09 January 2009

I'll Take the Stairs

In our public hospitals, the cherry on my irritation-cake is the lifts (South African elevators). Often, it's not so much the lifts as the people that (ab)use them - but nonetheless, the lifts are bloody irritating.

Elevator Etiquette (or lack thereof)
It would make sense to me, or any civilised person for that matter, that when the lift doors open, people leaving would have right of way. If you have ever witnessed the Wildebeest Stampede through the Mara River you might know what I am talking about. If you have not, spare yourself the trip to the Serengeti - it would be much cheaper (and way more daring) to visit a South African public hospital, stand inside a lift & wait for the doors to open.
Don't think that people have a sense of priority either. If I were in a lift when the doors open to a scene of tubes, cylinders, cables, alarms & monitors, a blood-spurting patient & a doctor brandishing paddles screaming "Stand Clear" - I would get the hell out of that lift to make way... ehem... well not here. Instead one is greeted with a sea of eyes wielding a "screw you, we were here first" expression.
Or, you would actually make it into an empty lift hoping to get a patient speedily to ICU, when the lift stops on every floor to squeeze in another ten people who bump your elbows & stomp on your toes while you try your utmost to maintain possession of the ambubag.

I always imagine that there is some sort of circuit board or computer coordinating the various lifts in a building for maximum efficiency. One would assume that with four lifts (plus two patient elevators and a service lift), the fastest way from the 7th floor down to ground & back again would not be via the stairs. This theory and assumption was first disproved during my student rotation through vascular surgery.
Professor Atherosclerosis* was notoriously vicious, but in a very creepily calm way. He asked told me on our first academic rounds, to fetch a patient's angio from radiology "on the double!"
When I got to the lifts, all of them were on floor 6 & were heading downwards - one floor at a time. I decided (decision driven by terror) I could manage the 7 flights of stairs at a sprint. By now, I'm sure you can pick up on a trend. When the elevator circuitry left me in the lurch again, I decided the punishment of a 7 flight ascent was way more lenient than what Prof Ath could dish up, should I keep him waiting.
I arrived back at rounds both with the angio & living proof that a person can be both a pink-puffer & blue-bloater simultaneously.

Elevator Mentality
OK, so I have a few observations...
Myth 1 : the more you press the button, the faster the lift will arrive. If the elevator did indeed have some form of sentient circuitry (disproved-see above), it could perhaps be fooled into "thinking" there are lots of people on that certain floor & therefore give it priority.
Myth 2 : By pressing both the up & down buttons, your wait is shorter & reach your destination quicker. But put an idiot like you on every floor & you get 20 waypoints to your journey, which starts by heading in the opposite direction.
Myth 3 : If the light is already shining, you don't have to press the button again. The guy waiting before you did a good job of the button-pressing - the light confirms that he got it right.
Fact : The one hospital I currently work at, has an up & down button on the ground floor!

Murphy's Law
When you need the lift most, it will always be one floor away heading for the extreme altitudinal opposite.
The lift you are waiting for, will never come. A porter or cleaner has wedged an object (trolley, bucket, linen bag) in the door to keep the lift from leaving before they have completed their errands/duties on that floor.
When you give up waiting & take the stairs, you are still within earshot of the arriving lift, but too far away to make it back in a dignified manner.

Did You Ever Think?

...The people who can least afford to, use the lifts.
...There is a worse breed of human than those who take the lift up one storey! The type that take the lift down one storey.
...If the lift cable were to snap, you would jump up on the spot one second before impact.
...Look at the weight restriction plaque, glance around you & give a nervous giggle?

Elevator Storeys (pun intended)
One evening at a dinner party a few years on, I met up with a former Nuclear Medicine Registrar. We got chatting & reminiscing about good 'ole Alma Mater Academic Hospital when she asked if I remembered the one lift that didn't quite line up properly (it sagged about 10cm below the floor). I did, very clearly & was surprised when she admitted responsibility for the damage! Apparently, she had arrived super-early for her first day at work as a registrar. There was a patient who needed a bedside special investigation and she had planned to show her Professor how hard working she was by having everything prepared before he arrived. Instead of using the service lift, she wheeled one of the hulking nuclear imaging machines into an ordinary lift & stretched the cable. She tried the "look & see if anybody saw you - then leave quickly" tactic, but she couldn't pull the wheels over the step she had created. She said she scored a solid 10/10 on the Shit-First-Day-At-Work-O-Meter.

Dr Sanitary Pad*, superintendent of Sandwich Ham Hospital, had made the genial decision to move theatres back up to the top two floors. Due to the very reliable electricity supply in our country, it was decided that the lifts need not be connected to the back-up generator supply since the battery backup was sufficient... The ramifications during long power failures when the battery ran flat, ranged from humourous to most gravid indeed.
At the end of one day, I remember having a chuckle as the dialysis unit on the 3rd floor were taking patients down the stairs in wheelchairs (Come get dialysed now, we'll throw in one Powerplate Session absolutely FREE).
More serious though was getting emergency patients to theatre on stretchers up the stairs.
So as you can imagine, during times like this, the switchboard was jammed with calls needing urgent attention from Dr Sanitary Pad. I wonder if the problem ever got fixed.
One fine day, somebody got stuck in the lifts and was frantically ringing the emergency bell. As fate would have it, Dr Sanitary Pad was not available in his office & his cellphone was switched off. Typical! The eternal ostrich whenever there is a crisis!
But life can be sweet! When the doors of the lift were finally pried open about 2 hours on, there in the lift stood a one very red-faced Dr Sanitary Pad. My mind changed that day - I am now VERY content there is no cellphone reception in the lifts. Apparently his voicemail was inundated with very rude messages regarding his whereabouts during office hours & especially during the time of a crisis.


A good friend of mine (real not imaginary) once told me, she doesn't see the lift-frustration as a negative. While she runs about up & down the stairwell when oncall, she just thinks "calories, calories!".

*not his real name.


Bongi said...

brilliantly written.

where i studied we had 9 lifts distributed far away from each other but only one worked at a time. to get a p1 to theater in a hurry required sending various students to the various lifts to see which one worked. when a lift was identified they had to scream down the corridor that they had the working lift. i always wondered how the hospital managed to make sure all the lifts were broken except one.

purplesque said...

My favorite part is when the person next to the door keeps on hitting the number instead of the button next to the number, and then mutters about bad lifts.

rlbates said...

This could have been written for any county or city hospital in the good old USA. Elevator (lift) etiquette must transend country. Love your post.

Jade said...

You never dissapoint, funny post.
I'll admit to having at many times continuously jabbed @ an elevator button shouting "come on, come on . . . im late" hoping it would register the urgency of the trip but then again i and many other ppl have almost been floored by a door closing too early due to motion sensor malfunction - when hospital elevators fight back ;-)

Eish said...

bongi : lol, used that system too - works great. Discovered new system, send porter/student off to stand in a lift door 5 min before needed.
purplesque : ... and that "they don't make 'em like they used to"!
rlbates : May elevators across the globe unite us!!!
jade : must admit to doing the same on occasion - plus an expletive or two thrown in.