The 2 am call jolted me out of a deep, peaceful slumber. There might have even been a snore going on there. “Hello?” I mumbled. “Is this Dr. K?” the disembodied voice queried.
“Yes, how may I help you?”
“You said to call if he got a rash.”
“Um, who is this?”
“Johnny who?” (There were probably 6 Johnnys in the practice)
“Johnny Smith.” “What does his rash look like?”
“Faint red, on his arms and face”
“How is he acting now?”
“He’s playing in my arms. But now I can’t get him back to sleep. He’s wide awake.” (That makes two of us, I thought)
“I really don’t think it was necessary to call me for this at this time of night. It would be better to call the office in the morning”
“Well, EXCUSE me for bothering you!” came the frosty reply as the sound of a phone slamming down assaulted my ears.
I tried to drift back to sleep with a thousand thoughts running through my head. My lovely wife rolled over and murmured “You really weren’t very nice with that one.” Since she hardly ever commented on my phone etiquette, I knew I had been abrupt. I made a mental note to call the mom in the morning with an apology. And so I did.
Even after more than a decade of being on call, I still wasn’t used to the grind that it places on one; the tether that ties a doctor both physically and psychologically. I have always had a difficult time describing this to a lay person. Even those closest to me have not been able to fully grasp how the toll that being at the beck and call of patients and their parents wears a body and mind down. Many times I would opt out of going to a family or social function knowing full well that I would be called out at any moment, or that the potential just existed. Knowing that specter was out there in the ether somewhere was enough to squeeze the potential fun out of many an outing. Nighttime on the weekend was even more onerous. Saturday and Sunday nights seemed to be filled with panicked moms for whom the thought of waiting until Monday morning filled them with dread that the sniffles would blossom into full-blown pneumonia (or even worse-DOUBLE pneumonia).
“Hello, who is this?”
“Sue Jones’ mom. She was seen by Dr. X today in clinic. She still has that fever. The medicine he gave doesn’t seem to help.”
“What medicine was that? What was it prescribed for?”
“It should be right there in front of you. It’s in her chart.”
“Um, ma’am, I’m at home. I’m not in the office.”
“Really!? I thought you answered these calls from the office.”
“No, I don’t. I have to go home at some point in my life.” (I really didn’t say this, only felt it)
This was one of the reasons for exiting the field of pediatrics altogether. The demands placed on the practitioners of this art were quite enough for me. I would let someone else field the calls that made such a difference in the lives of our little patients so often.
“Hello, this is Dr. K.”
“Hi, my son just spit up and it looks like curdled milk…”
Sigh, here we go again.