Do something! But don’t smoke…


And the flick of the switch would determine months of hard labor. The first-ever artificial Heart Machine to be completely independent in Costa Rica was to be put through its paces—giving the doctors the chance of working on a completely blood-free heart—and we were nervous because of three things:

–       The patient depends solely on the machine and nothing else. If the machine fails, doctors can pump manually but still need the machine to know whether they are pumping right or wrong.

–       The machine is brand new. Brand new things can either work or not, there’s something called Murphy’s Law.

–       The hefty price tag (three hundred and twenty thousand dollars).

Well, make that four: we were the techs in charge of acting in case anything went wrong.

“Start the pump,” the doctor said with a focused voice and his assistant turned flicked the switch. A comforting beep followed and my partner and I sighed quietly, “start the cardioplegia auxiliary pump,” another comforting beep followed, “start the artificial lung (How does that song go? Too much oxygen will get you high, not enough and you’re going to die? That’s what this does.)”

Silence. My heart stopped.

I looked at the patient and then remembered the file—I took the liberty of reading it even if doctors didn’t let me—specifically the age: fifty-four years old. And there he was with his eyes closed, his mouth ajar and a plastic tube shoved down his throat, his ribs were completely open and his heart was, at that precise moment, still. It was paralyzed.

I also remembered how the doctor had reacted when he opened the patient up. It’s not comforting when you see a doctor go: “wow”, even if it’s mute and unimpressed. He looked up at me, for just a second, and flicked his head, inviting me.

“Check this out,” he passed his blade over the main artery connecting to his heart. The artery did not get cut. He passed it again: nothing. He turned to his assistant and asked for a tougher blade (usually less precise), “this is what happens when you smoke for thirty years. His veins are so calcified the blade won’t go through; we’re going to have to replace them all. This has just become a sextuple by-pass.”

I’m an engineer. I’m not a doctor. And still, the adrenaline rushing through my body at that precise moment sent shivers up and down my body. Or was it the cold air? It didn’t matter. I was in front of scientific greatness.

I remembered when he said: “It’s time to turn on the machine,” and I felt back to reality. How many seconds had I been out of reality? I turned to the doctor and his eyes—the only visible emotion , the rest hidden behind a mask, hair-cap and anti-glare eyeglasses—were honestly scared.

“Do something!” he screamed. We both turned to the machine and I scanned the screen, cursing at myself silently. If it had been more than two minutes, then the patient was as good as dead. Then I saw it, I saw the reason why the artificial lung hadn’t started, but did it matter at the moment? Absolutely not.

I flicked the switch from auto to manual, something the doctor should have done first, before even connecting the patient. The beeps continued, the hoses filled with blood, oxygen was sent where oxygen was needed, temperature was sent where temperature was needed and life was injected where life was needed.

Everything went back to normal. The patient survived and is now recovering from a sextuple by-pass. He is considering quitting smoking. And he doesn’t remember anything, only feeling cold for a moment. And the doctor never saw his mistake. Perhaps he was too scared, or he did noticed and didn’t say a word.

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Sleeping beauty:


Hospitals will drain your energy away.

If it’s not the surrounding death, nor the bleach-meets-blood-and-body-odors stench, it’s the pace, the stress and the diet consisting of mainly vending machines and soda, lots and lots of soda.

Keeping the engine running in this environment is nothing short of difficult, almost miraculous. It sounds as though I’m exaggerating but I’m not. Just last week I meet a forty-year-old orthopedist who arrived at our company to show his gratitude towards the owner and the great German stents we sell.

An orthopedist thanking us for stents? That’s as weird as a computer engineer thanking BMW for great brakes.

There was only one reason: even at forty, stents can be necessary.

Stents are tiny meshes introduced into fluid conducts (the urethra, veins or arteries) to expand them and allow for stronger flow. They can fix irregular flow to the kidneys, urinary insufficiency, even the esophagus!

But this case called for coronary stents. That’s right! Such was the wear and tear on his body, the stress, the diet, the oblivious cholesterol piling up, the lack of sleep after hours on end working and the irregular physical activity, that he ended up with a triple stent insertion.

At forty? That just doesn’t sound right.

So, it is best to make do with what one’s got. Take this example: about two months ago I met a doctor, probably about fifty, that was as fit as a tiger. How did he do it? Pretty simple.

With four things:

– Never use the elevator. Stairs are your friend.

– If it’s wrapped, then it’s not good for you.

– Dunk yourself in a pot of imaginary oil, so that all worries slip away.

But there was one thing he didn’t tell me. I came to find it out later. He sleeps and sleeps regularly.

And then it hit me: we are told that driving while tired is just as dangerous as driving drunk. Doctors spend over thirty hours straight working, between watches and shifts and emergencies and such. Isn’t being a doctor while tired just as dangerous?

I understand doctors and healthcare professionals are valuable. But our lives also are.