Around Midnight in the ICU

Saturday, December 24, 2005

A Day Off

Doctors don't take a lot of time off. I wish my patients only got sick Monday through Friday from nine to five. At five, you flip out the old closed sign, turn out the lights, close the blinds, and walk out the door. If the phone rings, your secretary says, I'm sorry but he won't be available until next Tuesday. What, you're not feeling well? Well, we're certainly sorry to hear that, but this is just beyond business hours, so call back after the weekend. Unfortunately, responses like that can lead to litigation. So if you're a lawyer, don't bother calling past five.
The past three weeks have been hectic like that. With the illnesses of my father, my uncle, and even the Wife, there really hasn't been much time to myself. Most days, I find that I seem to have lost the ability to enjoy a day off. Shouldn't I be working? Today is my first day off in more than two months. Having a day off requires several rituals to take place. Last night, I walk into the house and go upstairs to my study. I plug my cell phone into the charger on my desk. The charger sits right next to my golf clubs, so my mind percolates for a brief moment. The golf clubs have not moved from their faithful position in over six months. I take out the putter and give it a quick whirl over the carpet. It still feels fluid in my grasp. Then, I put it back, thinking this could be the weekend I get to pull these bad boys out and go swinging.
Next with the Pager. This little piece of technology keeps me connected to all four hospitals in town, the three nursing homes I frequent, the office, and every patient I've ever seen. In preparation for this weekend, I told them all to call the answering service. My operators will tell whoever calls that I have left the country for three days, so don't bother trying any other numbers. Then, they'll page an associate of mine who has agreed to take the beating for me. I take the Pager out of its case. It seems to bristle in anticipation. This moment holds all the promise of a new day. I press the green button, and then the red button twice. The Pager asks me if I'm sure that I wish to proceed. I hesitate, but then press green again, and the Pager goes dead. I can't feel anything. It all goes numb, as I place the Pager in a drawer. I put the Pager in the back of the drawer, so that if even if it hums back to life and makes its beeps, I won't hear it.
My stethoscope I hang on the chair. It becomes the lone accoutrement which my eyes can bear for the weekend. It has faithfully accompanied me throughout the past ten years of training and work. It is like an old pair of jeans, comfortable in its fit, nonobtrusive. I can tolerate it for two days.
Then I rest for a moment. Take a deep breath to collect myself. For the first time in two months, I will not worry about going to bed early. I will not worry about the Pager going off. I don't have to sleep with the Pager or the cell phone. I can simply forget them. Feeling naked for that moment of contemplation, I get into a pair of scrubs. It all washes through me. I feel clean. The elation sets in. I make my plans to make no plans at all. I will sleep tonight, undisturbed.
And I did. There was no disturbance whatsoever. I slept eight hours. I woke up this morning and had a warm cup of green tea with just a hint of lemon in the quiet of my kitchen. Then, I came up to my study and decided to surf the net. The idea of writing crossed my mind, so here I am. Bliss.
But the phone next to me is ringing. Who would call home and disturb me at this hour of the morning? I pick it up, truly a mistake. A friend from the mosque on the other end. Doctor? Thank goodness you're home. My wife is sick, can you come see her right away? Sure, I'll be right there. I put down the receiver. So, this is how I will spend my day off. I leave behind the golf clubs. I grab my stethoscope. I grab my car keys. Off to the greens.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

A Weak Week

Like everyone else I know, I spent the week recovering from the truck that is Thanksgiving. Much turkey was eaten in our household.
My beloved Cowboys lost a nailbiter in overtime. My mother remarked that nothing had changed. My family all showed up, all forty-two of them. My pager went off twelve times. My cousins shouted about how big fans they were of Jake Plummer, even during the lean Arizona Cardinal years. My head pounded.
My Thanksgiving kept giving for the next few days. My pager continued to go off. My call schedule dictated that I had the next three days to cover everyone else. My emergency rooms kept me very busy. My hospitals loved me. My bed didn't see me. My eyes were red, and blistering for sleep.
My Monday was supposed to calm things down. My uncle came to the office to visit. My interest was piqued. My uncle said hello, then passed out in my waiting room. My nurse rode with him to the ER. My friend who had kept me up all weekend ordered an MRI. My intuition said stroke. My MRI agreed. My uncle went to the ICU. My aunt cried.
My Tuesday was better. My father twisted his knee. My father only has one leg, so it just so happened this was his good knee. My mother took him to the hospital. My family met him there, after visiting my uncle in the ICU. My orthopedist told me that Dad needed an operation. My request was for local anesthetics. My father spiked a fever. My anesthesiologist said general. My mother cried. My pen signed a DNR order. My father got his knee drained. My mother prayed. My nurses rolled him out of the OR fairly unscathed. My aunt, his sister, cried. My father joined my uncle.
My Thanksgiving was supposed to end by now, but it didn't. My office and life kept going. My server crashed on Wednesday. My IT guy didn't answer his pager. My cell did not reach his. My voice faltered on his answering machine. My patients waited patiently in the lobby. My medical assistant tried to reschedule them. My patients grew impatient. My office manager asked them to come back Friday. My intuition said this would be bad. My gut agreed. My lunch disagreed with me. My stomach returned the lunch. My uncle got out of the ICU. My Plummer-loving cousins were elated. My aunt cried. My mother prayed.
My IT guy dumped me. My software guy recommended someone else. My clinic stayed stagnant Thursday. My wallet was emptied. My computers got fixed. My patients had already been canceled. My father became sicker. My wife got sick. My uncle told me to go home to take care of her. My mind was spinning. My aunt cried. My mother kept praying. My wife's fever seethed.
My self is a shadow by Friday. My promised weekend dematerializes. My covering partner calls me back. My patients get handed back to me. My needed days off disappear. My wife's fever seethes. My mother cries. My aunt prays.
My ego says I am selfish. My body is exhausted. My soul is spent. My Thanksgiving is not over. My patients call from the office. My patients call from the hospital. My family pleads with me over my uncle and my father. My lips quiver, but do not answer their concern.
My. My.
My. My. My. My......