Hip sucking parasites: beepers

Ah, the relief that I felt!

When I took it off of my belt

     It was only a slip

     When it fell from my hip

And on the pieces of beeper I knelt

I hate beepers.  I’ve never liked them, even back in the 70’s when carrying one made you look important. 

My father was a doctor before cell phones and beepers.  If we went anywhere, immediately on arrival he would call his answering service and tell them where he could be reached.

I got my first beeper as a third year med student.  All the beepers in town looked and sounded the same, and if one went off in a group of doctors, everyone would grasp at their belt or pocket.  They had a button on top that would generate a white noise if you pushed it, to signal that the apparatus functioned.  Young and nervous at the time, we kept hitting the test button.  The second time I ran the battery down before the end of the day I quit testing so often even if I wanted to.

The pager issued to me as a Family Practice resident in Casper, Wyoming had its own phone number, accessible directly by telephone.  Back then touch tone phones remained a novelty and cell phones existed out of the price range of most doctors.  I carried dimes for a pay phone.  I carried my beeper all the time and started calling it a hip sucking parasite.

When I was in the Indian Health Service in New Mexico, I carried a pager even when I didn’t have call.  The hospital had its own radio tower, and the hospital operators knew its many quirks.  The era’s primitive battery technology resulted in a battery that would not hold a charge if you kept the beeper in the charger without running it down regularly.  I conscientiously rotated the battery out every morning.  A lot of the support staff carried their beepers rarely, the batteries lost their discipline, and on the weekends I lent out my beeper.  Gladly.  A pager then had neither memory nor visual text capability.  The most common message was “Please call the operator.”

When I came into private practice in 1987, my pager had a digital read out and would remember 18 messages.  It was powered with a NiCad battery that needed replacement about every seven years, and it came with a charger.  It was next to impossible to read in certain lighting situations, and the vibrate option quit working after seven months.  It lasted sixteen years, and it died it so outdated as to be unfixable.  By then I had a cell phone, as did most docs, but I carried a beeper anyway.

The next pager, a lot smarter, 14 options for alerts, an internal clock, and an alarm.  Still hard to read when the angle of the light was wrong, it worked well on vibrate. 

In the last ten weeks, in a series of shockingly Freudian slips, I’ve dropped and broken three of the hip sucking parasites.  One of those drops was from 18 inches onto a padded floor, but it still broke. I dropped a fourth one but it didn’t break.

Beepers or pagers will soon be a thing of the past; cell phones are taking their places.  They stand up better when they fall.  Or get pushed.


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