To earn money as a struggling college student in the 1980’s, I took a night-shift job at the local hospital as a ‘monitor tech’ in the Intensive Care Unit.
Armed only with massive amounts of caffeine and very rudimentary training in what bad ECG cardiac rhythms look like, I spent my nights watching a row of heartbeat monitors for 24 hospital patients. I was given three standing orders:
- Don’t fall asleep.
- If anything changes in a patient’s heart rhythm try to print off a paper strip of it for the physicians to take a look at in the morning.
- If any of the rhythms changed to either very smooth waves or a completely flat line scream for a nurse.
That second responsibility proved to be the most challenging, because the monitors didn’t have the ability to pause or rewind. Catching the anomalies that the physicians wanted to see required gunfighter reflexes to physically get to the right monitor and hold down the print button hoping that the troubling rhythm was still on the screen so that it would show up on the paper slip.
Being jacked up on caffeine did help with the reaction time, though I was a jittery mess in class the next morning. Good times.
Do you know what physicians do now when they want to see their patients’ cardiac rhythms? Many of them pull out their smart phones. Modern cardiac monitors are intelligent, autonomous, and wi-fi enabled. They can assess and interpret patient rythyms far better than I ever could, and they never fall asleep.