Friday, May 13, 2011

Pager alarms

I'm sure in the near future, communication with physicians will take place through iPhones, and that will be an eventual segue into communication via, like, microchips in the brain. But for the time being, I still have a pager.

In medical school, I had to pay for my own pager while I was at the university hospital. We had to rent it through some company, and I was SO excited to have my very own pager. I think I got five pages the whole year and most of those were joke pages from friends paging me to 911 or something.

When I was at the community hospital, they provided us with text pagers. I got a good amount of pages, although the vast majority were mass text messages telling me about a conference I was already at, or saying, "This is a test."

It wasn't until intern year that I got a genuine pager (sometimes two) that I hated with every fiber of my being.

Most pagers these days can be set to a variety of different alarm sounds. I would cycle through them, trying to find the least objectionable. There was the standard loud and annoying beep, which made me sick to my stomach. There was a muted version of this, which I couldn't always hear. There was vibration mode, which I never ever heard.

A lot of residents chose to set their pager alarms to different tunes. Some of these were recognizable songs. One resident had her alarm set to the Godfather theme and one to the theme music from Love Story. But the most baffling thing to me was that several residents set their pager alarm to sound like the Happy Birthday song.

I guess the logic is that the Happy Birthday song evokes good memories, so perhaps making your alarm sound like that will make getting pages less unpleasant. However, I think it's just the opposite. I think the unpleasantness of getting paged all the freaking time for years on end would overwhelm any happy memories from the birthday song.

I just imagine a large group of physicians who now feel physically ill every time they're at a birthday party.

I usually opted for an unrecognizable tune or the loud, annoying beep. I figured that the pages were annoying already, so may as well have the sound be annoying.

These days I allow my pager to make a more muted beeping sound. I still jump and feel ill whenever I hear my pager go off, although generally the only times I get paged are the happy occasions when a surgeon finally decides to return my call. I wonder if I'll ever lose that Pavlovian response?


  1. Text messages over smartphones (Android, iOS, blackberry) would seem convenient, but signals through large hospital complexes are unreliable and there is no repository of pages through a hospital system for QA and for legal.

    It is possible that those features could be had with a hospital corporate account, but it would be extremely expensive, on the order of 2000 x $600 smartphones, including $70/month plans. Pagers are considerably less expensive and more reliable. And, if it falls in the toilet or you lose it, replacement costs are less.

  2. The day I left clinical medicine and got rid of my pager is one of the happiest in my life!

  3. Yeah, our pager sounds were various "pleasing tones". I still get pager tachycardia. I wrote about it here:

  4. I first learned about the concept of pager as "box of tears" from your blog. And I could *not* stop laughing in that what-a-sick-joke-i-kind-of-have-mild-PTSD-from-my-pager kind of way when I hit the part about some of your co-residents setting their pagers to ring with the Happy Birthday tune.

    At least I've learned to respond calmly when I get 4 back-to-back pages in 70 seconds. Half of them are for easy tasks or things I would never in a million years do (e.g., D/C the attending Surgeon's personal order for a standard on-call-to-the-OR drug for a patient I'm only covering and know nothing about b/c the nurse is concerned that no one told her the patient is having a procedure).