Both the flies doing a holding pattern in the air and I wearily eyed the cheeseburger of indeterminate age that I had just bought in the hospital cafeteria and sat down to eat in the break room. The burger was not my first choice as my shift began at 11:00pm, I had a real taste for something green and healthy that night but after cruising the cafeteria salad bar the brown, kelp-like lettuce on display pretty much killed that inclination. If something had to be brown, the burger was the correct choice with the dark color providing camouflage for anything else lurking inside. I really couldn't argue about the situation, what the cafeteria offers during the day is marginal at best with the leftovers refrigerated for those poor souls tasked to keep things going during the night. Having slept through supper back home, along with not making any sandwich to bring with me I had only one real choice if I wanted to quiet my growling stomach. But like it is said in college dorms, army mess halls and roadside diners across the world, the application of enough ketchup can hide a multitude of sins as well as any other organism providing that little bit of extra protein.
Just as I was about to resign myself to the questionable culinary fare in front of me and the late night heartburn that would follow all hell broke loose with the hospital fire alarm system going into spasms. Intense strobes lights and high-pitched alarms went off sending the new night shift mechanical dude and me racing to the security office to get some idea of the situation we faced. After Jake and I sprinted to the security office, we arrived just in time to see the watch officer jump up to change the channel on the television from ESPN to something on the TV Land cable network. While music filled the air lamenting the sad fate of the Minnow and its three-hour tour Jake, Stan the night electrician, and me the late night biomed tech huddled around the fire alarm screen trying to figure out what fire sensor had tripped along if it was a real event or a false alarm.
Most other places this would be very simple set of problems to isolate and eliminate allowing us to return to our normal nightly duties, but not for us. See where I work we have two fire alarm systems. The old one was installed back in the 1990's and the new one just in the last six months and like some bickering married couple, the two systems cannot stand each other. It is not an uncommon occurrence to have one system detect something that will send the other into a hissy fit in some sort of silicon based one-upmanship. You might be wondering why would we have two competing fire detection systems? If your first thought was that we are keeping the old one to have a backup system in case the new one goes down you would be absolutely and totally wrong. For reasons that are above my pay grade and ultimate concern the hell bound combination of bean counters and shysters are preventing the old system from being fully disconnected, which was the reason for the recent upgrade in the first place. The two systems are still cross-connected enough that when a sensor conflict occurs my coworkers and I have to run to every sensor reporting an issue and visibly check them.
From the get-go, we knew that we had a false alarm. With the dozens of sensors reporting fires, one of them being the sensor in the security office itself, but Jake and I still had to run the hospital checking them while Stan stayed back to say nice and comforting things to the disgruntle systems in an attempt to calm them down. Now regulations state that Jake and I are suppose to forgo the elevators for the stairs at times like those but don't get upset with me if I go ahead and say that rule goes over like a submarine with a screen door for us. We have far too much ground to cover to worry about little things like elevator failure and the resulting death by smoke inhalation during a real fire.
For the first hour, Jake and I did not have any problems finding then resetting the sensors hanging down from the ceiling. They more or less look like coffee cups and have two little lights on either side that normally blink when the fire systems are behaving. As we arrived on a floor, Jake would take one side of the building and I the other looking for the tripped sensors. The fun came for Jake when he had to run into the female shower area on the fourth floor and negotiate around a couple of nurses that had picked that time to have a shower. After he called me on the radio to tell me about it I made a mental note to pull seniority the next time we have a false alarm and take that side of that particular floor to reset sensors.
My warm and fuzzy adventure occurred in an empty patient's room while standing on a chair trying to reach a sensor that was a little too high up. Even with the chair I was having to go on my tip-toes to reach the reset and the thought passed through my tiny brain right then that if I lost my balance or the chair broke I would be a fine example of Darwin's law that the dumb tend to weed themselves out of the gene pool. But no, I jumped off the chair in one piece only to find the cutest little old lady standing at the open door with a curious look on her face. Just as I was about to introduce myself she raised her cane and started walking toward me squeaking something about being in her room. Luckily the nurse who had been accompanying the little old lady on her late night walk and had only stepped away to assist another nurse for a second quickly stormed in saving me from having my ass kicked.
Now things did improve for me, another hour went by with Stan finally providing enough marital counseling to silence the bickering alarms sending a wave of relief through the hospital as well as the firefighters that had answered the alarm and had to remain on station until everything was cleared out. They had taken up residence in the cafeteria with the staff providing free coffee and donuts, which the firefighters were using to polish and scrub their axes. My break occurred when I found the last fire sensor I had to reset; it was located in one of the surgeon lounges. Normally forbidden for anyone else to enter I had a fully justified reason to go inside a place I have never been before but had heard countless rumors about.
Once inside I was awed at the line of expensive recliners in front of a truly massive plasma television. Behind them were two very comfortable couches that just screamed at me to lie down and take a nap. On the counter in the far corner of this Shangri-La was some sort of gourmet coffee maker and the pot sitting under it offered up a sensual aroma that hinted at a steamy Jamaican tropical night. The lounge was empty at that moment but I knew some surgeon could return at any minute forcing me out like Adam getting the boot from Eden. Still though I had one opportunity I could not pass up, inside a small refrigerator with a glass door I saw rows of croissant sandwiches, cans of sodas, and fancy cookies. Thinking about as fast as I can manage I grabbed a turkey and Swiss sandwich, a couple of sodas, and as many cookies as I could carry and hightailed it back down to the break room.
Back downstairs I found my abandoned cheeseburger, which even the resident flies were ignoring, and enjoyed my very late supper wondering when I would be lucky enough for another false alarm to occur. I figure I have anywhere from two to three months and as long as I can avoid cane-wielding old ladies I should be set.