Disconnected, Yet Tethered

February 18, 2020

When even power outages can’t dampen the self-created expectation for productivity.

I'm writing this entry from my teleradiology workstation, during working hours. As things stand, I couldn't be doing much else. The internet, unhelpfully, took a powder about 15 minutes after my shift began and hasn't reappeared.

There aren't too many things one can do under such circumstances. Sure, go ahead and check to see if any wires have magically unplugged themselves, reboot everything (modem, router if you have one of those infernal machines, computer itself)...heck, call up your ISP's support people if you want to give yourself a miniature stress-test.

About two hours after phoning Verizon and waiting on hold, I could hear their employee reading from the same troubleshooting-flowchart that Verizon's website had me go through on my own before she said she'd have to transfer me to "Repair" (I guess that's the real Support, which you can only get to after you demonstrate a willingness to wade through their lesser obstacles). But, she couldn't even do that right. I got "transferred" to a busy signal, meaning that it would take at least another two hours to restart the process and get back to this point.

Meanwhile, I had checked out a couple of outage-detection websites on my cellphone (painfully slow as it was in the absence of WiFi) and had seen that there were big, ugly blobs of outage in my region...and a spike of reported issues that had begun hours before. Needless to say, the Verizon personnel had no awareness of this – they never seem to. To be fair, neither had the folks at my previous ISP.

Now, a sensible and well-adjusted person, seeing that his workstation was dead in the water, would take advantage of working from home and go do something else. Enjoy not sitting at that desk in the home office for a change, and just keep an occasional eye on the WiFi to see if the internet had recovered (at which point it would be time to get back to work). Evidently I am not such an individual, because the handful of times that this has happened to me in my 8-plus years of teleradiology, I remain glued to my computer, lest I miss out on a few potential minutes of work whenever the Information Age deigns to return to my abode.

Part of this, I could argue, was pure pragmatism: During the first seven of those years, while working for vRad, my income was purely based on how many cases I read. *Any* disruption meant I was earning $0.00 per hour until things were back to normal. It didn't matter if I was goofing off in the next room, taking a food or bathroom break, or agonizing about when I would have internet connectivity restored to me. Truly, vRad was not shy about letting its rads sit idle and, therefore, penniless if the company decided that now would be a good time to install some new software, or if they had an outage of their own. With so many things that could make me involuntarily-nonproductive at any given moment, I took as much control as I could over the things that did, including watching a temporarily-dead modem like a hawk for the moment when it might show signs of restored life.

I've probably mentioned in this column at some point that my new gig deviates from vRad, and, indeed, a number of the other corporate-telerad places, in that regard. Although they do utilize such a pay-per-click model for some of their teleradiologists, full-timers like me are on a more traditional hourly/salaried path. Thus, while productivity is still tracked, if the servers--or indeed, my own internet connection--go down for a while, I'm not getting punished for it.

While I am, of course, appreciative of this, let’s just pause for a moment to consider that such generosity is taken for granted when a dead-in-the-water radiologist is working onsite. I have yet to hear of any hospital or imaging center which, during a system crash, tells its docs “Hey, until things are up and running again, you’re all being docked pro rata for this downtime.” Whether the rad is sitting and twiddling his thumbs in a hospital, an outpatient imaging center, or his own home, he’s still at his station and ready to work, if work is at all doable.

So, when my internet has gone missing, I don’t get penalized. At least, not on paper. In my neurotic mind, it's a whole different story. I've only been on the team for a year, after all, and in the grand scheme of things I’m still in the "making a good first impression" stage. Truth be told, I never really feel comfortable with acting like I'm not making an impression. People, especially professionals, constantly watch and reappraise things, and you can bet that if even the most superstar-rad in the world suddenly started reading a fraction of his former caseload and/or providing shoddy reads, his superstar-rep would vanish in a hurry.

I, thus, aggravate over how my absence might look to the folks who hired me and will decide my ultimate role in this group. Again, a sensible and well-adjusted rad would rest fairly well-assured that his otherwise-spotless virtual attendance and productivity track-record would more than counterbalance a day's partial, even complete inability to work. Instead, I take the opportunity to question whether I've built up enough "political capital" for them to trust that, yes, there really is an outage in my neck of the woods, and I've done everything conceivable within my power to fix it...as opposed to playing hooky.
So, not only do I hover over the workstation, ready to pounce and login the moment I can, but I also mentally churn about how much of my usual daily workload I could still produce with however much time I have left in the day. "Hmm, about 3 hours gone by. Well, if I could log back in right now and really focus, skip lunch, etc., I might still make up for lost time."

I wonder just how ingrained in me this behavior is. Suppose things go well, and 10 years from now I'm a teleradiological equivalent of a partner in this group, well-liked and respected. Then, in early January 2030, I go to power up my workstation one day and find that my internet, whoever is supplying it (are you listening, Verizon? You can be replaced!), is down for the count. Maybe, by then, I'll finally be able to take it in stride and not tether myself to an inert desk for the next 8-9 hours? Allow myself to leave eyeshot of the modem/computer for brief intervals?

If not, maybe I'll write another blog about it then. At least word processors don't need an internet connection (yet).