Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Story of My Life


Phone call:

I thought I’d tell the tale of taking phone calls as the psychiatry resident on call for a large urban hospital. Actually, I want to speak of one particular phone call, on one “special” night.
First, to set the stage: Overnight call was arduous to say the least. There were nights when I got less than a half hour of sleep sometime around 2-4 AM. There were nights when as soon as I got into bed, I needed to get up to go to the emergency room of a neighboring hospital (we covered two hospitals on call nights). This was stressful at best but at subzero temperatures was even harder. I remember trying to decide if an in-patient’s chest pain was serious enough to require my making the trek. Fortunately morals, responsibility and duty won out over comfort, convenience and rest.
If a night was miraculously calm, I would climb into bed and be unable to sleep due to an excess of adrenaline and fear of sleeping through a page. I learned a few tricks that helped, including setting my pager on vibrate (a tiny bit less startling to be awakened by than the beeper function) and sleeping with it hooked on my scrub shirt, and bringing my own pillow from home. Hospital issue beds and pillows are covered in water proof material and are miserable to sleep on. Still, sleep was an unexpected gift while on call.
Generally we only dealt with ER and in hospital calls but occasionally the hospital operator would put through an external phone call. Here is how this one went:
I’m awakened from a sound sleep by a page. I connect to the phone caller and sleepily state—“Psychiatrist-on-call.”
A male voice says he needs some advice.
“My wife and I are getting some counseling.”
“We have marital problems.”
He goes on for a bit about his marriage and wife. I’m wondering when he will get to the point of his call but am too sleepy or too polite to ask him to get a move on.
I’m beginning to nod off.
Suddenly I’m startled awake.
“See, it is about 12 inches long,” the caller says.
“What?” I mumble.
“I’m telling you how long it is,” says the man.
Suddenly I realize this is not a standard crisis line call. My befuddled brain realizes that instead of an emergency, I have been listening to an obscene phone call. I hang up the phone feeling dirty. I can’t believe how long I listened to this guy. Psychiatrists are supposed to be good listeners but this is ridiculous!
Words cannot express how glad I am that my on-call days are over!

1 comment:

JL said...

That's funny as hell.