It was a cold night on the biomed beat when my personal digital assistant took a slug in the digitizer, shattering its glass and putting a crimp in this healthcare gumshoe’s workflow. I donned my fedora and hit the streets looking for answers, determined to do whatever it would take to get my electronic partner repaired, and to prevent this crime from ever happening again.

f03a.jpg (7751 bytes)Most of the personal digital assistants (PDAs) on the job these days use the Palm operating system, including a bunch of Handspring, Sony and Symbol devices that are popping up by the thousands in healthcare. These machines sit on a lot of information, but when someone sits on the device, it’s headed off to the Big Sleep and taking work orders, prescriptions, telephone numbers and a whole lot of appointments with it. That’s why I knew I’d better learn how to deal with a damaged Palm device, and learn it fast. I didn’t know the Palm I’d save would be my own.

If a PDA gets whacked, the first step is to see if it still “wakes up.” Often the batteries are dislodged by the fall and if they’re out too long, the Palm will lose its memory faster than a mobster in front of the Grand Jury. Replace the batteries, give them three minutes to fill the caps, then hit the green button.

Check the simple stuff, like the contrast control on the side of the case, and the memory card that plugs into the back of newer PDAs.

Rescuing my Palm from the meat wagon, I made my way back to the office, placed my stricken PDA on the desk and touched its power switch. Taps to its screen brought no response, but there was still life in the Palm, enough for a dying declaration. I carefully set it in its cradle and touched the HotSynch switch, allowing the PDA to spill its guts into my computer.

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