Tuesday, June 14, 2011



So I’m working in the ER last weekend, and this nurse, X, starts showing me her gold wire jewelry that she made, herself. Starts telling me that I should buy some for my wife. I tell her that my wife doesn’t wear jewelry (This is true. It is both a good and a bad thing as (1) my wife isn’t out to spend my paycheck on jewelry while (2) my wife is very hard to buy presents for on her birthdays, wedding anniversaries, and Christmas). She pushes, insisting that my wife would really like this jewelry, since it’s hand-made, blah blah blah…

Couple days later, late into the evening, it’s almost time to go home. I burn a patient’s x-rays onto a CD, for them to take home (you don’t drive home with big sheets of black & white film negative a.k.a. x-ray film in a big white paper envelope, any more—we went digital years ago) and I suspect that not all of the images got onto the CD. I tell the ER clerk that I’m going back to Radiology to burn a 2nd CD—of the rest of the images—just to make sure. I go back to the department, and Q shows up for the graveyard shift. We start talking, I clock out, and drive home. When I get home I realize, “Holy shitburgers, I didn’t give them the second CD!” So I call up the ER on my home phone, and Nurse X answers. I tell her about how I forgot to drop off the CD before going home, and that the CD is still in the computer in Radiology. She says, “Got it,thanks.”

So of course the next day at work I get pulled into the Radiology office where I am forced to sign a Maoist declaration of self-criticism in which I admit that I am a Kulak, a counter-revolutionary, a Bourgeoisie Enemy of the People. It’s not the Radiology manager’s fault; he got this long, ranting email from Nurse X about what a lazy jerk I am. Not satisfied with what she wrote, she called the Radiology Manager, and went on a rant about what a rude, unprofessional asshole I am.


So, of course, half an hour after I signed the voluntary confession (that I am a capitalist running dog), and the Radiology Manager had gone home for the day, the proverbial light blub clicked on over my head, and that’s when I realized that the whole incident with the CD that I forgot to hand-carry over the ER was nothing more than a great opportunity for Nurse X to get even with me for not buying her home-made jewelry.

Hello? Can I get a little justice, here? I did, of course,write the Radiology Manager a follow-up email, and to quote my mother, “Thanks God”, he must have followed up on it, because the next night I saw Nurse X, and Boy, Did She Give Me Dirty Looks For The Rest Of The Shift. If looks could kill, I wouldn’t be writing this on my wife’s laptop, I’d be transmitting it from my grave via a ouija board at a séance (allow me the hubris of assuming that when I’m dead, anybody would want to hear from me).

So here’s what pisses me off: people who can dish it out, but they can’t take it. Aaargh.

Consider this: Right now, the one thing that is keeping me financially afloat until I find a full-time job is the fact that the Radiology Manager has been giving me a lot of shifts, but each time I as an employee get written up, it goes into my file—and as far as I understand it—If you get written up X number of times (I don’t know the number) corporate policy is that they have to fire your ass. So, whether or not my 6 year old son and 5 year old daughter become homeless is in the hands of people like Nurse X. It doesn’t matter whether or not I’m a talented, experienced x-ray tech with strong ethics. That doesn’t go into the equation.

Here’s the real problem: what kind of shift I will have tomorrow is not determined by what kind of patients show up, or how well I do my job—it’s determined by who is working in the ER, tomorrow. The one thing that I don’t understand is the extreme level of tension in this ER. I have never seen so many unhappy, angry people shackled together in one place in all my life. Wait, that’s almost true: Daniel Freeman Marina Del Rey’s ER and Radiology Department were a disaster in the 1990s until they figured out that, like my mom always said, “A fejtől büdösődik a hal,” (Der Fisch stinkt vom Kopf her.) and they fired the Radiology Manager. She was awesome. I was working alone on a 3-day weekend shift, and the ER got super busy, so I did what I was told to do: I called in the back-up tech (the manager’s friend), who of course, showed up reeking of alcohol, and slurring her words. The Radiology Manager’s response was to berate me for calling in the back-up tech (who got paid to be on stand-by), when I should have been able to x-ray all of those people, myself, without help. She actually wrote me up. That was 20 years ago, when I was young & stupid, and I let people like her get away with shit like that.

Today’s shift, for example was nice. The mood was set by J.

J is a crusty old Vietnam vet. He’s a no bullshit guy who doesn’t take himself—or anybody else—seriously. As soon as I saw him, I knew that the shift would go well, regardless of what medical events go wrong with the patients. God Bless the USMC for cranking out guys like J.

This, in fact, is the crux of the problem: we work in a job where the worst-case scenario is that somebody dies—so really—do we need to make being at work worse by being at each others’ throats? If I were to make mistake in front of J, he would most likely wrinkle his grizzled, white eyebrows and hiss, “What the fuck was that?” which in fact is far more painful than getting written up, because I’m a guy, and like all men, I suffer from this horrible disease: we spend our whole lives obsessively trying to get men older or higher up the food chain than us to approve of—and like us. Having J think I’m an idiot has far more corrective power than a write-up.


photo credit: St John's Ambulance of Australia (G'day, mates!)

So Q comes in for the graveyard shift, and he says, “Man, you were lucky that you went home when you did, last night. Three people on backboards brought in from the same car accident. One of them is drunk as a skunk, and he rips the c-spine collar off his neck. Then he unbuckles the straps on the backboard, and gets off the gurney. Then he rips the i.v. out of his arm, and blood squirts across the room, hitting his friend, who sees the blood, and BBBLLLECCHH! pukes all over the floor.”

I snorted, and laughed so hard that I almost fell out of my chair.



Before I rip into male nurses, first a caveat, then a short lesson in radiation biology:

1) I rip into nurses all the time, but some of my best friends are nurses. To paraphrase, “I love nurses as a class, but I hate the nurses I know.” My apologies to Edna.

2) If you are a woman under 50 years old, and you need an x-ray or a CT (which is nothing but a computerized 3D x-ray), whatever hospital you go to will make you jump through hoops before they’re willing to zap you. This is as it should be. You have to get a pregancy test, and sign a waiver with all kinds of info about when you had your last period, etc.

Okay, so here’s the problem: you get a young, fertile female, and she’s not the patient who needs an x-ray, it’s her kid that needs an x-ray—but we need her—or someone—to hold the kid still during the x-ray. Do you do a pregnancy test on Mom? No, because she isn’t the patient. So, what I do is I always ask the moms if their husband, or some other male relative (over the age of 18) is around. If the answer is ‘yes’, then Dad gets to hold his kid for the x-rays. Sometimes Dad is already sitting next to Mom and the kid in the ER, sometimes Dad is out in the waiting room watching Nancy Grace a.k.a. The Harpy on CNN, and sometimes Dad is out in the parking lot, on the cell phone. Sometimes Dad isn’t around, and Grandma winds up holding the kid for the x-ray. Sometimes Mom is alone, and she has to hold the kid. Whoever it is, they wind up wearing a lead apron while holding the kid down on the table, and typically there is a 2nd lead apron on the kid’s pelvic area, too.

No problem.

So this weekend I walked up to the patient bed, where Mom was waiting with her baby, who needed an x-ray.

“Hi Mom. What’s this baby’s name?”

“John Smith Jr.” (not his real name)

“Okay. The doctor ordered an x-ray. Any chance you’re pregnant?”

She shrugs, “I don’t know!”

“Is your husband here?”

“Yes.” (Whew!)

“Where is he?”

“Out in the waiting room.”

“What’s his name?”

“John Smith Senior.” (Duh)

So I open the waiting room door, and Dad isn’t there. I go back to Mom, who turns out not to have her cell phone, but she knows his number,and says that he has to be here, close by. Awesome humanitarian that I am, I give her my cell phone, and she calls him. He immediately answers from the parking lot, and runs full-tilt to the ER door.

So far, so good. Mom, Dad, Junior and I head out of the ER towards Radiology, to go take Junior’s x-ray.

photo credit: A & E Watches

     Nurse Y, a.k.a. Mr. Rolex (He wears his Explorer II like a Papuan phallic reed), is holding court with “his” ER staff, and he stops us dead in our tracks. He’s sitting on a stool, legs splayed apart at an anatomically impossible angle, and he’s leaning so far back that I can’t figure out how he has not fallen off the stool. The rest of the ER’s nurses and clerks are standing around him in a semi-circle, and he bellows, “Hey Tom, you didn’t need to get the dad. You coulda just had mom hold him for the x-rays!”

Wow. I have so many responses to that, and none of them are pleasant. So I said, “I’ll be happy to discuss that when we get back.”

So after I x-rayed the kid (Dad held him, while Mom stayed outside the x-ray room), and took them back to their ER bed, I left the ER without talking to Nurse Y. I was furious at him. I stood out in the hallway, outside the ER door, while my mind did loop-the-loops:

I should go back in there.

Nah, bad idea.

No, I need to set him straight.

Nah, he’ll actually turn it against you, and file a written complaint—even though you’re right, and he has no business telling you how to do your job.

I checked my pants: yes, my testicles were still there. So I went back into the ER.

Prince Charming was still slouched on his throne—I mean stool. So I said, “Y, would you still like to discuss why I got Dad?”

“YEAH! I wanna talk about that.”

“Okay, well let me ask you a question…”

“No! You just answer my question!”

“No. First I get to ask my question: do you feel it’s okay for you to confront me like that in a room full of people in a manner that could potentially embarrass me?”

“Well, I need to know why you did that.”

“Maybe, but the way you did that was uncool.” (I should have said the word I wanted to use: he was totally unprofessional)

“Well, I uh…You didn’t need the dad. Mom coulda held the kid for the x-ray!”

“Says who?”

“Well, well, well…your manual says that the mom can hold the kid for an x-ray while wearing a lead apron.”

“Now, Y, you know how we refuse to x-ray young females until they get a pregnancy test, and we still make them fill out the waiver?”


“Well then, why is it okay to make a young fertile female hold her kid at arm’s length, when we don’t know for sure that she’s not pregnant, and her husband or mom is right here in the ER?”

“Well, you caused a delay in patient care.”

“Really? How long did it take for me to get Dad? It was an extra 2 or 3 minutes.”

“Yeah but, all of those 3 minutes add up, and we’re really busy here.”

Wow, he had the balls to look me in the eyes and say that. Half the ER beds were empty, which is precisely why his ass was glued to that stool. The argument dragged on and on, and I could clearly see that he was resorting to semantics and other high school debate team tricks to try to win an argument he shouldn’t have started in the first place, so I said, “Well, I’m done discussing this.”

He screams, “You haven’t answered my 2nd question!”

“I answered your original question, and feel no need to answer any more. I’m leaving now. I’m going to lunch while there’s still another x-ray tech to cover for me. Goodbye.”

I waved Adios at the lot of them, and waltzed out.

Actually, a few minutes into the argument, once Y had gotten in over his head, I could already see that he had lost his posse. They were still standing around him, but their facial expressions revealed that Mr. Rolex had lost his followers.

Well, I haven’t heard anything from Management, so I’m assuming that Mr. Rolex didn’t bother to write me up.

Good boy.


I speak fluent Spanish. Because I have blond hair and blue eyes, when I claim to be fluent in Spanish, the California version of reverse discrimination kicks in: people assume that I am lying, because only people with brown skin know how to speak Spanish.

Exsqueeze me? Or should I say, “¿Escuchame?”

Try this on for irony: in Europe the Spaniards disdainfully proclaimed, “Tu hablas como un Mexicano.”

So I had an exasperating conversation with a patient, yesterday: I walked up to her, and instantly determined that she did not speak English; she only spoke Spanish. So I started talking with her in Spanish. Every time I said something in Spanish, she turned to her friend standing next to her, who repeated everything in Spanish that I had just said, in Spanish.

These are the times that try men’s souls.

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