I’d already been in practice for several years when I married John. I had had years of training in night call, during med school, internship, residency, and private practice. He, poor guy, had not. So, it was a new world to him. It was in the days before call centers and nurse advice lines, so when I was on call, I got every phone call from the worried parents of our pediatric practice. And, especially in the winter, that could be a lot of calls.
The first realization by both of us was that he was exhausted after a call night, and I was not. I had perfected the art of awakening from a deep sleep, listening, asking questions, giving advice, hanging up the phone and immediately falling back to sleep. A survival mechanism, right? He did not have that skill. He was lying awake, watching me softly snore, his mind spinning. And it wasn’t just that he couldn’t fall back asleep, he had QUESTIONS!
First of all, he was worried about the advice I gave. Was I really awake? I fell asleep so quickly afterwards, he was concerned; perhaps I had been talking in my sleep. What if my recommendations were nonsense? He had no way to judge, so he worried.
Then, there was the fact that he only heard one side of the conversation: mine. Imagine his thoughts after this call:
“Hello, it’s Doctor Beach.”
“Oh, he ate the newspaper? Was it the daily paper or the Sunday paper?”
“So, no problem, nothing to worry about. He’ll be fine. OK, goodnight.”
John couldn’t stand it; he had to wake me up on that one. Why oh why did it matter which paper the toddler ate? I calmly answered that black ink used by newspapers was nontoxic, but some of the colors in the Sunday comics could make babies sick.
“Ahhh” he sighed as we both returned to sleep.
Little kids eating coins were common phone calls for me, and also elicited questions from John. After listening to several calls about kids eating coins, he finally asked me, on a post-call morning, when he was still cranky and exhausted, “Why do you care how much money they ate? You’re aways asking if they ate pennies, quarters, dimes, etc.? Why?”
“Oh, pennies and dimes are small enough they usually pass, but nickels and quarters are big enough they may get hung up along the way and cause problems.” I answered sweetly.
One 4 AM call was memorable.
“Hello, Dr. Beach.”
“Oh, hi, listen, I was just wondering, can I feed my 4-month-old baby green beans?”
(I’ll parenthetically state here that if you call your pediatrician at 4 AM, the first words out of your mouth should be “I’m so sorry to wake you up but I thought this couldn’t wait.”.)
“Yea, I’m just getting ready to feed her and I want to know if she is old enough for green beans.”
“Ma’am, the office is open during the day for routine baby care calls; you can call in the morning and ask the nurse. I’m available for emergencies.”
“So, this IS an emergency. I’ve got these green beans here and I don’t know if I can give them to her or not.”
“Please call the office in the morning and talk with the nurse. I am here for emergencies only.”
“Well, you’re already awake, just tell me!”
“Please call the office tomorrow.”
“You’re NOT going to tell me, are you?”
“Well, I never! I’m going to get another pediatrician!”
“Good idea, ma’am!”
Then, I was the one wide awake. Too angry to go back to sleep, I watched John snoozing away next to me, and felt a taste of what he usually went through on call nights.
I kept suggesting he sleep in the guest room on call nights, but he preferred our bed. Perhaps it was the suspense and intrigue of the phone calls? I can’t say, but I can say that neither of us misses those middle of the night calls.