Engineers, can you solve this?

I like to tease my engineer friends with jokes like: An engineer was trying to figure out how to solve his constipation problem, but luckily he was able work it out with a pencil. Engineers can be the worst patients. They ask a zillion questions to understand their heart problem, and then they start managing their own medications, as if their heart problem is some DIY product. You'd think Home Depot would have its own Cardiology section.

But while I may tease and harass engineers any chance I can, I will secretly acknowledge here that we need engineers because they are great problem fixers. Especially when it involves design flaws.

So I'm sending a call out to all engineers to solve some glaring hospital design flaws that have made my life hell for the past 23 years.

Take the hospital bedside table whose base has a steel Y on rollers that fits under the bed, and then an angular C-like structure holds the table over the patient. When the rails are up, the table is too high to eat off. Because the Steel Y base on the bottom gets caught on the bed undercarriage and wheels, the only way to get it out of the way (say, when I need to examine a patient or when the patient needs to go to the bathroom — something that happens with no little urgency because of all the diuretics I prescribe) is to push it towards the head of the bed, jamming it into the patient's chest to free up the bottom and then roll it aside. And since it becomes a natural resting place for all things a hospitalized patient needs, for most male patients it simultaneously serves as the dinner table as well as the place to put the urine jug. At least someone had the good sense to design the shape of a urine jug to be noticeably different from a beer mug.

And while engineers are not necessarily fashionistas, there are a lot of clothing design flaws that even the most style-challenged engineer could surely fix.

Take the hospital johnny. Typically, these pajamas open up in the back, which makes them hard for someone who has even a mild amount of arthritis or surgical pain to tie closed. And since doctors are constantly telling their patients to get up and walk, more mooning goes on every day on hospital wards than it does on school buses on the last day of school. Trying to have Mrs. Smith learn to use her walker is hard enough, but having her learn to walk and prevent her buttocks from peeping out of her johnny takes acrobatic skill.

Or what about surgical scrubs? The drawstring to the pants is made out of cloth that is a bit fuzzy. To do a heart catheterization, I wear a lead apron that closes with velcro over my scrubs. I can't tell you how many times I have caught the drawstring to my pants in the velcro and unwittingly pulled the tied loop-knot holding my pants up while closing the velcro skirt. I think every cath lab in every country has had the problem of someone's scrub pants falling to his or her ankles while doing a cardiac catheterization for just that reason.

So to all you engineers out there, I send you these challenges. So get out your mechanical pencils and start working it out!


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