Saturday, September 09, 2006


As I mentioned previously, I'm on a little 'sabbatical' from the PICU this month, filling in for the technician's position which involves looking after all our electronic and mechanical bits and pieces. The first week has gone well. I had to put quite a few hours in, but it was an enjoyable change of pace.

I actually fixed things! Me, who is not in the slightest bit 'handy'. A bed side was broken, I found a part for it, took it to pieces, figured out how it worked and put it back together again. Ok so it's not laparoscopic surgery but I felt an inordinate sense of pride at having contributed to the unit on such a basic level.

Then on Wednesday one of our baby warmers, an ancient and reliable frontline soldier in the PICU trenches, started alarming. "E0 13", it said. "E0 13". Nothing we did could convince it to stop shrieking, so we disconnected it and swapped it out for another warmer. I went to look up the manual. "E0 13," said the manual, "heater not turning off."

When things like this happen, we turn to our biomedical engineers. "Fix it," I said, "if you can do it quickly. Otherwise it was probably going to be the first one taken off the unit anyway." We have brand new warmers coming, so there isn't much point spending money on the old ones.

A few days later biomedical get back to me with the report that the warmer needs to go. "The wiring is all corroded inside," they say. "Too expensive to repair. You'll need to decommission it."

It turns out there are forms involved. Forms to be filled out and signed, in duplicate, and barcodes to be recorded, and approval to be sought. Has the equipment depreciated in value? Is it to be scrapped, salvaged, sold? Has it, in fact, been stolen? (If so, please attach copy of police report.)

For awhile I was amused by the image of a burglar trying to sneak out through the security doors and across the helipad pushing our baby warmer, hopefully sans baby. "Honest, officer, I was only road-testing it!"

After I'd negotiated the paper war, I cannibalised several attachments for spare parts. And then it was done; bereft of all trappings, it squatted in the middle of my office, waiting to be discarded. Although I tried to dismiss it, I couldn't help feeling unsettled as I stood there, thinking of all the infants who'd died in its perspex arms. The same mattress, used and cleaned over and over, exposed to blood and shit and Betadine and snot and tears, the same mattress for all of them. So many nurses hands on the cotsides, so many tired registrars trying to duck under the heater to intubate at 1 AM. Radiographers folding back the overhead to take xray after xray, irradiated over and over. Parents leaning on the edges, struggling to fit between the ventilator and the haemofilter.

History, on wheels.

It somehow seems wrong that it'll end up in a dump somewhere, a scrap yard, left to rust. But the newest Plastic Fantastic is on the way, and everything is disposable. On Monday I'll wheel it out of the unit and not give it another thought. Except to say to the designers, the engineers who gave it birth, the guys who tend not to get a whole lot of credit in medicine: you done good. It stood the test of time.
Posted by PaedsRN at 1:10 PM

Anonymous impactednurse, at 4:49 AM  

paeds RN! I didnt realize this was you.
Im glad your back and writing.

Blogger Kelly, at 5:23 AM  

Nice post. Those baby warmers could certainly tell some stories....

I'm jealous of the new warmers you have coming, though, and I don't even practice nursing anymore!

Blogger PaedsRN, at 5:58 PM  

Thanks guys. Yeah, new warmers will be handy. These ones have high side walls and heating under the mattresses, both of which should help our babies keep toasty. Plus they double as incubators. Gotta love technology ;)

Blogger Becca, at 3:33 PM  

The old baby warmers in the UK often enjoy second careers warming yet more premature babies... non-human ones. Many of my friends who work for the Cats Protection league have an old incubator or two stashed away in a back room of a cattery somewhere, keeping snug and warm a precious feline cargo.

Perhaps if anyone had time they could contact local animal rescues and see if they'd find a use for it?

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