Saturday, January 7, 2012
With Friends Like You, Who Needs.....
It was my first year of Radiology school. Not something I would have chosen for myself, but Mom and Dad made it clear that in no way would they pay for a college education, since they did that once and it resulted in my oldest brother growing his hair and doing the whole hippie thing (never mind every other kid in the country was doing that; they needed a scapegoat and advanced education was clearly the culprit.) My middle brother, though, was wise enough to not let them know who he really was and kiss their collective conservative ass every step of the way. He’d become a Raidologic Technologist and was making good money. My parents saw this as the only career path for anyone and told me if I followed in my brother’s footsteps they would pay for it. College, no. Saint Mary’s School of X-Ray Technology, yes. Plus they gave a stipend of $38.26 every two weeks. My crazy Christian high school wanted us all to go to Bob Jones University and never, not once, explained the concept of student loans. I was eighteen and seriously thought my only choices in life were going to X-ray school or working at Bonanza Sirloin Pit for the rest of my life. Wait now, someone is going to pay me $38.26 every two weeks to go to school? Sign me up.
Actually, I had a brochure from a college in California that offered courses in animation. That’s what I wanted to do. Mom and Dad looked at it and rolled their eyes; clearly drawing frame-by-frame stuff would lead to drugs.
So I ended up in goddamn X-ray school. It was probably more flip-flopped than it should have been: You would spend the first half of your day out on the floor, helping people who knew what they were doing take X-rays, then spend the second half in a classroom learning about Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen. You understand, now it takes a four-year college degree to become a Radiologic Technologist, but back in the day anyone with the ability to ask “How would you like your steak cooked?” could go through a two-year program and be trusted with equipment that can sterilize someone instantly.
My first day, thrown onto the hospital floor without a clue in the world: To this day I cannot explain what I saw. The completely wrong, politically incorrect term used at the time and place was “monster.” Now, I have worked with people with disabilities for years and have learned to hate people who dismiss others outside their own experience with a vengeance. Having gone through that, though, my memory of my first day and my first patient makes me shudder.
It was, oh, I don’t know but I guess, a four-year-old girl with flippers for arms and flippers for legs. Most of her baby teeth were somehow broken off. She was screaming and screaming and who could blame her? She was strapped to an X-ray table with no clue what was going on. Apparently there was a kidney problem, because she was scheduled for an IVP. This stands for intravenous pyelogram; a procedure to view a patient’s urinary tract system. In order to do this, a substance called a contrast medium is injected into the bloodstream to enable the body parts to show up on the X-ray. A syringe and a tourniquet were shoved into my hands. I thought, fuck, there’s gotta be someone more qualified to do this. I was on the learning curve, so a Tech talked me through it. I wrapped the rubber tube around the flipper. I found the vein and slipped the needle in. Crazed screaming and jerking, causing the needle to rip the flesh and the girl’s parents, present in the room, to shout loudly. Then I went to class an learned some shit about physics.
Day two: I remember both names to this day but I will only tell you this: Her name was Connie. ER brought her in on a stretcher. She was sitting where she shouldn’t have been; in the middle in the front seat without a belt and a collision occurred. Owing to God’s terrific sense of humor, the gearshift shoved up her vagina and shattered her pelvis at the same moment the windshield did the same to her face. ‘Cause that’s the secret of cosmic comedy: timing.
Oh ha, Puddlewinks is off his nut again. No, fucker, it actually happened. Word. Then I went back to class and learned about nuclear medicine.
I got put on barium enema duty. This is how you take an X-ray of someone’s colon; you fill their ass full of barium and it will show up on a radiographic image. Seven in the morning, I’m spreading some geriatric’s cheeks and looking at her winking brown-eye. What a great way to start the day. I lube up the plastic tip and shove it home. The old woman writhes. Another feel-good moment.
“I was an English teacher,” she starts, but at this point I’m inflating the Bardex and her sentence stops short. A Bardex is a brand name for a balloon-like device attached to the enema tip. You insert it into the patient’s rectum and use a squeeze bulb to fft, fft, fft, blow it up and it swells up internally and blocks off the colon, preventing the enema from being prematurely discharged. Or so goes the working theory.
The thing about X-ray Techs, and perhaps the only skill I’ve retained from all those years ago, is this: they can look you up and down and know for certain whether or not you can hold an enema. Trust me, right now, you can look me in the eye and I will know whether or not to just plug it in and go or administer the ol’ fft, fft, fft.
The thing about a barium enema is it’s no small ordeal. It’s not like a squeeze-bulby thing; there’s a big honking bag full of contrast media that flows in and completely fills your bowels. Imagine a bowling bag full of liquid chalk streaming into your ass. There ya go.
But this woman, the English teacher, was determined to put up the good fight. She was going to show no fear. Understand—because this is how it is always done—the lubing up, insertion and pumping of the Bardex happened way before the doctor, the radiologist, was present. The X-ray techs get the dirty work out of the way and then the doctor shows up and stares an the monitor, whistling, grunting and making hand signals to indicate which way he wants the patient to be positioned.
I prided myself on knowing this certain doctor’s particular gestures; it was like knowing American Sign Language for only one person. Whistle-whistle and a hand flip meant ‘barium on’—disengage the locked valve from the tubing and release the flow from the bag. Whistle, shake-shake meant I should ask the patient to reposition.
The enema was shooting into the old woman’s bowels and I said, “Okay, roll over and lay on your left side.”
The woman was clearly in discomfort. Who wouldn’t be? But no, I had to tell the truth and do what the radiologist wanted.
“I’m sorry, Ma’am. We just need you to roll over and lay on your left side.”
“Lie!” she gasped as her intestines were filling with fluid. “It’s lie!” The inflated Bardex shot out of her ass with an audible pop and the contents of her large intestine hosed down the other tech at the end of the table. She groaned and moaned but managed to bark out, “Roll over and LIE on your left side. Not lay; LIE!”
You would think, Sir, you have no more ghastly barium enema stories to tell. But you would be wrong:
The place at which I trained was a Catholic hospital. There was a convent on the premises. One of the nuns had some gastrointestinal distress and was scheduled for a barium enema. Of course, no one, male nor female was going to shove a plastic thing up a nun’s ass so it was agreed we would all wait outside while she did the actual insertion herself. The doctor, the other tech and I stayed in the hall and after a reasonable time one of us knocked, barely cracked the door and asked, “Are you ready?”
We went in and there was the nun who had modestly covered herself with several hospital gowns and a blanket. Doctor did his hand flippy thing, meaning ‘barium on.’ NOTHING showed up on the fluoroscope but jets of barium were shooting all over the table.
She’d stuck it in her vagina.