY—who I met in 1984 at Occidental College—it would be interesting, or maybe even weird, but it wouldn’t hurt. It wouldn’t hurt because I’m married to L, and we have two beautiful kids. And for certain reasons that I won’t share, it is much better that I met L, and had children with her, than had I married SY (and had kids with her) when I was a dumb college kid.

Once in a while—on average, once a year—I run into A—my first wife—whom I divorced precisely because she refused to bear me a child. Had she borne me a child, I would have put up with her screeching harpy of a mother as the cost of doing business. But I wasn’t gonna put up with her mom and not have any children. There’s only so much you can ask of me. The thing is, whenever I run into A, it’s okay. I don’t go home fantasizing about how ‘if only things had worked out’, ‘if only she had given me a baby’, etc. We’ve both moved on long ago, and it’s okay. She really, really did not want to have children, and my mom’s best friend pointed out that it’s a good thing that I didn’t “force A to have a kid”, because she (“A”) could/would have been a terrible mother. Like her own mom. My kids are usually with me when I run into A, and she thinks they’re cute. They stare at the floor, and try to hide behind my legs. One of these days it’ll happen when my kids are 10 or 12, and I’m going to have to explain her to them. That’ll be interesting.

So, B’s real problem is that he didn’t get the DVD of Romeo and Juliet with the alternate ending. He got the version of the movie where Romeo and Juliet die, and that’s it, you’re screwed. Unhappy ending.

So, what do you do when you wake up one morning, Janos Kadar and Eric Honecker are dead, Mikhail Gorbachev is advertising Louis Vuitton suitcases on the back cover of The New Yorker, your students were all born after the Soviet Army ended its 45 year occupation of your farm, your mom is an 85 year old widow, you’ve never been married or had kids, and now your hair is turning white?


Anonymous said...

There's a lot of interesting stuff here! A lack of full-time employment seems to agree with your writing muse!

Balázs said...

I'm "B." in the story. Boy, have you a talent for writing up stories :)))

Balázs said...

Képzeld el Tomikám, az Ákos hívta fel a figyelmem a szép cikkre - Ákos a blogod lelkes olvasója - pedig meglepetésnek szántam neki a sztorit a ma esti sörözésre. LOL :)

Jim said...

Too bad I can't FB this. Great stuff!