Saturday, April 02, 2005


beeps and boops and things that go bump in the night

When I was a small boy and visited the hospital I was in awe of the gentle silence that prevailed. The signs on the street outside the hospital admonished "SSHHHHH!!! Quiet! Hospital Zone" The nurses glided silently down the halls in their crepe soled shoes. There was a gentle, restful, peaceful, quiet. The nurses smiled and talked in hushed tones. The very air felt quiet.

Around 1970 the BEEP was invented. Electronic devices were introduced into the medical world and have become ubiquitous. Every vital sign and activity is monitored and every variation is marked by a bleep, beep, boop, or incessant EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! It is often hard to tell what each noise means among the cacophony: is it the IV line that is malfunctioning and sounding the alarm... or the patient's heart?

The beeping is so everpresent that the nurses become immune and are likely to allow the beeping to continue for minutes or even hours before checking the cause and attending to the "alarming" situation. Savvy patients watch how the nurse silences a device's alarm and then they silence it before the nurse arrives and thus the averse situation is never noted.

But the beepbleepboops are not the only noise pollution in the modern hospital. The culture of quiet has gone, so doctors and nurses and hospital staff speak loudly and a lot. There is no more SSHHHHHHH!

But the most disturbing sounds are the sounds of construction. Thirty years or more ago, a decade would elapse before there would be a renovation or new construction in a hospital. Today, construction and renovation is continuous. There is no day that the jackhammers are not demolishing and the drills are not whining in some part of the hospital. Is progress (er... "progress") so swift today that the physical plant is always in a state of change and expansion?

I believe that quiet was better and that we have lost a valuable piece of the healing arts in our noisy hospital world.

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