Nervous med students prod two chunky legs of raw meat on the slab next to me. I gulp. “What’re they…?”
“Catheter training,” interrupts my trusty expert. “Don’t worry, we only use dead meat for that.”
Is that what a joke sounds like in this mysterious quasi-sci-fi academic universe?
“They’re remarkably life like,” I comment, screaming: “I may not be clever but I am am proud to be the interested sort, suitably fascinated in your worthy - yet baffling to a layman! Ho ho, silly me - pursuits.”
Trusty Expert doesn’t seem to hear. He’s fiddling with an ultrasound monitor.
Terse commands. To be a feature of the day.
Over in the communal area I hear my mates laughing. They haven’t been called to their station yet. When I go back at mid morning break (apparently even the quasi-sci-fi-academics haven’t invented an appropriate substitute for coffee) I will entertain them with my experiences, as any self-respecting ‘
veteran would – with an air of martyr-like matter-of-fact grace. Nam
“Well, Martin says I have a below-average size heart for the size of my ribcage.”
“But the good news is I’m not pregnant. Hahahhahaha.” Pause for reluctant laughter.
“Really though, it’s pretty uncomfortable. The bed’s really hard and half of them don’t seem to know what they’re doing with the probe. One guy fair pierced between my ribs. One of the nurses said I’d have bruising for days…”
Nic bustles up.
“Thanks so much everyone, all OK? OK? Great. Help yourself to teas and coffees. Are you warm enough? We have more gowns if you need one. Oh is that the bell? OK back to your stations. You need to be back at your stations. BACK AT YOUR STATIONS. Dr Heidenfelder? Of course! Mwah.” And off she goes, German doctor trailing his hand luggage behind him across the conference floor.
“Duty calls,” I sigh with a brave, self sacrificing smile.
‘Please move to your next station for the next stage of the Pan-European Ultrasound in Anaesthesia Conference 2011. Please try to stick to the timetable to ensure the day moves….FEEDBACK…Sorry. Please…are we on? Ahem. All delegates please move to your next station.’
Back on the gurney. Or is that just something off ER?
“Can anyone identify kidney? Anyone? OK, you. Yes, you. Here you go.”
Another blob of freezing gel is squidged onto my exposed abdomen, which is creamy white in the fluoro conference light and vaguely heaving with each intake of breath. I think of the last time I lay exposed like this…no. Focus. Fat doctors with coffee breath are looming over you for important medical research purposes. Do not muddy the lines of professional lump of meat, I mean, specimen – no, what do they call us? Volunteers. Do not muddy the waters of professional volunteer for medical science with lewd references.
Amateur. Even I can tell Trusty Expert is slightly fatigued by these so called colleagues.
“Not quite. What else might we find in the left upper quadrant? Anyone? Anyone? Yes, you.”
“OK so it’s not kidney. If you...” he takes matters into his own hands, reaching across my chest dangerously close to my heaving ribcage and I politely look the other way so as not to embarrass him. So as not to embarrass HIM?! I’m the one half naked on a bench in a floodlit arena of medical nitwits. I draw breath.
“If Natalie could just stop breathing for a moment, so we can get a clear view…”
“Ah! That’s it. Thank you. There we go. Left kidney.”
Mild ripples of appreciation.
I’m still not breathing.
“So you can see…” he rotates the cold metal probe and gently but firmly explores my left anterior ribcage. “Spleen…diaphragm…kidney. Who’s next?”
“Can she breathe yet?” Top marks to the nurse with the bedside manner.
More ripples – this time laughter.
“Of course. Sorry Natalie.”
Exhale. Relief. This is tougher than I expected. I’m Natasha though. But anyway.
‘Five minute warning!’
Rock’n’roll jobsworth is back with her feedback.
Trusty Expert looks irritated. His lecture is cut short.
“OK we better skip to any questions?”
Bedside Manner has her hand up. “What if the injuries are too severe to perform ultrasound techniques?”
Six pairs of expectant eyes focus on Trusty Expert and I assume this is quite a good question. WhaddoIknow?
“Let’s put this in perspective. You’re in ER. You’ve got a level one trauma, severe bleeding, unconscious, air bag, surgeon breathing down your neck, wants to send him for an MRI. If you send that patient to MRI you lose what, ten? Fifteen? How about you want to convince this surgeon you don’t need that? The patient has internal bleeding and needs to go straight to OT. Ultrasound lets you do that. Next question.”
‘PLEASE MOVE TO YOUR NEXT STATIONS.’
They shuffle on, put in their place. I am proud. “Is that true?” I feel I can talk to Trusty Expert.
He nods. No words wasted.
He kind of smiles. “Yes. Yes I suppose it is ‘cool’.”
Later on, de-gowned, I bump into him coming out of the toilets.
“Hi!” I beam.
Nothing. He doesn’t recognise my clothed body. Just the heaving lump of meat.
I don’t care. These people…they’re like…something from a sci-fi novel.
One of my mates bumbles up, drawstrings on his scrubs trailing behind him, face all red from where he’s been suspended half upside down for gluteus maximus inspection.
“Coming to the pub? We’re going to blow the earnings?” He triumphantly waves a fifty in my face.
“Nah. I’m gonna stick around. Nic says we can check out the evening lectures. Might be interesting.”
He snorts and patters off to don his everyday uniform.
Rock’n’roll feedback pipes up.
‘WILL ALL DELEGATES PLEASE REPORT TO THE BUFFET…SCREECH…SORRY. WILL EVERYONE PLEASE MOVE TO THE BUFFET AREA. THANK YOOOOU.’
I slope off at a modest distance behind the Intelligent Ones and snatch a line or two of conversation.
“…of course the problem with that is the training budget was slashed again this year, so I pretty much funded the trip myself…luckily my aunt lives over in the road…”
“Really? No. Honestly? I’ve never had that. The worst I had was the guy with the Lego brick stuck in his….yep. No really! Well he was about 30 but of course he blamed the kids…”
Into a phone…It’s me…Hope you’re OK. Sorry about the mess. Had to dash off to this conference. Catch you back at the hotel. We’re going to dinner now. Buffet. Your fave. OK, well. Catch you later…
Gurneys lie bare of paper roll on the half lit carpet tiled floor, suspended in stillness. Ultrasound machines sleep, awaiting more specimens…more volunteers to prove their worth. Scrubs are piled in Bags for Life, ready for washing. Domestic bliss meets medical research. Life saving techniques meet lacklustre lifers in the public health prison of inefficiency and neverending change.
I walk away on my own two legs, freestanding, thankful.