Monday, August 03, 2009

On being on call

Call as a resident is one of those dreaded things. No one wants to be on call, yet we all knew, going in, that this would be a requisite part of our career. Despite that knowledge, we all dread it.
Like the plague.
See, the problem is people don't understand what it means to be on call. After years of being a resident, my own parents still don't seem entirely comfortable with what that means. Granted, it is something that has changed over the years as I made the transition from General Surgery to Urology. So for that, I forgive them.
But it isn't just those of us going in who don't understand what call will really be like. Our "customers" don't understand what call is like.
Be they nurses, patients, or even colleagues, the tendency to abuse call is rampant. It is perfectly normal for a patient to call at 2 am to discuss something as mundane as when are they scheduled for their next appointment. A patient called me the other night to ask who was right, he or his wife, in regards to how a medication worked.
It happens all the time. People assume that, because they can call someone at all hours, that they SHOULD call someone at all hours. Nurses are just as bad. It is completely normal to get a page at 3 am about a medication that will be due at 9 am, or "just to let you know" that a medication (eg. an antiemetic) did what it was supposed to. Right. Because at 3 am I really want to know that the prescribed medication had its intended effects. Because at 3 am there is nothing else I would rather be doing. In fact, I was probably just sitting there, NOT trying to sleep, wondering if that Zofran that someone else ordered worked for that patient I didn't even know I was covering.
And that middle of the night call from the medicine resident who was told by the nurse who tried once to place a foley catheter that she couldn't? Those are the best. No, he/she didn't try themselves because "the nurses do this more than I do, if they can't, I won't be able to". What a great response. I will remember that one the next time my patient's blood sugar is elevated. I'll call you at 2 am before I try, oh, say, some insulin.
But you know, after a weekend like this last one, it is hard to complain about call. Until I remember that I have to do it again, and there is no way it will be as nice next time. One good weekend guarantees a couple more filled with severe pain.


  1. Anonymous3:03 PM

    or how about the call from another PHYSICIAN who wants to know what the nurse looked like that you spoke to 3 hours ago prior to going home and to bed?

  2. I have to say, you are a stronger person than I am. I really admire your willingness to do this. I couldn't. So for what it's worth, you're above lesser folks like I, who would just as soon punch someone in the face than talk to them politely at 3 am.

  3. Gulla, I know it is you! I thought about that story as I was writing this blog article.

    Natalee: Thanks for the comment, but I promise, I have plenty of less than charitable thoughts with many of the pages I get.