Age & Perfusion: An Experienced Response

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Editor’s Note:

I got this response to my earlier  “Methuselah-Meets-Perfusion” post.

The individual who spurred the discussion to begin with, I omit her name for now, so that this discussion isn’t linked to her efforts to find work.  But it was a very well written and prosaic opinion, and feel it merits a post of it’s own.

Thank you Madam, for taking the time to write this…


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An Experienced Response

By Anonymous CCP

Well Frank, I am happy that our conversation stimulated a new discussion topic. But Methuselah? Really??

Just kidding. I am actually not that sensitive about my age. I worked very hard to get to this point in life’s stages.

A few thoughts about older perfusionists:

My favorite instructors when I was a student were older. They tended to be calmer, more self-assured and better able to deal with my mistakes. Probably because they had already made a lot of these same mistakes themselves.

But now I can remember that as a younger, early mid-30 something perfusionist, I was myself very prejudiced against my older colleagues. They didn’t react to alarms so quickly, seemed to take forever to get albumin or blood into the circuit, couldn’t reach the low connections so well, etc. They were also reluctant to assimilate new techniques, didn’t want to “dive in”.

Now that I have been around longer, I realize that most of the times they didn’t let it get to an alarm going off (ie were more proactive), and probably added the blood or albumin more slowly to avoid pressure drops. They didn’t assimilate new techniques quickly because they had already seen some “fads” come and go. Remember when we had to standby in the OR for PTCAS when they started? And the PTCA’S meant that perfusion and open heart surgery was done for…..

Older perfusionists don’t move at the same tempo because we have learned through thousands of 24 hour workdays how to pace ourselves. It is horrifying to fall asleep behind the pump and be awakened by the scrub nurse banging a clamp on a basin. Yes, that did happen to me, when I was about 28. never since then because it scared the crap out of me.

I recently did 3 weeks of pediatric mission work in which I was the only perfusionist. The work days averaged 15 hours, 6 days a week. The younger volunteers were falling asleep in the OR and lounge but because I knew what tempo I needed to set to keep functioning, I was fine.

I actually had a young RT person make a (pretty funny actually) joke to an ECMO nurse that when I started doing ECMO it was with “cross-circulation” and when I wanted more oxygen for the ECMO patient, I would have to jog. I did laugh but it also gave me the feeling that they expected me to keel over mid-shift.

There have been countless permanent jobs that I have sent resumes out and gotten NO responses. I assume that they think that I want some monstrously huge salary, or I will have health problems or whatever. They don’t ever give straight answers about age discrimination in the US. But overseas I was told by 3 different groups that I was too old. And all 3 groups had hired people that I had helped to train as perfusionists.

The interesting point you made about “sticker shock” is true. I have gotten some shocked looks when they see my white hair and wrinkles. But by then it is too late and I get to prove myself. After I work somewhere and show my capabilities, I am always asked back.

The chief surgeon on the mission trip actually said “Oh my goodness” before he could stifle it. But I will be doing a return engagement with him soon and he was calling me “Hon” by the end of the 3 weeks. I am a female, not a guy, by the way. There is also a huge chauvinism problem, but that is a whole other story.

I hope that my “stream of consciousness” diatribe gives you some insights. I also found your shocked reaction interesting and it made me stop and ponder what my experiences really meant.

Thanks a lot for all you do for me personally and for the betterment of our profession, let’s meet at a meeting sometime.

Signed, An Experienced CCP


Since you seem to like good artistic photography, Google the image “Age and Its Symbols” by Imogene Cunningham.

It is from a series of photos she made when she herself was over 90 of active subjects who were also over 90.

I think the book is titled “After 90″ Wonderful images.

Click Link to View the Official Site for the Imogen Cunningham Trust