I was the only one on the ward at the time, and when the rep showed me how to work it, I became the de facto expert. My street-cred went up like a rocket, and from being the lowest of the low in the pecking order, I was launched into the stratosphere, and bestrode the hospital like a pudgy, prematurely balding colossus.
Not a day would pass without me getting an urgent call because the machine was honking in distress. Usually it was something ridiculously simple, but for the sake of my reputation, I always put on a proper theatrical show for my audience; thoughtful expression, furrowed brow, twiddling knobs and pressing buttons like I was splitting the atom.
As a bonus I used to throw in a bit of implied criticism of my colleagues. Nothing too overt, just a subtle tut-tut, a raising of a laconic eyebrow, or occasionally, ‘You mean they haven’t calibrated it?’ Undermining other junior doctors was an essential ingredient of career progression in those days; what fun we had.
If the audience was sufficiently gullible, which was pretty often, I’d throw in a few cryptic remarks about oxygen saturation or CO2levels.
Oddly, the more senior the audience, the easier the sell. The consultants were dear old chaps; they meant well, bless their little hearts, but they were utterly baffled by the advance of science.
‘When you see the red light blinking,’ I’d explain patiently (because I was always taught to humour old folks), ‘that means the machine is on.’
‘It’s wonderful,’ old Bonzo would say, scratching his head in bewilderment.
And it was also a brilliant excuse for skiving off work. If there was an influx of admissions, while everyone else was busy as bees, I’d be found on the machine, doing the knob thing and inspecting print-outs with magisterial diligence.
On the last day, I had to choose my successor; I spotted him at once, chewing gum morosely at the back of the orientation class. There’s a likely lad, I thought, he could do with a leg-up.
‘Use this gift wisely, grasshopper,’ I told him.