People I meet: Archibald


There are people you want to meet, there are people you’re fine with never meeting and there are people you wish you never met. Archibald was sadly on the third category. We were in San Francisco in a technical training, about two years ago, and we had been taken directly to the factory–factory trainings are great because we see everything that takes place–and we learn much more than any regular training.

I arrived late of Sunday with my coworker, about fifty years old, and we stayed at the Grand Hyatt, just a mile from our training. During dinner I spotted a latino just like us and realized that he was on the training as well. He was Gerson from Panamá. On Monday, we were driven to the factory and there we met Archibald. He had arrived late and woken up early to discuss some “financial” issues with other factory employees.

You see, Archibald worked for his brother, and he had sort of a manager-technical-sales rep mix. Let me tell you: that never works. Because there’s not one focus point.

But Archibald failed to see that. He thought he could do it all. We started our training with very tiny machines, no bigger than a laptop, and it was our job to cram a pump, an antibiotic dosing system and a control system all inside. From the start, Archibald failed to accomplish not one single unit.

But that wasn’t my problem. You see, the first night, after a tiring day, we went for dinner, the four of us. Archibald suggested: Hooters. Oh boy. Not a good sign.

“All I want is to see ladies,” he said with a stupid grin on his face.

And so we went.

To make the long story short, the waitress kindly said: “Please, sir, I’m trying to work”. And this is a Hooters waitress.

As the week went on, Archie became more and more frustrated with the machines. He just couldn’t fix them. He kept complaining that he was made for this, that he was made to sell. We all just kept quiet and carried on. Until Friday came along.

The factory guys had told us that there would be a volleyball game and we were welcomed to join them for a few beers while the “younger” ones played. Archie was ecstatic. Finally, his field of play. We got there and he started drinking like crazy. By night’s end, he was too drunk and started hitting on the Sales Manager, telling her he wanted to climb and conquer her. Great.

Add to this that I was the only driver, because the company had given me the rental.

He then started hitting on a complete stranger who felt attacked. She screamed. Archie screamed. I broke the conflict-to-be up in no time and took Archie back to the hotel. Or at least I tried to.

He didn’t want to leave.

“This is what I’ve been waiting for! Yeah!” He mumbled.

Damn it.

He kept insisting that he was going to bang the Sales Manager (who wasn’t pretty by the way), but she grew so uncomfortable, she held hands with one of her employees just to drive him away! And he didn’t! He kept screaming and causing chaos.

I got pissed. And I said: “Alright, I’m checking out.”

Archie grudgingly got into the car and asked me to turn up the volume. Damn him, he kept shouting and singing. The Panamanian only nodded and laughed along. He was enjoying. But my coworker was just about to kill him.

We got to the hotel and I bolted to my room. Archie headed straight for the bar. I just ignored him: I’m a writer, I’m not made for partying. But turns out silly Bernard left the hotel keys in the car. So I went down the elevator and guess what?

In a matter of seconds–I still do not know how–San Francisco’s finest had Archie cuffed and escorted to a cruiser. As he was walking towards the lobby’s exit, he turned to me and was about to call for me. I just slid back in the elevator.

A year later I found out his brother had to fly to San Francisco from Peru and pay his bail. He was fired. Oh, Archie….

Mr. Archibald, please come with us.

Archie’s been bad.

 

Advertisements

People I meet: Enrique


People I meet: Enrique.

This is a series of articles about the people I meet year in and year out. I travel—on average—twenty times a year and the most valuable thing I take, over the miles, the layovers, crappy hotels, faulty A/C and stale cookies, is the people.

 

I met Enrique in the U.S. in 2011 when I visited San Diego for training. He was a thick man with a bushy moustache, eyeglasses and gray hair.  We instantly clicked as both us used sense of humor to cope with everyday life. The thing was, his everyday life was completely different from mine.

It was after meeting him that my perception of the medical industry changed.

Enrique had been working for IC Medical for fifteen years already. When the recession hit in 2008, IC Medical had to cut costs and it meant milking the living crap out of every single one of IC Medical’s tech minions, Enrique included. The manufacturing shifts—in which he was included—went from the normal 9 hours to a 13-hour permanent overtime shift. But the salaries didn’t proportionally. IC Medical claimed a lack of income as the sole reason.

Granted, it was a problem that hit all of the U.S. and the world.  But, if it only had been that their lives were the same, with just a bit more work then there’d be no problem. But Enrique’s wasn’t.

His wife had suffered an accident, displacing three vertebrae on her back and, ironically, needed the equipment IC Medical sold to fix her condition.

Given that healthcare in the U.S. doesn’t use a socialist basis, Enrique could only afford certain hospitals. Hospitals, by the way, which were not willing to use IC Medical’s products to cure her, because the hospitals were “married” with other companies. Enrique was left with an alternative: either dig and burrow through his house for more money or turn to his employer for support.

So he turned to IC Medical. If his own company could pay for a hospital that did use the products, then his wife would make it. IC Medical didn’t even flinch. At the moment, providing the products for free was out of the question. I’m talking about two or three consumables and one machine: a cost of about 1000$.

So, as he told me this, whispering of course, I started thinking about all that I’ve done throughout the years. I’ve sold to doctors just because they want something cheaper, I’ve sold to doctors just because the brands I distribute are prestigious and I’ve sold to doctors just because their employers bought our brands. And in all three cases, I’ve wondered if they’d even flinch when I ask them for help.

Just like IC Medical with one of its own employees. A veteran nonetheless.

I kept in touch with Enrique after the training. I send him emails every once in a while and the most recent email I got was that his wife is now permanently disabled. IC Medical offered to pay for a percentage of the insurance required to have her home all day. But nothing else. Enrique is still being milked for every last drop of effort he can get. And I still sell IC Medical.

Why? Because I have to. Because Enrique has to. Or else, we f***ed.

Stretcher 303


A doctor once told me life mattered little if one did not die with dignity.

“Forget about being a hero or having a golden plaque on your grave, highlighting what a wonderful person you were,” he swatted the disappointment away with his hands. He combed his mustache with his index and thumb then fixed his eyeglasses. He exhaled, “it’s not that. I’ve seen it enough to understand it’s not that. By time you’re buried, no one remembers you.”

I didn’t reply. My gestures did. He smirked.

“Confusing?” I nodded. Good salespeople just nod along. “Everybody remembers the you before death, right? Good. Everybody remembers the death: the heart attack, the car crash, the quiet gasp in the middle of the night. I could go on, but neither of us wants to. But after death, we don’t remember much. And it’s fine. That’s what we are meant to do.”

And so, as his voice turned into a muffled mumble, I started thinking back. I thought about my brother and his best friend, Kyle. Back in ninth grade, there was a party in Kyle’s house. Booze, weed, a thumping bass. Kyle was a bit of both: high and drunk, cruzado we call it in my country (crossed senses). He got up and told everybody he was going to take a shower. They all laughed.

Seconds later, Kyle pulled the trigger on himself. My brother once described the sound as cracking a coconut with meat inside.

What happened next? I don’t want to remember. My brother doesn’t want to. He remembers Kyle the friend. He remembers opening the door and finding him–I know because of the recurring nightmares for the following years–but he doesn’t remember Kyle after he died. He doesn’t remember Kyle, the friend who betrayed him, because he doesn’t want to. Nobody does.

“And that’s why, Bernard, death is just as valuable as life,” he said.

“How do you want to go, doc?” I asked. He nodded, just once, and smiled with accomplishment.

“A small room, just my family, no rush, no stress, nothing. Just relief.” he said. Far too young to think about death, far too experienced to get away from it, at forty-four he’d probably seen more death than all my family put together. “No rain, no weather, no cold air, I hate cold air. Just four walls, a floor, a roof and silence.”

And so, there I was, in the country’s second biggest hospital, five minutes to seven a.m., just minutes away from fixing the orthopedic operating table. Once I had finished, I walked out to a long hallway that led to the exit. The disgusting radioactive green used in the walls drained my energy, as it always did, and the fluorescent lights hummed loudly. Then cold air seeped into my pants and tickled up my legs.

Damn, doc, you were right.

I turned to my right after reaching the corner and stopped. I gasped but no one saw me; I was alone. Just me and stretcher 303. There was a white sheet resting over a lump of branches and cylinders, a patch of gray hair peeked from the top and nothing moved. I shook it off. It’s just a hospital. Someone would come.

At three thirty in the afternoon I got a call from a close friend in the hospital; I’d left my tool belt. I rushed back to reclaim what was mine. So happy to see all my tools in place, I completely forgotten about the corner. Again I stopped. There he was, 303.

To my right, no one. To my left, no one. Just the speaker in the corner: Operating Room assistant to the third floor. Operating Room assistant to the third floor. I inched closer, peeking about like a shoplifter eyeing its bounty, until I reached the foot of the bed.

Name: Unknown.

Last Name: Unknown.

I don’t know but at that moment I had the urged to photograph him. I knew I couldn’t: it’s against the law. So I checked around again and pulled out my notebook and a pen. I sketched it rapidly.

Damn, Doc, you were right. I never want to be stretcher 303.

 

A lonely body

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.

I’d rather be a hammer


…Than a nail. That’s how the song goes.

It was 3:30 in the afternoon and I was on my way to the biggest hospital in my country. I must admit, I was foolishly–naively–thinking I’d be out of there by 5:00 to carry on with the research for my upcoming book. Never celebrate early, it just won’t work, that’s what my dad says. My coworker was waiting for me in the lobby and we walked into the operating room with motivation and determination.

I’ve never been able to explain it but I’ll try: I really don’t feel I’m crossing a barrier when I enter an operating hall. I mean that’s the so-called “most sterile” part of a hospital, right? And still, I just walked in, changed my clothes and stepped into the “clean area” looking like an oversized leprechaun with a hairnet and gloves. There wasn’t any control, any restrictions and it doesn’t make me feel right. All I could feel was the air getting colder, life being drained out and all emotion being put to the side.

It’s a long hallway—white tiles on the floor so that blood stands out, glass all around giving the place no sense of security, no sense of shelter, silence all around so machines can warn of any upcoming death—and operating rooms to the left and to the right. There’s no way to avoid them.

There it was, resting against the wall like a passenger waiting for the subway, our target: the cursed operating table. For about two years now we’ve been struggling with this table and its record isn’t exactly pristine. Five patients have died (no blame on the table), it gets jammed in the mornings and won’t hold its position in the afternoons and moves with free will. Doctors hate it and it’s not my best friend either.

We just looked at it, I like to do that before actually opening it up. Sometimes, with the simplest gaze, one can find out the most complex of problems. This time though, it wasn’t the case. We had had a report of nuances including a jammed elevator, a stuck brake on the wheels and a wobbly leg supporter and we decided to attack the “easiest problem”: the stuck brake.

Thirty minutes passed. The air got colder, my head actually hurt—a piercing pain shooting from the back of my head to the front—and I cursed not having lunch.

That damned brake would release. I was pretty sure that, if I could just get one more inch, just one, of visibility I could sneak in a screwdriver and release the spring. But the brakes are covered by a stainless steel shroud and I had two choices: either rest my head on an operating room floor or lift a machine that weighed up four hundred pounds—and do that with a bad back. I resisted both. I did everything: I used my cellphone camera to get an idea of the issue but nothing; I tried feeling the problem but couldn’t get anything but gunk and dirt.

I exhaled in frustration while my partner told me he wanted to give it a go.

Forty minutes had passed. My headache was now unbearable. The research for my book (consisting of an interview to an amputee) was now becoming a farfetched reality. My body demanded fuel. And that damned brake would not move.

My partner leaned back, literally sat down on the floor and exhaled, copying my gesture.

Fifty minutes had passed. The ten minutes we had conversed about possible solutions had been useless. No solution seemed worthy of a try. There just wasn’t any area.

Sixty minutes. The patient in the operating room next door had just been sedated. In about two hours his leg will be completely sawed off. My partner came up with a solution that required great effort. We had to life the table and put a support below and that way we would have precious inches to work with. He chose to lift it. I chose not to oppose him. We both inhaled, he braced for a comfortable position and humph-ed the chair into the air—or just two inches—I quickly slid the support just when he pulled his fingers free. One more second and they would’ve been chopped off. Success, we had lifted it.

I took a look at the brake. The spring was jammed and I thought: “if I get my screwdriver there and undo the whole system, I can clean the gunk, blood and protein, then rebuild the system and test it.” But the access was small, a gap of two inches maximum. I’d had to rest my head on the floor and, though it had been cleaned, hospital clean isn’t really clean at all. And so, I leaned my head as much as I could, my neck stiffened as it struggled to keep me from the vile invisible demons that lurk in the deceiving white tiles. I would feel them crawling towards me, wanting to stick to my skin and then seep slowly through my pores: flu, leptospirosis, MRSA, you name it and it was there. Suddenly I stopped breathing as if that would help. Then I hissed. I was wearing a mask.

A working surface at the hospital

Hospital “clean”

I fought to get that sharp edge inside, it was just microns away, I could feel the screw and I swore it had actually turned but my hand trembled, my fingers cramped, the position was just too uncomfortable. Dammit, I had to give up.

I rested on my knees and looked at my partner with surrendered eyes.

In him I saw the opposite: in a surge of determination he disappeared. Seconds later he was back: in his hands were a can of WD40 and a hammer. He gently shoved me out of the way, then emptied half of the WD40 on the brake. After inhaling the “enlightening” fumes, he aimed at the brake. It was literally make or break: if he missed, the dent on the table would be impossible to hide.

He swung the hammer and put every drop of strength into it. I could see the forearm flex, his veins pop out and his eyes shrug with effort. The bang was so loud the doctors on the other operating room actually peeked to see if something had happened. Silence followed.

For seconds.

Pop! The brake unjammed.

A hammer and WD40 can be the best tools in the world.

We left at 5:45 pm.