Thursday, June 15, 2017

Whatever Happened to Sluice Rooms?

It's a conditioned response. Whenever I observe a Whippersnappern wearing gloves for routine patient care or  worse, comingling sheets soiled with scatatolgical resideue and run-of-the-mill dirty linen my anxiety mounts to intolerable levels. Someone is going to be raked over the coals for these misdeeds. Hospitals of yesteryear had unique protocols for these unpleasant circumstances.

Any sheet soiled with solid matter-what a euphemism-required a sluicing in the dirty utility room. A lovely, white 6 foot porcelain slab lined one of the walls of the dirty utility room. It was not for napping. At the elevated end of the sluice there was a massive faucet capable of unleashing a Niagra Falls torrent of water flow. The depressed end of the slab terminated at a slop sink which had a massive drain. This drain could accommodate a bolus biomass of stool the size of a bowling ball. Don't ask how I came to know that  little factoid. Someone had the foresight to install a trap on this sink which seemed to me comparable to the diameter of a subway tunnel. At least once the fetid fecal foosball facsimiles were beyond the trap they were gone for good and you could breath again.

To properly sluice a sheet place the origin of the offending substance at the lowest point of the sluice nearest the slop sink. If you enjoy inhaling aerosolized particulate matter simply reverse this procedure. Now for the fun part; turn that mighty faucet to full blast and watch that mass of olfactory offensive material sliding away on it's merry way to the waiting slop sink. Some types of residue affectionately referred to as smears, mucilaginous masses messes,  or pasty blobs require some encouragement from the intrepid sluicer and for this unsavory task a squeegee borrowed from housekeeping acted s a pusher. I always found it strange that the housekeeping personnel never asked for nursing to return their squeeges.

Suddenly, like a bolt out of the blue in the very early 1970s a memo from the nursing director came out stating that sluicing was no longer required due to improvements in the hospital laundry system and we could simply toss soiled sheets into the hamper. Sluicing like the lobotomy was gone for good and nurses were ecstatic.

This really piqued my curiosity and called for a personal visit to one of my favorite places which was our on site laundry operation. The Hispanic staff working the laundry were among the most content of all hospital staff despite working in a place that reminded me of Dante's inferno. This place was hotter than a brick oven, louder than a Pittsburgh steel mill and to top it off, smelled funny and that's putting it nicely. These folks made $2.20 an hour and were overjoyed with their pay (minimum wage was $1.65 an hour.) They were some of the nicest people in the hospital and even helped me with my lackluster Spanish skills.

When I asked about the new sluice free linen policy they happily showed me their brand new washers that had a built in sluice cycle. The washers had huge outlets that opened before the start of the wash cycle that permitted a huge flow of water through the batch of linen before the wash was initiated.

I was invited to observe a mechanical sluice cycle and it was very impressive. The mighty roar of the water being injected through the linen sounded like a 747 on take off roll in the midst of a rain storm. These giant sluice/washing machines had to be one of the greatest engineering accomplishments in healthcare history-and you thought anesthesia was an impressive invention. An open drip ether drip mask is nothing compared to these sluicing behemoths.

A few years ago nurses from my alma matter were invited to a homecoming. Changes made in the use of space at the hospital were depressing. The old OR suite, home to much drama and lifesaving (I hate that "L" word with a passion.) had been remuddled remodeled to fancy administrative offices. The beautiful terrazzo floors had been covered with Karastan carpet and pretty pictures hung on the walls. The sluice room on one ward had been converted to a data processing room filled with computer doo dads with blinking LED lights.

Crude rooms that were vital and offered maximum utility for patients  were converted to an office sitters paradise and an electronic wasteland. A depressing commentary on contemporary healthcare.


  1. I'm glad I missed this phase... I can't even imagine ~

  2. Sluice rooms have an established place in nursing history and someone even wrote a book: "Laughing in the Sluice Room/Crying in the Linen Closet." On second thought, maybe the laugh/cry part is reversed considering the environments.

    Thanks so much for taking the time to read my foolishness and commenting!