Music to the ER
When I close my eyes, I imagine R2D2 and his robot friends at a blow-out house party for graduation from droid school. Since I don't close my eyes often in the emergency department I do not dwell on those sounds. In fact, I rarely hear the alerts from all the monitors and machines or shouts and questions. Much like those people who live next to the subway or hiway, I don't realize that it is there unless I actively try to listen.
This functionality I owe to my reticular activating system. This part of the brain serves as a high-pass filter, a low-pass filter, and an annoying sound filter. It isn't well understood but helps with attention, focusing on those elements that are important to the exclusion of others. Its loss through stroke is one of the few ways to cause loss of consciousness with one blow to the brain (infarction of other areas does not cause loss of consciousness). Like much of the brain, it might be the last thing we understand once the grand unifying theory comes into our grasp.
Still, I do wonder what the utility is for all these alerts when nobody notices them. I feel comfortable knowing that I can recognize sick patients and keep an eye on their vital signs when I am worried. So, maybe I should start engineering a more intelligent alert system and sell it on the iphone for 0.99 cents.