Flashback to the late 1970s, when this IT pilot fish's team has just gone live with a custom hospital management system, complete with order entry for the nurse stations.
But user acceptance is, um, mixed. "There are the normal complaints from the nurses -- 'I became a nurse so I wouldn't spend my days typing as a secretary,'" says fish. "And our nights were frequently interrupted with calls that required the on-call tech to come in and turn on the monitor at the nurse station when 'the computer does not work.'"
After an overhaul of nightly processing, things get better, at least in theory -- the overhaul has cut batch runtime from eight hours to about two. Fish's team notifies nursing that the system is available for nurses to enter orders starting at 2 a.m., rather than deferring the work to the morning shift that arrives at 6 a.m.
But the nursing supervisor keeps beating up fish's boss during staff meetings over the system not being available at night.
To relieve the problem, fish's team works up a way for the system to put a simple message on each nurse-station terminal, once nightly processing is done, that the system is up and available. Problem solved -- in theory. But the complaints about the system being unavailable continue.
Then one tech decides to experiment with reverse video on the black-and-white dumb terminals. He reprograms the "System Up" message to alternate between black lettering on a white background with the usual white on black, making the message flash. The nurse can hit any key to stop the flashing, thus acknowledging that the system is up and available. Problem solved again -- in theory.
But that night, fish's boss gets a furious call from the nursing supervisor at 2 a.m. It seems the nurse in intensive care turns lights down at her station every night after the patients are asleep. When the terminal in the unit began flashing, her dark station began flashing from dark to full light as well -- and that's an unwanted bit of a shock in the ICU.
"All other stations were having the same issues," fish says. "Obviously, the day shift had not passed on the word that the new feature was there for that night.
"We reprogrammed the 'System Up' message the next day to a more nurse-friendly message, complaints from the nursing supervisor were reduced, and the unnamed programmer was honored with several rounds at the local bar for his efforts."
Sharky's staying up late to watch for your true tale of IT life. Send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You'll score a sharp Shark shirt if I use it. Add your comments below, and read some great old tales in the Sharkives.
Get your daily dose of out-takes from the IT Theater of the Absurd delivered directly to your Inbox. Subscribe now to the Daily Shark Newsletter.