Wednesday, October 30, 2013

microscopic crafts

A Saturday shopping adventure in Melbourne with my friend Mimi brought us to a cabinet of medical curiosities, tucked away in the magical Nicholas Building. Anno Domni Home is filled with sculptures which celebrate the beauty in the macabre. My favourite, some petri dishes of micro-organisms, made from hospital blankets.

There are also embroideries, felted body parts and other stitched objects which will fascinate anyone with a medical or scientific interest. Considering that Mimi and I bonded in medical school over dissection classes, sewing and imagining microbiology lecture slides as fabric patterns, it is no wonder that our wanderings brought us to this crafty cave. Watch out for an exhibition next year by this clever artist.

Image from Anno Domini Home blog, used with kind permission of Andrew Delaney.

Friday, October 25, 2013

invisible tubes

It is amazing how well pneumatic tube systems can be camouflaged: they are the embossed wallpaper of hospital ceilings and walls, there only if you look for them. I have spent three and a half months now in a hospital in Melbourne doing fieldwork about listening and sounds in medicine (see more details here). It seems I have had my ears out more than my eyes! For it has only be recently that I've spotted evidence of the hospitals' pneumatic tube system, in the emergency department.

A few emails later and I am being taken on a tour of the system by Scott, Operations Manager in the Pathology department. Scott takes me into the central pathology lab first, the hub of the system, where specimens are delivered and processed. As we talk a few capsules come flying in from ED. That is one point-to-point track in the system, the other heading to ICU and the private hospital. Someone is there nearby to organise the capsules, empty their contents and send back the tubes to where they came from. This system is all about pathology - no medical records or pharmaceutical items are transported.

The tour continues and we visit the plant room, walk corridors with tubes overhead, and visit the outpatients' department and the haematology department. In the haematology department, blood products, requests, visitors and capsules whizz by. As a trauma hospital, this lab works 24/7, the capsules arriving day and night, needing urgent attention. The outpatients' pathology department is less frenetic but no less busy - as many as 150 - 200 blood samples can be taken here a day.

We walk back to Scott's office and talk over some plans for future pneumatic tube systems in the new pathology department in the hospital, and the challenges of integrating systems from different hospitals, some quite some distance away. The plans are at the concept phase, the system one of possibility at the moment. I leave the pathology department and follow the corridors back to the main entrance. This time the sounds I pay attention to are not the coughs and beeps, but rather the rumble of pneumatic tube capsules overhead.

Photos are my own.

Friday, October 18, 2013

fairy deliveries by pneumatic post

NPR reported recently on one very cool dad who made a pneumatic tube transportation system for sending teeth to the tooth fairy. See the video here. I love that a second-hand iphone is used for the sending station. So many fun possibilities from this!

Friday, October 11, 2013

pneumatic tube factour tour part three: testing room

Time to return to our tour of the German pneumatic tube factory. We have left the workshop and now enter the showroom and testing room. The showroom takes up one side of the room and the testing room the other. The rooms are completely interlaced with a web of pneumatic tube systems.

Along the walls are an array of different sending stations, with bottom loading, top loading and front loading mechanisms. Some have baskets below, with pillows in them. There is a desk with two very large computer screens, one showing the journeys of tubes, the other looks to me to be utterly indecipherable code. Tubes cover the ceiling and it is hard to see where one leads or another, like a mathematical puzzle in pale purple plastic. 

One of the engineers takes me to a sending station and sends off a tube. He puts in a capsule and it whizzes off – then there is a click – he is waiting for this, and the tube is returned – he says that the click tells you when to expect the tube back. My host Karin tells me that the showroom is used to show clients what they could expect from a model, what features they may want. The systems can be tailored to the client's request. 

There are many different systems in this room, which can be tailored in order to meet the material and social conditions of their new home. It is fascinating to see all the tubes and systems on show like this, and all the tinkering that takes place, by the engineers and others on the factory floor.

Next instalment of the tour: pneumatic tube maintenance.

Photographs my own.