Sunday, May 22, 2022

Name This Mystery Equipment


I just love hospital mysteries, so I was delighted when a nurse emailed me these photos of a vintage device found in the ER at a Catholic Hospital, St. Vincents, in Cleveland, Ohio. The folks there were unable to identify it and it didn't ring any bells with me so I was thinking (a rare event for me) that maybe someone from my vast readership could lend a clue.

My first guess was that this was some sort of contraption from the hospital laundry. After sheets were dumped from a gigantic steaming cauldron, they were run through rollers to squeeze off excess water. Those rollers were a serious entanglement hazard for the poor folks toiling in this hell with the lid off environment. I had a special place in my heart for the Hispanic crew that worked the hospital laundry. I would practice my lackluster Spanish with these friendly folks and marvel at how happy they were in such an oppressive environment. I had life easy compared to their hardships!

My next speculative theory involved the radiology department. Before the advent of automated film processors where raw exposed film was inserted in one end and a finished X-ray slid out the back, roller film processors were used to conserve developer and fixer. The exposed X-ray film was loaded into the roller processors in a darkroom and chemicals introduced by a light proof port. The drum rolled which sloshed the entire film with chemical. You did not need any signage to find the radiology department, just follow the pungent smell of fixer with your proboscis!

My next brainstorm (more likely a brain fart) was this was a dispenser for the giant rolls of paper used to cover exam tables. Handling these giant rolls of paper always reminded me of octopus wrestling-get one end secured and the other end would pop up.

I did contact Oldfoolette. a central supply queen, from the dark ages and she could not identify it as any medical device. So perhaps the notion of this being a piece of hospital equipment was a cognitive disruption entity. We did have some whacky things in our ER that came in with patients and stayed behind in the ER.

We had a Chicago CTA turnstile from the Ravenswood El station that ensnared a fare jumpers lower extremities as he tried to vault over it and save 35 cents. Chicago's finest brought him in turnstile and all. I have a previous post about a poor soul who froze to death in a Chicago Park District garbage can. We kept the can and every time I read that HELP KEEP CHICAGO CLEAN slogan my heart skipped a beat. We kept the tunstile and trash can. Don't ask me why.

Any guesses about the identity of the above object would be most welcome!   


  1. I believe it is a kind of drop box safe. We used to have one that resembled that where i worked, to drop money received after hours.

  2. Drum roll, must know your antiques. I received 2 emails with the same identification it is indeed a roller safe.

    Now if we could only deduce what in the world it was doing in a charity hospital ER. My training hospital was located in the midst of an impoverished neighborhood and the patients guarded what little they had with the fierceness of a hungry pit bull. The staff had nothing of value to speak of either. I'm thinking maybe someone got their hand or finger caught in the roller mechanism and the whole business, patient, safe and all was brought to the ER, sorta like that CTA turnstile that was left in our ER. Thanks for taking the time to respond to this mystery!

  3. I'm impressed at the people who read your blog, OFRN! How amazing someone recognised a roller safe! I hope you and yours are keeping well over there; we are having a very chilly winter here in Oz - but at least my part of the country isn't flooded! Cheers from Sue

  4. Hi Sue, I always enjoy hearing from you. We are having a hot. stormy summer after a slow start.

    I've finally decided to do something to address my lack of mobility issues. Crohn's arthropathy has not been kind to my joints so I'm starting with a left total knee replacement on August 3 rd. Maybe the experience will provide me with some fodder for blog posts and unthaw my persistent brain freeze! Cheers to you!

  5. I am another old fool RN. I spent 30 years in the ER. I am in the middle of traveling through Europe. Absolutely love your blog!

  6. Hi Sue, You certainly earned that European vacation, I worked quite frequently with a very controlling German surgeon. One of his biggest gripes was that anesthesia had control over positioning the OR table. He was amiable with scrub nurses but a bear with anesthesia folks.

    Thanks for perusing my foolishness!

  7. I was going to guess a safe box of some sort! Alas, I am a month late to the game. The pyxis machine has a tiny drawer that is very similar drop the returned vial into it, roll, and your med is now secured and able to be restocked by pharmacy.

    1. Hi Shrtstormtrooper, It's always great to hear from you. It's been uncommonly dry and hot in Pittsburgh, but I'm getting some cucs and lots of zuchinni. I have lots of brainstorms for some new posts but have trouble motivating myself. My knees are shot from way too many hours at ye ol' Mayo stand and I'm eagerly looking forward to a left total knee on August 3rd. I'm doing it under spinal anesthesia so maybe I can offer some intraoperative tips...HA...HA!