Sunday, October 10, 2021

Being A Darkroom Technician

After I left school, I had a temporary job at the RVI hospital in Newcastle as a darkroom technician. I spent my days in a large cupboard with a dim red light. There were smaller two-way cupboards set into the walls. A radiographer would put an exposed X-Ray film into one from the wall outside the darkroom, and bang on the cupboard door when they had closed it. That was your signal to open the internal door, take out the cassette with the film in it, and feed it into the developing machine, which would then spew it out into a room next door to be collected and taken to the radiologist for diagnosis.

I've written before about reading Mills and Boon paperbacks that had been left there by a previous technician: it was just light enough in there to decipher the text. Waiting between films was desperately boring and even Mills and Boon was better than nothing.

Occasionally we'd mix massive plastic tanks of developer and fixer, bending the stinky chemicals with water to the correct concentration. In other parts of the department there were rooms where we'd have to develop and fix the X-Rays manually, which was daunting. X-Rayed teeth (occlusal) were processed this way and I remember seeing tiny grey and white films clipped into chrome frames having in the tank of fixed waiting for diagnosis.

The colonoscopy area was disturbing. Woozy drugged people in hospital gowns were wheeled in and out of the camera rooms, and often their prognosis was not good. One day I saw blood in my stools and was horrified. I went into work the next day and whispered my fears to one of my workmates. 'Ha ha!', she laughed. 'What did you eat last night?'. Lots of tomatoes. Yes, it was par for the course to self-diagnose with dreadful bowel complaints when you worked in that part of the department. 

There were workplace romances: one of the surgeons was regarded as particularly desirable, and I had the impression that he was taking his pick from the lovely young radiographers in their starched white uniforms. The radiographers were fun. One fo them couldn't afford to go on holiday so she found a French radio station on her transistor radio and sat sunbathing in her mum and dad's back garden for her two weeks off, pretending that she was in the south of France. 

We all had to wear little rectangles of X-Ray film pinned on to the skirt part of our overalls to make sure we weren't getting over-exposed to radiation. The Radiographers had heavy rubber aprons that they put on when they were posing a patient, and we had to stand back from the doors when the machine was in operation, just in case..

One of the radiographers had a father who was a jeweller, and one day he secretly came in and pierced everyone's ears at a reduced rate. There was a heatwave that summer and I remember walking through Marks and Spencers to get the train home (it was the only air conditioned shop in Newcastle), and gingerly touching my tender ears. What a strange sensation it was, metal and skin! I don't think McMum was delighted when I got back home.

The X-Ray department was a world of its own. Apparently a senior radiologist had allowed a vet to bring in an anaesthetised pig one weekend; and  I bought a length of tweed from a salesman who turned up in our rest room one day (and later sold it to one of King Kurt's guitarists to have a suit made, because I couldn't find anyone in Newcastle to adapt a tailor-made man's suit so I could have one made for myself). I earned enough money to get my hair cut, but it looked awful. Thankfully, it all grew again.

Such hot weather, baking in the dark in a tiny room deep in the heart of the Royal Victoria Infirmary for a whole young summer. Isn't it funny where life takes you?

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