By Charles Johnson, Field Service Veteran
I am happy to be contributing a new short series I’m calling "Stories From The Field Service Frontline" that I hope you will find both humorous and informative. These are true stories from actual service calls placed by customers and tell the tales of what the field technician experienced. I hope you enjoy them and encourage you to share your own stories with us!
Here goes the first, "Are You an Arborist?"
Many years ago, around the time of Thomas Edison, I was a field engineer for a major imaging company with a territory about 150 miles across. Some of my accounts included very rural hospitals that could not afford their own imaging equipment like MRIs and CTs. These hospitals would contract with a mobile imaging service provider to have access to a system for a few days per week.
Late one afternoon, mid-week I received a page (yes — pager — remember those?) for a mobile MRI that had been delivered to one of my customers. The dispatcher said the complaint was that the equipment "would not work.” As a bit of background, this was a 0.5 Tesla late 1980s MRI that occupied an 18-wheeler trailer. Typically a truck driver would pick up a trailer like this with their tractor and move the system to another customer during the week that had contracted for these services. The customers were usually smaller rural hospitals. The driver would transport the system to a dedicated concrete pad, position it on the pad and level it, then connect it to 480Volt three-phase power so the system could operate. A technologist would then be contacted to verify the unit was operating properly in prep for patient use the following day. So the complaint 'would not work' could mean countless things technically so I began mentally preparing myself for an all-night service call.
Knowing it was late in the day and the account was a two-hour drive one way, I hoped I could speak with someone on site to attempt some rudimentary remote diagnostics. To try to get a feel for if the “not working” could be something like the system not being 'plugged in,' or if there was a more serious issue like a magnet quench. It was late in the day and I knew the staff usually left by 5:00, so I was aware that it was a long shot that anyone would answer — much less someone who is familiar with the MRI. But it was worth a try!
No one answered.
Road trip! Another late night, off I go.
A few hours later after darkness has set in I finally arrive at the hospital. Things look pretty quiet as expected, not a lot usually happens after dark at these accounts. The parking lot was pretty empty and only a few lights were on as I circled around the building. The MRI is on the back side of the hospital in a dimly lit remote area away from the public. Faintly I can see the silhouette of the unit against the night sky — so far so good. As I park in the rear, I hear the HVAC system fans running; a good sign. This means the system has power! Small victories — I won't have to wrestle with connecting the power — a dirty, nasty job.
Entering the dimly lit trailer I am starting to calm a bit; reassuring familiar sounds are happening. Cold head is chirping (used to control Helium boil off), fans are running.
But wait — there's more!
Computer console screens are dark.
Hmmm…maybe they are not switched on and this is a power supply fault — not hard to diagnose. Heck, I may make it home by midnight! Computer room is in the front section of the trailer in a dedicated room — time to head there to check it out.
As I open the access door to the computer room —no lights are on — I am greeted by an unexpected image that was puzzling even in the dark. Ever had that contradiction where what your eyes see does not agree with what you are expecting? I could see some indicator lights and hear some cooling fans but the vision coming into view did not make sense. Shadows can play tricks on the eyes.
Turning the lights on only added to the confusion. Cue Rod Sterling — someone pinch me please! You have now entered …
Like some sort of modern botanical art or something, my computers were sprouting leaves. They had gone green, literally! Still in complete disbelief I reached out to touch what I thought I was seeing and, yes — it seems to be a leaf. Feels like a leaf, looks like a leaf, smells like a leaf must be a DEC computer — right? Still in shock, I investigate further. Yes, there are leaves. Then it dawns on me.
This MUST be a joke, right? Leaves on a computer? Wow — this took some work and creativity! Am I being punked?
Expecting to hear laughter, I turn around thinking some of my coworkers will jump out of the darkness, but no. No one there. Not Serling, Allen Funt? Hugh?
Turning back to the computer, I investigate some more. Yes, I am awake and no, had no beer.
Yes, there are leaves coming out of the system and they seem to be growing from the inside of the computer cabinets. What the heck is this?
The computer room leaves (no pun intended) no room to walk around the system, so back outside I go. Flashlight in hand, I walk around the outside of the trailer to the outside wall of the computer room. So yes … hmm … it seems we have a tree growing out of the side of the trailer! Or more accurately, there’s a tree growing into the trailer. I don't recall this as a factory option!
What has happened is the truck driver, in his zeal to deliver the mobile MRI before sunset and get home, took a corner too fast and clipped a tree in the process. The speed was great enough the branches acted like a spear and punctured both the trailer and computer cabinet.
Yes — this was an interesting field service report — no code for 'pruning' in my service code book!