Tension in the Ultrasound Room

There are many ways to add tension and conflict to medical scenes without making them over the top or unrealistic.

Today, we’ll focus on how to add tension and conflict from real-life scenarios in the ultrasound department.

1) Family members – most patients have a family member with them when they get an ultrasound performed. But when a patient shows up with eight people in tow, things can get tense quick. This often happens with obstetrical ultrasound patients. Everyone wants to see the new baby and mom drags the three-year-old toddler who would rather pull the cords on the expensive machine than watch the monitor quietly (will come back to the toddler angle in a moment).  Here are the reasons why it might be best to leave Grandma and Grandpa at home too.

Ultrasound rooms are usually small – Most departments think they can roll our machines into the tiniest closet possible and save larger spaces for radiologist’s offices. While this does not make for a fun workday, having a crowd of people shoved into this small space makes for great tension in a story.

Too much talking – When family members gather, excited about the new addition to their family, they want to discuss and ask questions. The Sonographer however has about a hundred pictures needed to image for a complete exam. The scanner investigates every nook and cranny of the baby and mother for  syndromes and defects in the brain, heart, abdomen, chest and extremities of the baby. All structures on the baby are tiny and our sweet unborn model does not hold still for our pictures. When a multitude of questions bombard our thought process, this distracts from the most important goal, imaging the baby. However, for a story, a family peppering the Sonographer with questions could add tension and humor to the scene.

Young children – Sonographers are not babysitters and most toddlers are not interested in their sibling inside momma after about the first two minutes. Kids, however, love the really expensive machines that cost about a hundred grand. They want to pull on the cords, press the buttons and possibly put themselves in grave danger. The ultrasound room is not a safe environment for a toddler. However, Sonographers are constantly dealing with patients who let their children run around the room like it’s their own personal playground. Great for adding tension to the moment.

2) Doctors – Most Sonographers try to provide great images for their doctors to read, but when scanners don’t see an abnormality on an exam, then it is likely the doctor won’t either. When a pathology is missed, doctors are not happy. When adding a scene like this to your story, the author must be careful not to make the Protagonist appear incompetent. Perhaps, the doctor and employee disagree about what the protagonist sees. Many firm discussions take place in the real world when a Sonographer is convinced of an abnormality, but the doctor does not agree.

Also, make sure to give a variety of personalities to the doctors in the story. While a few doctors have the stereotypical arrogant attitude and can be difficult, most are nice and want to be a part of the team.

3) Other Sonographers – Some coworkers work well together, while others are lazy, sloppy or control freaks causing conflicts within the department. I have yet to be in a department where there is not at least one person stirring up trouble on a daily basis. Add tension to the story with arguments between coworkers.

4) Patients – we get a variety of personalities in our departments, from drug-addicted mothers to shackled felons with guards in tow and everything in between. I’ve rarely had anyone try to hurt me, although when I was an x-ray tech, some of the alcoholics we had to image, did try to hit me. In ultrasound, not so much.

Our job becomes difficult when we find abnormalities on a patient. When we find severe pathology, we realize our patient’s lives are about to go downhill. From finding cancer to blocked main arteries or a heart defect on a baby, these diagnoses create tension within the sonographer.

These are just a few ways to add conflict into an ultrasound machine. If you find you have more specific questions about this modality, then feel free to reach out to me – www.shannonredmon.com.

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Shannon Moore Redmon writes romantic suspense stories, to entertain and share the gospel truth of Jesus Christ. Her stories dive into the healthcare environment where Shannon holds over twenty years of experience as a Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer. Her extensive work experience includes Radiology, Obstetrics/Gynecology and Vascular Surgery.

As the former Education Manager for GE Healthcare, she developed her medical professional network across the country. Today, Shannon teaches ultrasound at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College and utilizes many resources to provide accurate healthcare research for authors requesting her services.

She is a member of the ACFW and Blue Ridge Mountain Writer’s Group. Shannon is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of the Steve Laube Agency. She lives and drinks too much coffee in North Carolina with her husband, two boys and her white foo-foo dog, Sophie.

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