Monday, November 19, 2007

Fire Drill

It was a clinic day like any other - seeing too many patients in too little time. But remarkably, today I was on time, efficiently finishing with one patient and moving seemlessly to the next. It was poetry in motion - an accomplishment rarely achieved these days in the clinic.

I had just completed examining a patient and asked our nurse to assist with an EKG while I obtained headed outside to check on the next patient. The poor thing was disrobed when it happened.

Brrrrrring. Brrrrrrring. Brrrrrrrrrring. Brrrrrrrring.

What the...?

Brrrrrring. Brrrrrrring. Brrrrrrrrrring. Brrrrrrrring.

It was deafening.

I looked down the hall of the clinic and a sea of humanity slowly emptying into the halls. Disbelief surrounded us. The office manager looked perplexed and slightly anxious.

"I think it's the real thing," she whispered.

"Really? Damn. To think I was finally on time." She smiled and glaced toward the clinic exit as if to say, "You too, chump."

We checked each room. My patient was getting clothed again and shuffled out the door, somewhat excited at the prospect of finally adding some entertainment to her day.

"Isn't this exciting?" she exclaimed.

"Move along Ms. Jones," I said. Her Parkinsonian shuffle hastened toward the stairwell just outside our clinic. My eyes caught my colleague's gaze and they rolled upward, exasperated.

And then it dawned on me. A hoard of individuals were patiently waiting for the all-to-narrow stairwell to clear as an elderly man supported by a nurse and a doctor struggled to descend the stairs. The doctor held the man's armpit in one hand and his folded walker in the other. One slow step at a time. Step by painful step. My clinical acumen lept to action - no smell of smoke was detected. Patience. Patience. I looked behind me. Eyes glared. It was as if I was caught in Chicago's E2 niteclub disaster or decending the stairs from the World Trade Center before it collapsed. I tried to smile back. No one seemed amused. The pace was glacial. Finally after descending two floors, the old man touched down on the ground floor. People scurried past.

The fire department arrived, their flame-retardant jackets, fire-hoses and oxygen tanks in tow. They swam upstream to the sounding alarm location. Two seconds later: "All clear! Just a broken switch! Joe, call dispatch."

We shuffled back to clinic, this time taking the elevator and remembering.

No one said a word.


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