Several weeks ago I was a volunteer at the hospital taking temperatures. My job was basic, not surgery, not complicated, no ventilators. The apparatus I used at the hospital is called a temporal thermometer. It takes a quick swipe across the temporal nerve (the middle of the forehead to below the curve of the ear). Like most things that are expensive, use alternative technology and lightening speed: it has drawbacks. The thermometer doesn’t like, sweat, humidity, condensation, glasses, earrings, or hair. It really does not like if you cycled or jogged to work or even if you walked across parking lot B. The infrared technology is fickle. It also does not care for alcohol. I do not mean a nicely salted margarita, bourbon on ice or a chilled chardonnay. I mean the tiny little pads of alcohol used to wipe down stethoscopes, thermometers, and the top of the sanitizer bottle (yes at the hospital we sanitized the sanitizer-which should make us all happy since you don’t really realize how many people touch the pump!).
I showed up to do my first shift a 4:45 am. My name was not on the excel list, but the list hadn’t been updated yet since administration had not arrived. I was dressed, caffeine induced and not leaving. I had my temperature taken, was asked a few pertinent questions and then a kind nurse told me she thought instead of standing at the ED door I would probably be most useful at another entrance to the the hospital where all staff had to be screened. That would be roughly 400 active medical personnel, 200 visiting staff, and 1700 others that include janitors, chefs and administration. Of course they are all not there on one day, but that leaves at least 200 people who must have their temperature taken to remain at work each shift.
This is good news.
Hospitals are not allowing anyone to come to work who has even the slightest hint of an infection. The bad news is temporal artery thermometers are quick but they prefer a faultless environment to be efficient. That perfect atmosphere means it is being operated one time every twenty minutes for a routine doctor visit. It does not mean taking over 200 temperatures between 6:47 and 7:03 am. As I mentioned alcohol also alters the reading. We were wiping, scouring, scrubbing and cleaning as fast as possible between each evaluation. I also live in Bend, Oregon: we can have 5 seasons in one day. It can be as low as 20 degrees before dawn and then 68 during the peak of sunshine: tell your forehand to make sense of that.
Due of the current shortage of bodies the labor pool can get sent down to take temperatures. The egocentric moment of this makes my thousands of dollars spent on medical terminology feel dismissed. However, anyone with a medical history or education must perform the oral temperatures.
On day 1 there were two people from bookkeeping, one from scheduling, an ER nurse who was called away and a phlebotomist (that is a person who draws and prepares blood for all types of testing). In the medical hierarchy the phlebotomist and I were at the top of the food chain. If anyone failed the first thermo scan we were instructed to take an oral temperature. Due to the speed and necessity of rapidly examining everyone for shift change it was too late before I was aware that I had no gloves, nor was I wearing a mask because they were being conserved for floor 2 (and you can imagine what is on floor 2). In less than a quarter of an hour on my first day of work I stuck my hand into over 50 mouths. I tired to make people laugh, tell them when they passed inspection that I was very conflicted because they were not good to go- but good to stay and even one charge nurse who was extremely agitated by my tenacious turtle tactics laughed when she finally passed and I confided I didn’t believe what they said about how cold blooded she was.
And then I was told not to come back. Stunned, I called my supervisor. Was it me? Was it that really grumpy surgeon who didn’t like my jokes? Was it because the organ guy (whose truck is very cold) had to wait until he warmed up while I delayed transplants? No- she assured me. They need to rotate the labor pool (accountants, schedulers, staff and security) to take temperatures. I understood. The frailty of our bodies and bank accounts is humbling.
I quarantined myself because I live with a cancer survivor who is compromised. Today, my 51st birthday (two weeks after my volunteer work) I evolve from the solitude with no fever or side effects. I compliment our local hospital: no one who entered the building, from the person who scrambled eggs to the man who delivered organs was allowed past the sentinels.
The virus reminds me of the world of the Red Queen when she says to Alice in Wonderland, “you have to run as fast as you can just to stay in the same place.”