So, Saturday was a crappy day at work, as all days are starting to be. To say that we’re short-staffed doesn’t even describe it. We’re short-supplied, short-willed, short-empathetic, short everything. People who have worked here for 20+ years have been quitting left and right and going to better-paying hospitals. I work weekends in radiology (CAT scan) alongside one other person, whereas, during the week, the department is staffed with five people. Fine, right? Weekends aren’t as busy, right? Hardly. Try telling that to the patients that get sick on Saturdays and the doctors who do their rounds as if it was a Monday. I have a saying that goes, “every day is a Monday at a hospital,” but try telling that to corporate.
Anywhoo…so, Saturday. Oh, my god, Saturday was a doozy. It started off slow enough, as Saturdays often deceptively do, until an in-patient emergency reared its ugly head. The IR department (interventional radiology) team got called in, which meant they had to pull one of us to help with a procedure. Running a busy CT department with two techs is hard enough, but it gets really difficult when the job has to be done by one person. Needless to say, shit hit the fan real quick, and it took no time at all for the phone to start ringing off the hook. By noon, I was saying, “if another person asks me, “when are you going to scan this patient? I was gonna reach through the phone and strangle the person at the other end.” Yet, all this describes a typical Saturday so far…
This Saturday was different because the cracks were starting to show. The other tech I work with is still technically new. She just learned how to CT scan a few months ago. She recently replaced the other tech that I used to work with for the past ten years, but that tech up and quit a couple of months ago. We used to run a pretty tight ship, but now I spend a good chunk of time metaphorically tossing water out with barrels. She’s not a bad tech, but she’s still learning how to not accidentally kill someone if she’s not careful.
So, this Saturday, all the doctors were ordering exams as if it was a Monday, like usual. Some of the exams they ordered were complicated requests, and the tech that I’m training needs to learn how to do some of the difficult exams, so I don’t always get stuck doing the hard stuff by myself. In other words, we weren’t up to speed. Couple that with the fact that I was already backed up with her being gone for a couple of hours, and you get the idea that our ship was sinking. This, unfortunately, is the new normal. The ship I’m on sinks every day.
It takes time to properly train brand new staff, and we have like eight positions open — mostly overnights. Who the heck wants to work overnights in a busy CT department all by their lonesome? Can you believe that they expect us to move incapacitated patients onto the CT table all by ourselves? It’s ridiculous. I don’t know why people think we have superhuman capabilities because my back and shoulders attest that we don’t. Alas, I digress. Allow me to get back to this Saturday…
So, to make a long story short, let me just say that every doctor that had hospital privileges ordered a CT scan that day. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a list of requests that long. There was no way we could scan everyone in a timely manner, so we gave up trying to do so. “One at a time,” we kept saying out loud, “that’s all we can do. Just do one order at a freaking time.”
So, fast forward to the end of the day. We still had an incredibly long list to tackle (and, unfortunately, leave for the next shift to inherit), and we put an elderly gentleman on the table. This guy was 80-something years old, stiff as a board, and suffering from severe dementia. It took all our energy to slide him onto the table, and we did so dressed head to toe in protective gear. He was wearing a mask, but he was coughing his guts out because he was afflicted with Covid. So, we did the brain scan, but the images weren’t exactly the best because he kept coughing all the while and moving his head. Whatever. “Best images possible,” we sometimes have to say. So, we go back in the room to get him off the table and notice that his face is covered in a layer of bright yellow vomit. He coughed so hard that he vomited onto his face. A big clump of vomit pooled into the corners of his eyes, and it was a sight that was made all the more disgusting because we knew that vomit was laced with Covid. We were aghast with horror, disgust, sadness — the whole gamut of emotions, you name it, we were feeling it. It was a lot to take in, and we did our best to clean him up. Meanwhile, the phone was ringing continuously in the background.
So, we both had an existential moment when that event occurred. We both looked at that guy and decided that we didn’t want our lives to end up like his. He was so severely demented that he didn’t even react to having Covid vomit all over his face. He was so out of it that he didn’t even care. This man was actively dying, and he sounded miserable. That cough. That awful Covid cough. It sounded painful. Not to be mean, but I wondered what the point of his life was. How many meds have been pumped into his body these last several years just to keep him alive, only to have him end up with Covid in his eyeballs? It just didn’t make sense to me. How much of his life was his versus how much of it was artificial? It’s a question I ask often to myself when I see patients with extremely low quality of life. I know that I don’t want to be kept alive just for the sake of being kept alive. I hate that it’s an acceptable option to do so in America. People don’t know how to let go of loved ones, I totally get that, but keeping people alive just because they can only benefits a hospital’s bottom line. I see it every day, and I think it’s gross and absurd. It’s like throwing bright yellow Covid vomit all over the face.
Krista Marson works as an x-ray tech at a busy hospital and has first-hand experience with the ravages of COVID-19. She used to be an avid traveler and is the author of a non-fiction book titled Memory Road Trip.