Wednesday, 2 April 2014

B is for Beeper

Sorry to disappoint if you were looking for a recipe for banana bread, but I already posted that on March 5th, 'I got a New Cookbook".

At a recent family gathering the adults were sitting around the kitchen table and there were tablets and cell phones in constant use. I have a tablet but have so far avoided getting a cell phone. I understand my son and his wife’s enthusiasm for their phones, as it gives them a connection to the internet. They are able to text, use Facebook and otherwise surf the net which is denied them at home. Not all rural areas have a decent internet service, and dial-up really sucks.

My daughter has a Blackberry which she needs to keep in touch with work. How times they are a changing. When I was working I was on call 24 hours a day and always had a pager with me. This was in the late eighties and throughout the nineties, in the olden days it seems to some. I wore a beeper and when it…beeped…I had to call in to work. This was fine if I was home, but if I was out, it was a different matter entirely. In a store or restaurant I could ask to use their phone, but most often it meant finding a phone booth.

The only plus at that time, is that public phone booths were a common sight. Though I remember times I was in the car and had to go blocks before finding a phone. It made a difference in how the kids and I spent our time. We couldn’t go anywhere that didn’t have phones readily available, and we tended to go places that we could leave, as in no paid admission, should I get called in to work. Luckily that job didn’t last long, and though I still had to be on call, I rarely got called in to work unless it was a real emergency.

Having a weekend with no on-call responsibilities was like a vacation. There were three Long Term Care facilities linked by the same company and three managers who desperately wanted a weekend off. As most calls were to report certain events, things like incidents resulting in injury or a resident’s hospitalization or death, the manager rarely had to actually make an appearance at work. I was consulting at the time at all three facilities so was familiar with staff and routines. I volunteered to take call and give the managers a break.

On the Friday night I was sitting home, just me and my three pagers, when I got a call. The night nurse at the one facility had called in sick and the evening nurse could not replace her. Shit. I had been in management and street clothes for years now, and didn’t even own a uniform anymore. And it definitely looked like I was going on duty. When I showed up at work at 11pm you can imagine the surprise and uncertainty of the staff when they saw who they were working with that night.

It turned out to be a quiet night, and I kind of enjoyed it. I was very tired by the time I got home and hoped I wouldn’t have to do it again. And I remember thinking how fortunate it was the other two facilities had also had a quiet night.

Turned out one of the other facilities had paged me during the night, and were concerned when I didn’t respond. I must have inadvertently turned the pager off, as I never heard it beep.

I had barely made it home and in the door after my shift when the phone rang. It was the manager from that facility wanting to know if I was all right. The staff had notified her after repeated calls to me had no response. If she hadn’t gotten hold of me within the hour, she would have been on her way to my place to ensure I hadn’t tumbled down the stairs or fallen ill.

We had a good laugh about it as some of the staff, knowing I was a single mother and my kids were gone for the weekend, were hoping I was unavailable because I’d gotten lucky. When I told them where I’d spent the night they were disappointed.

I’ve seen my daughter get calls from work, texts more than actual calls where you talk to someone. If she can, she texts a reply, though there are occasions the dialogue is too long and too detailed to be managed in a text conversation. The interruption to whatever she’s doing is, okay, an interruption, but doesn’t really require any other action on her part. She can be in the theatre, at the zoo, out with friends, and it’s a moment of time to deal with some work related issue. She doesn’t have to go in search of a phone to make that response.

I never realized the impact on the kids at the time, until we were talking about family stuff and they listed the beeper as number one on their Do Not Like list. And at a meeting of Long Term Care and hospital nurse managers, when asked what they hated about their jobs, every single person there grabbed their pager and set it on the table. When I quit work it took a long time to change my way of thinking, I was so used to the pressure of being on-call. The sense of peace when it finally hit home that I was free was unbelievable.

This winter has been bad, with one snow storm after another, and my sympathies have gone to any manager in Acute or Long Term Care. I know what it’s like to be informed your staff are snowed in and can’t get in to work. If it was going to happen, it would have happened this past winter. I can think about it and put it out of my mind, been there, done that, and not my problem anymore.




Karen Jones Gowen said...

Does anyone even use beepers anymore? Banana bread, on the other hand, is the ideal afternoon snack, sure could use some right now!

Anonymous said...

I remember wanting a "beeper". Obviously, I was naive back then. I really like my cell phone for the internet and the built in camera. But then, I don't work on call. If my phone became a tool for calling me in to work whenever the need arose, I probably wouldn't like my phone very much. Great post!