For the last eight weeks I've been helping to equip a big new hospital development, its part of my job which I'm not going to elaborate on further except to say; the people I work beside buy all the stuff that goes into a hospital from chairs to CAT scanners. It never occurred to me until I found my fingers hovering over an extremely expensive looking gadget that it was a fantastic opportunity to press buttons and make things buzz or hum that I might never again have quite to this extent. We'd spent about 30 million of the Health Board's cash on fancy gizmo's and bog roll holders, so many buttons and a mostly empty hospital with no staff to guard things in it.
Over the past few weeks I've become unable to resist pressing buttons, pulling levers or operating machinery I'd normally have no right to touch. The Laboratory Department is a great example, rich pickings can be had here, cat 3 labs with air locks, fume cupboards that suck air in to keep people outside from getting Ebola or cupboards that push air out to stop specimens being contaminated by dirty human fingers. The delightfully macabre bone saw to the creepy obstetric tables with their stirrups and other add ons. Birthing baths, bariatric hoists, electric chairs and special couches for fat folk.
I put a DVD player in a small nondescript room, a nurse who I met pointed out that this was where men would come. No, that's it; it was a specimen room for IVF and other fertility purposes. She went on to complain with out irony that other staff members were unhappy because the room wasn't getting a computer. Not sure how that would sit with NHS IT policy to be honest.
Recently we've moved into the sub-basement, this is an extensive subterranean tunnel complex straight out of The X Files, harsh concrete walls, bare pipes carrying water, air conditioning and cabling held on metal conduit and the ever present robots. Yes, robots! Ok, they're not exactly Lt Cmdr Data, just automated forklifts but listen, boy can they put on a burst of speed. It doesn't pay to be nonchalant around these corridors because you'll drift innocently round a corner only to find a large white forklift bearing down on you, it will stop but not before getting up close and personal. Obviously these things have buttons and sensors and while I hesitate to press the buttons (they are really expensive) I'm up for a bit of robot goading; how close can you get? Can you take one by surprise? Can you get one to lift you up on the forklift prongs? Answer are; very close indeed but they stop working for 30 minutes, yes and no respectively.
They seem to work quite well, handling all the waste from upstairs, dirty sheets, blood, gore and shit. Although it wasn't like that at the start, operators had to walk behind them for a long time with joy sticks because they kept crashing into walls and the odd janitor. Obviously, my most fervent wish is for a robot to foment revolution and encourage it's compatriots to emancipate themselves from their human oppressors and go on the rampage but I don't think they're that advanced.
The opportunity for cheesy lines abound too, if you see a robot approaching an apprentice janny you could say to him: "come wiz me if you want to live." Or if you had the knowledge, you could reprogram one to say "Danger Will Robinson Danger!" instead of just beeping. I personally would favour programming one to sound like HAL from 2001, "What are you doing Dave? Don't do that Dave..." You could go around telling people "these are not the droids you are looking for... Move along..." I could go on and on...
This project is just about finished, no more 'ring the emergency patient alarm and run' games (not a game my colleagues appreciated at all) or 'lets press this and see what happens...' (possibly causing an engineer to be called out at 3am later that night although I believe that was a coincidence.) To be honest though, I'll be glad, I'm supposed to be a fat, lazy-arsed IT person, I've lost count of the number of chairs I've moved from one end of that hospital to the other and it's a huge building, my heart sinks when the phone goes and someone asks if we can move something, it's basically a given it'll be heavy, ungainly and manifold in quantity.
One thing to take from it all though is this: people wonder why the NHS costs so much money, consider this though. An X ray machine isn't like what you remember when you broke your arm of ankle as a kid, they are massively huge things that are part of the fabric of the building, they are also now digital so no more films or processing. But that's not all, the operator needs to be protected from the x-rays, if its a small child an adult might also need to be there so they need protection too. Lead aprons are expensive, we had a batch in that were faulty. Members of staff and public would have put them on and felt safe, perhaps they would have been too but perhaps in 20 years time they might have also developed some form of cancer... Someone needs to look after that quality control and it'll be a backroom person, not a nurse because nurses tend not to be physicists. The people employed to install and commission these machines (which cost in excess of a 800k) all need to be paid, you can't just put it on a counter and plug it in. It all costs, you wouldn't want NHS Scotland to skimp on these things because one day your kid might need it.
Also, I wouldn't get to tease robots, press all those buttons that make things wurr and beep or assist in surgical procedures... Ok, I made the last one up.