Modern Nurses: Audio/Video Girl

Digital Microscope ink on paper 2016 by Julianna Paradisi

Digital Microscope ink on paper 2016 by Julianna Paradisi

Preparing materials for tumor conferences is part of my role as an oncology nurse navigator. It involves, among other responsibilities, reviewing the cases, printing copies of the agenda for the attendees, managing the sign-in rosters, and providing updated lists of available clinical trials. It also requires powering on the projector, the screen, and setting up the digital microscope necessary for the pathologist and radiologist to project slides of the tumor cells, and the MRI or Cat can images on the large screen for discussion.

Suddenly, and unexpectedly, I’ve become Audio/Video Girl. Other nurses of my generation will appreciate the humor in this.

Does any one remember watching film strips and movies in grade school classrooms? Did your hand shoot up when the teacher asked for volunteers to set up and run the projector? Mine did, but it was always a boy who was chosen. Eventually, I stopped raising my hand.

Years later when I became a pediatric intensive care nurse, I discovered an aptitude for tubes and wires, or rather I learned to get one fast. The ability to troubleshoot a ventilator until a respiratory therapist could fix it became handy too. I realized the level of skill I’d developed when as a single mom I set up my stereo system (you who grew up with bluetooth streaming have no idea how easy you have it), and a desk top computer with printer/fax using a dial-up modem. In case you are to young to know, we could not use our computers and phones at the time in those days.

I digress.

Learning to set up the electronic equipment for tumor conference was a lot like how I learned almost everything as a nurse: someone showed me how to do it once, and then I was on my own. However, as mentioned, I have developed an aptitude for technology: during the demonstration I snapped pictures of the wire connections with my phone, creating a visual reference guide to use later.

I was anxious the first time I set up by myself. While lifting the digital microscope which I imagine costs a hefty portion of my annual salary from its cart to the conference table, I distracted myself from my fear of dropping it by imagining twenty doctors staring at me because it didn’t work. Tumor conference would be a disaster if I failed..

The microscope and projector worked. Relieved, I glanced at the doctors, men and women, seated around the table. Some of the male faces resembled grown up versions of the boys in grade school my teachers chose to run the projectors. Some of them probably drive cars electronically more complex than the audio video equipment I had just set up.

To be clear, I am treated respectfully as part of the multidisciplinary team at tumor conference. I’m proud to be part of this valuable service offered to our patients. I am happy with my life choices. However, I wonder what might be different if girls were chosen equally with boys to run the projectors when I was young?





Oopsy! 9,999 Units of Blood

photo: jparadisi 2011

I don’t remember what year of my pediatric intensive care career I discovered an aptitude for electronic devices, but I do remember I was caring for a patient with multiple monitoring lines: intracranial pressure (ICP), arterial pressure, central venous pressure (CVP), pulse ox, transcutaneous CO2 monitor (TCOM), as well as intravenous access lines and realizing that if I could maintain all of those wires and tubes safely, I could probably set up my stereo system at home without help. And I did. Next, I discovered setting up a computer and adding on a printer wasn’t difficult either. I plunged ahead fearlessly, learning to use ATMs and grocery self-checkouts before some of my male friends (sorry, that’s sexist). Today, I own a trove of personal electronic devices, including a smart phone, tablet, and a reader. I fully credit my initial interest and competence in electronic devices to my ICU nursing background.

That’s why it’s so funny that last week, I accidentally “released” 9,999 units of red blood  for a single patient on our hospital’s new electronic medical record system (EMR). Fortunately, in EMR lingo, “releasing” 9,999 units of blood is not the same thing as preparing 9,999 units in the blood bank, so only the two units ordered by the physician were prepared. No blood was wasted due to my error. The problem was accounting in nature: I couldn’t clear the remaining 9,997units from the EMR.  A very nice peer specialist came to our department and explained my error before he fixed it. Maybe it was inappropriate, but I couldn’t help but break into a quiet chorus of “9,999 units of blood on the wall, 9,999 units of blood… Take one down and pass it around, 9,998 units of blood on the wall.”

Popcorn Lung?

Twice this past week, I arrived at work to the noxious odor of burning popcorn wafting throughout the infusion center. What is it with nurses and microwave popcorn? We save lives daily. We keep critically injured patients from circling the drain into certain doom. We safely medicate patients and do complex procedures, but as a group we are notorious for our inability to pop popcorn in microwaves without burning it. I can’t remember ever smelling burning popcorn in a movie theater. Statistically speaking, you’d think burnt popcorn occurs more often in a movie theater than a hospital, based on the sheer volumes of popcorn popped at movie theaters. That isn’t the case. I wonder why.

You think I exaggerate? Using the search words popcorn microwave hospital fires today resulted in 93,200 results in 0.22 seconds on Google. My favorite is this YouTube Video about a pediatric ER nurse named Stephanie:

Stephanie, you are not alone among your nursing peers. I found an unconfirmed reference online that said Seattle, Washington has made it illegal to pop microwave popcorn in its hospitals because of the fire hazard.

When I signed up for nursing, I expected exposure to many unpleasant odors, including “code browns” (poopy messes), emesis (vomit), and blood. I can handle all of them, but burnt popcorn makes me gag.  Also, fumes of microwave popcorn containing diacetyl, burnt or otherwise, may cause Popcorn Lung, according to this article (dated September 2007). I wonder if this is covered by workman’s comp?

I love microwave popcorn, and it makes a quick, tasty snack that is easy to share with coworkers. Let’s preserve this simple pleasure. If we can save lives, surely we can learn to pop popcorn without burning it.