equipment monkey

It’s all at once an amusement, a pain in the ass, and a blessed distraction to be one of the only direct-patient-care health professionals that keeps a toolbox in her office.

I feel a certain sense of pride and accomplishment when I’m walking down the hall past the ICU, packing a two pound crescent wrench, or a pair of pliers, or an assortment of screwdrivers and hex keys. I work in this normally sterile environment and here I am getting my hands dirty, hauling tanks, spinning nuts and bolts, tightening connections, taking apart malfunctioning equipment to fix it, replacing bulbs and batteries and sensors and analyzing cells. Some equipment is less dirty than others; tanks are by far the dirtiest job. Some equipment is bigger and heavier than others; the blood gas machine is by far the tiniest and most finicky.

On the other hand, being the only person in the building besides the biomed (and the one who keeps the more extensive hours) I end up being the one getting phone calls about “why is this leaking” or “this isn’t working and I need you to come take a look at it” for pretty much any piece of equipment I lay my hands on in my scope of practice. It becomes somewhat frustrating when I have people to deal with (people can’t lay broken on the counter for a month and then be fixed at my convenience) but at the same time I rely so much on the equipment in order to do my job that it becomes just part of the job to ensure that what I rely on is optimally tuned and ready to go.

At the same time, while it can be grating to get multiple phone calls to come fix a piece of equipment that can wait, it’s absolutely lovely during times of “office” drama to be able to disappear with my toolbox and let them all hash it out.

I think the tendency for us to be the fixers comes from several sources. There’s first, the fact that my entire job revolves around equipment. Oxygen equipment, pulse oximeters, the ventilator, suction equipment, intubation equipment, that damned blood gas analyzer, and on and on and on. Then there’s the fact that since so much of my job is equipment, a significant chunk of my training is troubleshooting equipment. When you’re keeping a patient alive with equipment, you’d better know how to troubleshoot when things start to go awry. (Significant in this training: “is it a problem with the equipment or a problem with the patient?”) Lastly, and this is just a loose theory, there seems to be this predilection towards mechanical inclination that’s common among RTs, and combined with all of the above, when there’s one of me and between two and twenty nurses watching me do my job, it becomes common knowledge among the healthcare team that I’m the one who just knows how to fix things. I imagine that’s how I get roped into performing a 3am-on-a-Saturday resuscitation on the printer, anyway.

With so much more equipment being software-controlled, there’s going to need to be an inclination towards computers moreso too, I think. Maybe not so much as the biomed needs, but it’s looking like it’s going to be more and more necessary to troubleshoot software problems as well as problems with the mechanics of it all.

All in all, though, I’m happy to be the one with the toolbox. And not only because when I’m resuscitating equipment, if my patient dies, with enough tools and time and parts and knowledge, I can pretty much always bring it back to life.

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One thought on “equipment monkey

  1. […] Gear comes up so often as an RT that a day where I don’t do at least some troubleshooting is a boring day indeed. Where most of the other equipment other team members deal with are either ways of gathering patient data (lab analyzers, patient monitors) or ways of giving drugs to the patient (IV pumps), there are relatively few situations where the patient is directly interfacing with the machine in question. It is, after all, somewhat frowned upon for patients to adjust their monitor alarms or change their IV rate. […]

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