Just Remember: “Never Lower Tilly’s Pants”

Vol. 18 •Issue 16 • Page 14
Rays from the past

Just Remember: “Never Lower Tilly’s Pants”

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of articles highlighting technologists’ experiences in the early days of radiology. If you would like to submit your own story, e-mail Associate Editor Sarah Long at slong@merion.com.

The learning process in 1965 at Easton Hospital in Easton, Pa., began the moment I stepped into my first X-ray exam room. In order to attain radiology knowledge, you had to keep your eyes wide open and your brain on high alert.

The freshmen learned from the senior students’ mistakes and accomplishments, and assisted by handing technicians different sizes of film cassettes needed for a particular body part. When the first day was over, all I could seem to remember was that two of the largest cassettes were needed for a chest X-ray. The rest would come with time and repetition. My name became “gopher” because I was always going for this or that. It was the only way to find out and then remember where the extras, such as the indispensable adhesive tape and sandbags were stored.

I recall searching for a bedpan and, in my haste, dropping it in the hallway. My face became a lovely shade of red as the bedpan made a loud clanging sound. At least it was a reassuring signal to the patient and everyone else that I was on my way.

One of my first duties was learning the extremely important process of film identification. Each patient was given a letter and number, and each year was represented by a different letter.

For example, on Jan. 1, the first patient X-rayed would be identified as “A 01.” If the patient had a previous number and letter from a past year, it was changed to the new one on his report and film file folder.

Each exam room had a little metal black box with slots for the radiolucent numbers 0-9 and the letter for the year. Each morning, I would make an adhesive tape with the date and letter, and add the different number for each patient. This would be placed on each film used for his exam.

Who can forget searching for hours through log sheets trying to figure out to which patient a film belonged if a mistake was made with the number or date? If my memory is correct, back then Easton Hospital did not identify its location anywhere on the actual X-ray film.

Class in session

Three textbooks were purchased for classes–one on anatomy and physiology, one on physics and one on anatomy positioning. Classes were held one afternoon a week in a little coffee room with the six students sitting on an old leather couch and chairs.

There were only two radiologists employed by the hospital. The chief radiologist taught the anatomy course. The “boss,” as we called him, would hang up an X-ray on a single viewbox and we would take turns answering questions as he pointed to different areas. I knew I had the wrong answer if he glared over his glasses at me, slowly took his pipe out of his mouth and said, “Carol Stemetzki,” using my full name just like my parents used to when I was in trouble. If you didn’t get it, he scared it into you.

As time progressed, we reviewed the human body bone by bone and later added in the bodily systems. We had a mnemonic device to remember the wrist bones of navicular, lunate, triquetrum, pisiform, greater multangular, lesser multangular, capitate and hamate: “Never lower Tilly’s pants, mother might come home.”

The associate radiologist taught the physics course. He would read the chapters straight out of the book in a monotone voice. The first thing I learned in his class was that coffee was my friend.

The benefits of caffeine would stick with me for the rest of my career. It was just what the doctor ordered to keep my “peepers” open when working nights and double shifts. Gone were the days of an A&P tea bag sitting on the kitchen table to be used over and over for a whole week.

The chief technician taught positioning whenever he had time from all his other duties. Mostly, we ended up using the book as a reference. We would practice on each other without ever actually taking a film.

A place of bliss

Learning the medical jargon was like being a stranger in a strange land. I felt like I was learning to spell, pronounce and learn the meaning of words all over again, like acronyms such as STAT and ASAP. What is the difference between diagnosis and prognosis? Who ever heard of Paget’s disease and sarcoidosis? Which is the correct spelling, “orthopedic” or “orthopaedic”? Try to say spondylolisthesis three times fast. How about the first time you tried to decipher the writing on a doctor’s slip? It seemed as if it was all learned by osmosis, just by living it day by day.

The new medical language changed my life forever. If I heard someone had broken his leg, I would think, fracture, tibia or fibula? Inner would forever be medial and outer, lateral.

At the end of the day, no one needed a health club after eight hours of lugging heavy cassettes, pushing a portable as big as a refrigerator and racing up six flights of stairs to the operating room.

Instead, the six of us would squeeze into a Rambler with big fins and automatic transmission push buttons on the left side of the dashboard.

We would head down the “strip” of Northampton Street to the downtown circle, and continue over the bridge to Phillipsburg, N.J. There, we would find our place of bliss: Jimmy’s Hot Dog Stand. We would sit on the Delaware River bank and munch on our tasty rewards. My mind saturated with new radiology knowledge, I found myself thinking like Scarlett O’Hara: “After all, tomorrow is another day!”

Carol Geyer retired to Port Charlotte, Fla., in 2003, after 35 years in the radiology profession.

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