Having a bleep is a great accolade and is loved by all junior doctors. How important we feel when it goes off! Somebody wants us, no, somebody needs us, no-one else will do. ‘What do they want now?‘ We sigh and feel quite indispensable.
All too soon though, reality bites and the bleep becomes a nuisance. It interrupts. Its piercing tone reminds you that you are at the beck and call of others confirming that there is no such thing as privacy in hospitals.
We are subject to on call rooms that don’t lock, grill fronted lockers where contents lie visible in the changing rooms and at least one bleep to ensure a variety of people know exactly where you are and perhaps what you are doing at any given moment.
On my intensive care unit, the staff toilet is housed within a wooden pillar structure close to the entrance of the unit. Everything could be heard through the paper thin walls which I found fairly inhibitory to the smooth emptying of my bladder. I avoided using this toilet when I realised the sound travelled equally in both directions but one day had no choice.
I had not stopped for a drink or a loo break all day. As I entered and locked the toilet door, I heard a patient’s relatives at the nurses desk asking if they could speak with the doctor on duty. That was me. I could sense the nurse scanning the unit before saying ‘she was here a moment ago, I’m not sure where she has gone, but she won’t be far away’.
As she shouted to a colleague regarding my whereabouts I stood still. I really needed to go. Should I go and speak to the relatives and come back later? Talking with relatives is never a quick job, nor can it be rushed. I might not last. Should I go quickly, aware that they may hear me emptying my bladder from the short distance between us? Why was I embarrassed by this thought? I am a doctor for heaven’s sake and it is a normal bodily function! I had to go, so go I did.
Just as I sat down and began to relax, my pager went off.
Transiently I felt relieved; the sound of my bleeper would drown out the sounds of toileting. My relief quickly evaporated however, when I heard the same nurse tell the relatives ‘Oh, I can hear her pager go off, she’s just in the toilet. Shouldn’t be too long’.
No matter how comfortable you are about bodily functions, it does not feel right to have relatives of critically unwell patients, waiting for you to emerge from the loo.