Paging All Angels
I’m thinking hospitals are very different from typical, corporate workplaces where the “I.T. Guys” are the angels, not the hunchbacks. They are the Promethean firebringers who have blessed the mere mortals they serve with the wonders of computer technology. They strut around like they know it. They decide who gets access to what part of the system, and they know all the passwords. Their belted-on pagers beep and squawk as they roll their eyes and stride purposefully from one crisis to the next, scooting people’s butts aside as they commandeer keyboards and clean up our digital messes. Maybe it’s some idiot who can’t figure out how to import a Microsoft Word file into the C.C.I. system. Or an overly ambitious type who brought in some sophisticated mapping software from home and loaded it onto a company workstation without asking. Or some slacker who was playing online Scrabble on a laptop and infected a network drive. Whatever the scenario, the I.T. Guy is typically the smartest and most technically proficient person in the room — rushing in to save the day whenever incompetent worker bees screw things up.
In a no-nonsense place like a hospital, where business is a matter of life and death, that hierarchy of power is turned upside down. The bearers of the most specialized, technical knowledge here are the system users: The doctors, nurses and medical technicians wearing scrubs and white coats. These people are paid to diagnose problems and make repairs to the most complex machine nature has ever devised — the human body. Besides that, they are in command of multimillion dollar pieces of technology that make regular computers look about as sophisticated as salt and pepper shakers. I imagine the I.T. Guys in hospitals feel more like janitors than angels. They’re out of sight, out of mind; down there in the cathedral cellar with Quasimodo. Their job: “Just come up to ring the bell every hour. If we need anything else, we’ll page you.”
But when I went to the hospital Monday for my bi-monthly M.R.I. brain scan, the I.T. guys had turned the tables back again on the medical wizards. Everything was going smoothly until the time came for me to go over the results with my doctor. He called up the film from my scan onto his computer screen and said it looked great. But because of a technical glitch, he couldn’t give me a final and definitive report. He was unable to call up images from my March 16 scan to compare side-by-side with Monday’s scan. He needed the earlier image to see if there had been any changes in an “enhanced” area that always shows up as a tiny ring of light around the cavity left by my surgically removed brain tumor. The docs have explained to me before that most of the white area is probably “radionecrosis” — or dead cancer cells killed off during the 30 radiation treatments I had back in August and September. But any significant changes in the white area might suggest the first hint of a recurring tumor. That’s simply the nature of this type of cancer I’m living with, and I’m ready to deal with that day if and when it ever comes. Mostly, I’m just grateful that the technology exists allowing doctors to analyze changes as small as one millimeter so they can jump right on it with a new treatment approach.
On Monday, though, my all-knowing, all-powerful oncologist was reduced to a level of helplessness and frustration familiar to any office drone who has ever seen the words “Access Denied” or “File Cannot Be Found” flash across his or her computer screen. Suddenly, he was at the mercy of the I.T. people, who explained that some sort of ongoing server upgrade had made the file he wanted temporarily unavailable. Haven’t we all heard something like that before? A technical explanation that bows down to “cause” but totally disregards “effect”? Translated from ‘I.T. Speak’ into English, it essentially means S.T.F.U. My doc may as well have been a frustrated cubicle dweller trying to call up a critical TPS report, or a newspaper reporter on deadline whose story just got eaten by the system. I actually kind of smiled inside as the man who is in charge of my brain scurried in and out of the examination room repeatedly to call I.T. to get the latest update on the problem. In the flash of a moment, a computer glitch had reduced this miraculous place of healing to just another episode of “The Office.” The I.T. guys were holding all the cards. They had the power again.
The doctor told me I could stay around until it was resolved, if I wanted to. Normally I don’t mind waiting in a hospital, but by that time the place was starting to feel like an ordinary office — and I didn’t feel like hanging out any longer. So I just went home to play with my dogs, and let the I.T. folks enjoy the rest of their day among the angels.
WEDNESDAY 5/19/10 UPDATE: Dr. Bobustuc finally was able to access the earlier scan and he called me Tuesday evening to leave a message saying there was a slight enough change between scans that he’s going to add an extra oral chemo agent to my current regimen and order a one-time-shot of additional radiotherapy. He says there’s nothing here to change the positive long-term outlook for me, but still, I’m glad he is jumping on this aggressively.