Broken Pager

I came home last Friday afternoon and my son who was happily waiting for my arrival asked me to shoot some hoops with him in our driveway basketball court. Even though I was tired and I was still on call, I obliged. That’s when I dropped my pager.

Yes, I still carry a pager or also known as a beeper. A system prescribed and hospital provided pager. Really? Really.

In this day and age of  mobile phones and smart phones, it is hard to believe that I still lug this dinosaur-like device on my hip. Why is this antiquated technology of almost half a century ago still exist and still being used?

Even though pagers are out of vogue in many professions, they are still being used especially in medical field. There are several reasons why a pager is still being used. First, in emergencies, an emergency signal or message can be sent to several pager units to respond to the call, like EMT, hospital code team and trauma team.

Secondly, inside buildings that are steel reinforced, or in part of the hospital like in radiology department, wherein the walls are lead insulated, as well as in basements, the cell phone receptions may be spotty. But pagers still works in these locations, making them indispensable.

Thirdly, there may be hospital equipments, especially in the ICU, that cell phones signals can interfere and disrupt. This is the reason why many hospitals do not allow visitors to use their cell phone inside the ICU, similar to why the airplane cabin crew orders passengers to shut off their cell phones during flight. But pagers are perfectly OK. Though I must admit, nowadays the restriction of using cell phones in the ICU is getting lax, especially when the doctors themselves (including me) use their mobile phones there.

Another advantage of pagers is if it goes off, you can read the message and have the option to answer it right away if it is really urgent, or you can delay answering it if it can wait, and continue whatever task you are engaged in. So it does not disrupt your workflow all the time.

But for me, the best thing about beepers is that you can turn it off when you’re not working or not on call.  It is harder to turn off the cell phone as it may not just for business but also for personal use. Plus if you are a doctor, you don’t want to give your cell phone number to your patients, right? That will be like tying a rock in your neck and jumping in a river.

Back to my dropped pager. After it accidentally fell, it broke into several pieces. Did I say accidentally?

Since it was the weekend I have no way of  replacing it right away. And since I was on call, I must have a working pager. So I tried to put back the pieces of my beeper together with duct tape! I tell you, duct tape can fix anything – fractured eyeglasses, broken toys, leaking pipes, loose gadgets, gossiping lips…..gossiping lips?

I was really surprised that after I taped my broken pager together that it still worked. It was actually working! Maybe in the back of my mind, I was hoping that my pager will stay broken, so I can be free from being on call. Wishful thinking.

It was a busy weekend and my duct-taped pager went off a hundred times or more. The calls kept on coming. My pager kept on beeping. I was really tempted to drop my beeper to the ground, this time more forcefully. But it did survive the weekend call. And so did I. Came Monday, I replaced it with a new one.

Maybe that’s another advantage of a pager. It can withstand the abuse of being “accidentally” dropped and still work. I will not dare do that to my i-Phone, which I also carry with me all the time.

Holding Off No More

I am not passing this up anymore. I have been holding off for so long. It is time.

Before you think of something else that I have been holding off for, I am talking about the iPhone.

I have owned a mobile phone since 2000. That was the time I started my medical practice after finishing my specialty training. I don’t know why we call our “real” work “practice,” as it does not sound better off than the “training.” Sorry, I digress. But since that time, the cell phone has been an integral part of me.

I just cannot imagine practicing medicine without a cell phone, especially if you are on-call. Before the advent of mobile phones, a doctor needed to stay around where he could be reached or where he could make a phone call via land line. If he was traveling, and he was called on his beeper, he had to find a public phone to answer the call. That meant he also needed to have coins always ready to make those calls on pay phones.

But with the emergence of the cell phones, doctors were given more liberty to wander far, even if they were on-call. Of course, being on-call still feels like you are on a leash, but with a cell phone at least the chain is long. Never mind the fact that the first generation of the mobile phones were huge and clunky. At least they were portable and smaller (though not much smaller) than the backpack radio used by the US infantry during the Vietnam war.

1st generation of cell phone

With the advancement of technology, the mobile phones became smaller and even “smarter.” They are not just for making calls. They can be our personal secretary, our encyclopedia, our GPS, our camera, our music and movie module, and our game console. Who knows whatever functions will they add in it. It also have been more affordable by the masses, that everyone, even the ‘tindero ng balut‘ owns one. (I am in no way putting down the tinderas and tinderos for they are hardworking people, and besides they do a noble job.)

Since I have owned my first cell phone more than 10 years ago, I changed or upgraded it twice, with my latest one a few years old. I think that can be considered very conservative as I believe my mobile phone plan even entitled me for a phone upgrade every 2 years or so, at not much cost. And if you consider the fact that new and better cell phones comes out almost every few months, I am indeed fairly cheap.

I also never upgraded to a smart phone before. Maybe because I use my cell phone strictly for making a call. Or maybe I don’t want my phone to be “smarter” than me. Though when I am seeing patients during my hospital rounds in the ICU or in the wards, I have my medical residents or the medical students with me, search through their smart phones for information that we need, like drug to drug interactions, or latest medical literature and studies, or case reports regarding a strange and unusual disease, or whatever data we want to know. It is like doing research on the fly. If we have that capability, why not use it, right? I think its high time for me to get “smart” on my own.

The iPhone, arguably the top of the line smart phone, was first released in June 2007. Now, it is already on its 5th generation and I still don’t own one. Don’t get me wrong, I like Apple and its products. During the years, our household have owned several Apple products. But never an iPhone. Well, hopefully not for long.

Aside from being available now on different carrier networks (AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint in the US), there is one more reason for me to get the latest iPhone. With Steve Jobs, passing away last week (which made me, as well as the whole world really sad), this make the iPhone 4S, probably the last Apple product that he helped design or has received his blessings. And that is such history and memorabilia I just cannot pass up.

Now, I just need to figure out how to beat the crowd lining up for it when it is released in a couple of days. Or maybe I should hold off for now, at least for a few more days… or weeks… or months… or…….

Social Isolation

During our last trip, in a layover airport, while waiting to board in our connecting flight: here’s a snapshot of what I witnessed….

The terminal boarding gate was jam-packed with people. Almost all the seats were occupied. People were standing around, crowding the gate and hallways. Some were sitting on the floor as there were no more seats, and some were even lying (they must have been on a red-eye flight) on the ground. Perhaps some had several minutes to wait, while some had hours to kill. The minutes always seems slower in an airport terminal.

Aside from waiting to board the plane, there was also one thing that all were doing. They were either talking or texting on their phones, or typing or chatting on their laptops or tablets.

It is amazing that with our current technology, people can stay connected even how far away we are from home. We can speak, text messages, or on-line chat with our friends on the other parts of the world, even if they are in the international space station, and is literally out of this world. We even have virtual ‘friends’ in our Facebook, where we update them of our status (yes, even what we had for lunch) almost every minute. Or we can tweet messages and broadcast our thoughts (like in world domination) to the world. Or, like me, I can post something in my blog, and people whom I have never met can read and drop me a comment. These are people I would have never known otherwise, except through the wonders of the worldwide network.

I found an empty seat (a rare find!) and sat between two strangers. I pulled out the i-Pad, which we brought, mostly for the entertainment of ours kids during the long flight. I got busy too, checking on my ‘friends’. Sometimes I would lift my head and look around to the people around me, but all of them were absorbed, busy talking, and with their ear on the receiver of their phone, or their eyes transfixed on the glowing screen of their phone or computer, and their fingers preoccupied typing.

Then, a thought hit me. All these people cramped in one room, were all engaged in talking and communicating…….but not to each other.

Isn’t it ironic that the network that keeps us connected, also makes us isolated.


* (above image from here)