• ashirk@gmail.com
  • Kijabe, Kenya
on cleaning. . .

on cleaning. . .

So the last 3 days, we have been preparing to move into our new NICU (tomorrow!). We have equipment from various decades in various states of repair or disrepair, and I wanted to take this opportunity to really clean and repair it before moving it into our shiny new NICU space. Our biomedical team is amazing at keeping things working, but sometimes I think we get used to it all looking less than perfect. Tomorrow’s move is a once in a decade opportunity to make things feel new again.

Last Friday, I spent 4 hours in the afternoon with our housekeeping team scrubbing 4 incubators – removing every bit of tape residue, every build up piece of rust, every old sticker, and removing dirt from every nook and every cranny (and there are A LOT). Every time we would think we were done, we would find another crack – and the more clean it got, the more the remaining dirt stood out. Altogether, it took 3 a cumulative 20 hours of work to restore them to nearly new looking. It was 45 degrees outside, so we had jackets and scarves, but it was all worth it when Pauline walked out and said “Wow, they look pristine. . . ” The mom’s walked back and forth past where we were, encouraging and chuckling at why I was out there in the cold.

Today, we finished rounds and I looked at my team of 18 people that were rounding with me – and we decided to finish the job. We had 6 more incubators, 3 resuscitates, 15 pumps, and 5 cots to clean. We started at 11 am and every one of us worked until 4:30 pm. We had washrags, and gauze and 4 kinds of soap, 18 gauge needles, tongue depressors, and a tremendous amount of meticulous attention.

At first, the team looked at me like I was slightly neurotic, but then one clinical officer joined me with similar attention to each tiny piece of tape residue. Then, as the minutes went on, one by one everyone joined us in the middle of the room. The atmosphere transformed with determination and laughter – we were on a hunt for hidden dirt and every one was excited to have their pump or incubator be the most pristine. Nursing students found new ways to get in hidden cracks, people ran to find mops and rags and buckets, 3 people worked at the sink on all the small parts. Not one person said that this job was not theirs. When I unscrewed one porthole to clean behind it, I looked up and the 4 people working with me had all unscrewed the correlating porthole on their side, and we scrubbed in tandem.

The room was the best kind of chaos as everyone double checked each other. We printed out labels to confirm what had been cleaned and cheers went up every time a new piece joined the shelf of truly restored equipment. We have done this in small bursts before, but never with the teamwork and contagious insistence I experienced today – it started with me, but it finished better than I could have imagined because of the dedication in the room.

In the end, I hope it is a day every student remembers – not just for the infection control (which was my original purpose), but in the determined and gentle pursuit of excellence in small things, for the power of team work and shared enthusiasm, and the realization that is is possible to take 10 years off the life of an incubator with a little bit of elbow grease :).