Sleep Technologists: Whether the Weather Shafts Your Shift
Recently, there was some debate whether or not to come to work during a severe snowstorm / ice storm. Given the time of year, it would be good to just look over some of the points that were brought up.
A sleep technologists is understandably upset that he has to come to work through a snowstorm when there is a possibility that no patients will even show up. He feels his safety is in jeopardy. He does have a point. Coming to work in a snowstorm not only puts the technologist's life at risk, it also puts the patient's safety at risk too, as well as other travelers on the road (in the case of a multi-vehicle crash).
So, let's just quickly draw up some pros and cons and then offer up some suggestions to resolve the matter.
Pros – why the sleep technologist should stay home.
As we just read, we have to take into consideration not just our safety, but also the safety of others on the road.
We also have responsibilities to our loved ones, our families, not to endanger our lives needlessly.
For the most part, sleep disorders, even moderately severe ones, will not be a life and death situation from one night to the next. As many people would suggest, the patient has slept this way for years, another night is unlikely to change things.
Sometimes, these snowstorms hit an area of the country that just are not used to seeing much snow or ice. Not only are the cities or counties unprepared (no snowplows, no salters, no sanders), but private cars may be ill equipped to handle even the slightest of slick conditions.
Cars may not start, leaving motorists (technologists or patients) stranded. Tire conditions are a factor, southern states are unlikely to even have heard of “winter tires”. Some drivers will run their “all seasons” bare. You never see a bald tire in the northern states or Canada because they are absolutely useless in the winter.
Finally, not only are the municipalities ill prepared, and the cars ill equipped, but the drivers themselves may be inexperienced with winter driving. This means, whereas a technologist in North Dakota may be prepared to drive through 6 inches of snow, another technologist in South Carolina may find driving in a half inch of snow treacherous.
An overlooked consideration: school closures. If a technologist is a parent of a small child, a school closure will mean that technologist may have stayed up to take care of their child rather than getting the rest needed. Not only does a sleepy sleep technologist make for a dangerous driver, but job performance is compromised.
Cons- why the technologist should come to work.
As unlikely as this may be, the employer may consider this a dereliction of duty and the technologist may be sanctioned or even fired. Whether rightly so or not, is of course a debate for another day.
As unlikely a scenario, it is possible that a severe event may happen at home that night, as a result of a sleep disorder. Although that is very unlikely, sometimes the waiting period to be seen at a sleep laboratory may be several months, and a missed appointment may only be made up several weeks later. A person with a serious and severe sleep disorder may not be affected in that one night, but what about waiting another week, another month, what about 2 months?
Sometimes, a sleep study is done to clear the way for surgery. A delay in the sleep study might delay the surgery. These delays might snowball so that the patient does not get the needed medical intervention for months.
Let's face it, sometimes (often) forecasters err on the side of caution, and they will predict worst-case scenarios. Many times, the storms are not as bad as first predicted. What might have seemed impassable, turns out to be just a minor nuisance.
Although not applicable to everyone, many sleep laboratories are accessible by public transit. Whereas the roads may be treacherous, a train or bus that is well equipped and well driven, may make the trip to work safer, albeit a little longer.
Remedies – what can you do about it?
The sleep laboratory should take the initiative and cancel patients and technologists. The decision to not come to work should be left to management, the onus should not be put on the technologist's shoulders.
The sleep laboratory should do it's best to accommodate the cancelled patients as soon as possible and when convenient for them.
Keep an emergency “grab bag” in the car in case you get stuck at work. Make sure it is OK with the employer to stay during the day in one of the beds in case you are snowed in at work.
Keep your car / equipment in good working order. That means, make sure the tires are in good condition and the batteries are adequate for winter driving. Even in the south, there is likely to be a day or two of some of that white stuff. Blankets, a candle, a flashlight, a cell phone are all things we should have at the ready in the car. Technologists in the northern states may even want to have a small shovel in the trunk too.
Stick to well-traveled roads. These tend to be plowed first, and in case something happens, there is a higher chance that someone will spot your trouble and send for help.
Give yourself PLENTY of time to get to work. Not only is traffic slower, but speeding even slightly will greatly increase your chances of getting into trouble.
Often, a technologist will be ordered to come to work because the patient will also be there; the patient refused to cancel. These situations will likely arise when a technologist lives far away and has to commute 30, 45, 60 minutes or longer to get to work, while the patient lives just down the street. In this case, the patient does not want to cancel and wait another month or two for another appointment.
Meanwhile the technologist has legitimate concerns for his or her safety in commuting such long distances in dangerous weather. If possible, the sleep laboratory should look into calling another sleep technologist who lives closer to work that night. Maybe even consider sending the patient to a rival sleep laboratory nearby if there is a spare bed.
Conclusion. As one person put it so succinctly: “If it is too bad, and you seriously think you might die, you should say “I cannot come in”. Worst case scenario, you can always find another job but you only have one life.”
In the immortal words of Sergeant Phil Esterhaus from the TV show Hill Street Blues “Hey, let's be careful out there.”
To learn more about what ails the sleep technologist or to improve your chops as a sleep technologist, be sure to register for this years sleep conference in Boston! Click the Register button below to get started.