Friday 19 August 2022

A Clinical Job by Sally Storr, decaffeinated coffee with oat milk


A clinical job

Decaffeinated coffee with oat milk

First day at work Addenbrookes’ Hospital 1 June 2060

Birdie is male today.  The work uniform suits either gender anyway.  It’s quite smart, but more to the point very comfortable to work in. Birdie likes the green and white stripe as it looks clinical but cool.  The brand-new tunic top and trousers smell delicately of lavender. The scent is designed to calm the patients. This new fabric is amazing – it’s waterproof and you can switch from heated to ventilated with the dial on the left sleeve.  He doesn’t need to visit the toilet all day if he’s busy due to the built-in “nappy channel”.  Great for saving time, not quite so good when you’re stuck with a pooh for hours on end.  But at least the deodoriser means you don’t stink too much.

Birdie is a bit nervous and wondering whether he should go for his female identity today – she’s sometimes a bit more resilient -he knows it will be a long day, but he has prepared his lunch and snack for break time and will be able to get as many hot herbal energy teas as he likes from the catering robot. His food is in tablet form to save time and allow him to claim an extra hour’s pay: one large green tablet is vegan protein with herb seasonings, a smaller pink one is strawberry and yoghurt delight, and he has two nut bars for a chewy change of texture. He has these packed into his beeswax carrier. The hospital management really don’t care whether staff have a break or not – they are purely there to get the work done. No problem – Birdie doesn’t need to love this job.

Birdie enters the towering glass building through automized gates and passes quickly through the security x-ray which beeps a calming musical note to reflect he is good to go. He’s not hiding any drugs or weapons and has showered effectively enough with the anti-bacterial cleanser provided.

He helps himself to the obligatory hygienic face mask and the guard points out the PPE he needs to cover himself with.  Dazzling white, close-fitting gauzy overall with a hoodie and matching gloves. Once his mask and spectacles are on there really isn’t much left to distinguish him as a human being but that suits the environment.

The glass walls are smoked in different colours according to the medical units but there are also aromatherapy scents which change according to area for the sight impaired.  The corridors are long with moving pavements sectioned off down the middle for patients who have difficulty walking. An array of robots crowds the space – cleaners, work monitors, chaperones, all differing shapes, and sizes according to their function.

He knows his way round the hospital – at least his section, having completed his training there – and can always bring up the private GPS on his phone if he needs it.  His mobile is super thin but can be extended to A4 size if you need to see the map in greater detail.  If you zoom in on an area such as the sterilizer unit, it brings up data about its size, how full it is, when it’s going to be emptied, who oversees it etc which can be useful.

Birdie is working alone today.  There are 12 infectious infants on the ward aged between 2 and 5 years old.  They are in pods which consist of comfortable softly furnished beds with a transparent roof and sides so that Birdie can check them. He has a bino (binocular accessory) on his phone which means he can see into the pods from the far end of the ward without having to approach the child and excite them.

It’s nearly 8am so the Night-duty nurse is leaving.

“Hi Birdie, good luck on your first day.  I’ve sent all the notes- nothing exceptional apart from Pod 4.  He’s the one with nasty blisters all over him.  He’s crying a bit so maybe you could have a chat.“

“A chat? Really” This is frowned upon generally, but Birdie hears a gentle sobbing from Pod 4.  It’s easier not to call the children by their names as you don’t want to get too close.  It’s a lot better for everyone to treat them as numbers.  Emotional support is provided by Zoom on ï-pads and they can talk to their mum and dad whenever they want to.  They also have as many soft toys as they want and other comforts such as cushions, hot water bottles and blankets so they’ve got nothing to complain about. They get fed 3 times a day – superfoods mainly to protect their health.

Pod 4 is distraught.  He looks bad too.  Blisters cover his face and Birdie can see some poking out from the top of his pyjamas and at his ankles where his trousers end so he clearly has them all over his body.

“Hey there, I’m Nurse 4 – same number as you!  Are you hungry or thirsty?” This is all Birdie is allowed to offer.

Pod 4 can’t speak though he tries to do so as he sobs.

Birdie feels odd.  He didn’t think there would be any social contact with the patients – especially on the first day on the ward. He can feel some negative emotions kicking in.   He wonders whether to use a Chatbot to the Nursing team to ask what to do.

“What’s your name?” he asks.  This is highly risky behaviour, but it somehow slips out.

“Bobby”, says the boy, his speech punctuated by crying.  Tears are running down his face now.

“I want Mummy”, he almost screams.  Birdie is fearful that children in the other pods might hear but remembers that they are each soundproofed.

“I’d better fetch a doctor”, he says and clicks a red button at the ward door.

“Emergency! Emergency” A wail of sirens sounds up and increases in volume until you can’t hear yourself breath, let alone speak.

Two tall, narrow robodocs approach. They are almost human in size and shape but without arms or legs and heads. They ask for the pod number and the nature of the emergency.

“He wants his mummy.  He’s got blisters.” Birdie manages to blurt out.  He probably shouldn’t have pressed the button.  He should be able to deal with “emotive matters” as part of his job description.

The robodocs take one look at the boy and turn to go.

“He’s only got a rash.  Your job – not ours”.

Birdie wonders if this really is the job for him.  He thought it would be easy.  He was only ten minutes into the job on the first day.


About the author 

 Sally Storr is qualified as a psychologist and works as a coach. She has always been equally fascinated by human behaviour and by figures from literature. She’s been writing all her life but especially enjoys writing about quirky situations. It makes a nice change from studying real people. 
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