Saturday, June 05, 2004

A change in plans

Last Thursday night I was all set to stay up late working on my talks ("Anti-Aging and Longevity" for the local senior center and "The Musculeskeletal System" for my daughter's 5th grade class) for the next day, when I got a call from my dad. From the emergency room. It turns out he'd been having melena for the past 3 days, and the doctor thought he should stay overnight and get scoped in the morning. He was feeling fine and was more worried about getting a hold of my mom so she could pick up his wallet and car keys.

To say the least, I was surprised, as my dad has been the epitome of good health even at age 75. He liked to brag about how he continues to play basketball 3 times a week with men who are 1/3 of his age. I spoke briefly to the admitting doctor and learned that my dad had only a mildly decreased hemoglobin count. I told my dad what to expect and apologized for not being able to be there with him tomorrow because I had to give these talks.

After I hung up, I thought about it. Even though I knew that the odds were more likely for a stomach ulcer, this could be really serious if it turns out he has an esophageal or gastric cancer. I decided that I really didn't need to give those talks tomorrow, and I would request that my afternoon shift at Kaiser be cancelled the next day. I decided it was more important for me to be there with my father when he got endoscoped, and when the doctor explained what he saw. This was about realizing where my priorities should be, similar to what led me to go solo in the first place. I was disturbed that I didn't see this immediately.

Fortunately things turned out as well as could be expected. My dad was diagnosed with a gastric ulcer, probably brought on by daily aspirin which he had been taking for the past few months. The senior center rescheduled my talk for next Friday. The 5th grade teacher said I could give my presentation on the musculoskeletal system next week. I assumed Kaiser managed to find someone to take my place for the afternoon shift.

It's funny how life works. I hadn't had any appointments all this week. But while I was sitting with my dad in the recovery room, I got two calls for appointments. I had to quickly step out of view of the nurses because the first time I used my cellphone, one of the nurses yelled at me to turn it off because of hospital rules. I ended up calling patients back using the phone at the desk. I got a call to schedule physicals for a family of three while I was sitting by my dad's bed back in his hospital room. I kept hoping that the patient wouldn't ask me about that loud snoring sound in the background and luckily she didn't.

I'll end with my opinion that the wholesale ban of mobile phones in hospitals is ludicrous. This article calls for a loosening of mobile phone restrictions in hospitals.
Mobile phones (cell phones) are a source of irritation for some but undeniably useful for many, and over 50% of the population of the United Kingdom possess one. Their use in hospitals, however, is mostly banned as they are considered potentially hazardous in medical environments. But the evidence for serious harm is flimsy, and the hysteria that surrounds the use of mobile phones in hospitals is unjustified.

So how dangerous are they? The evidence for harm is limited. Anecdotal reports exist of interference with medical electrical equipment, which led to a study by the Medical Devices Agency in the United Kingdom. In this study, 4% of medical devices suffered from electromagnetic interference from digital mobile phones at a distance of 1 metre. This compared with 41% from emergency services' handsets and 35% from porters' handsets. Most of the interference related to disturbance of the signal on monitors, such as electrocardiographs, confirmed by data from the United States.

It does seem hypocritical for hospitals to tell patients and visitors not to use their mobile phones, while the nurses and transporters are free to use theirs. It seems to be one of those rules that nobody follows anyways, like how the speed limit is 65 mph while everyone on the freeway is going at least 75 mph (in Southern California, that is).

The one situation with cellphones that drives me nuts is when I walk into an exam room and the patient is talking on their cellphone. And they keep talking. And keep talking. I use to wait until they were done. Now I just say, "I'll be back." and see the next patient in the other exam room. Of course, this only happens now when I'm working a shift at Kaiser. Because in my solo practice, nobody waits. Nobody but me, and that's only because these registration forms take at least 15 minutes to fill out.