On Call At Home: On Pagers and Parenting

If I wasn’t a parent, being on call wouldn’t be so bad. 

Except for these pathetically outdated pagers with the visually challenging black-on-green screens. One is forced to squint — painfully — in order to read the message. 

There was an effort to switch over to text pages, sent directly to our smartphones, which would ease my strained eyeballs and simplify callbacks.  But a tiny minority within the practice objected: they still use flip phones and couldn’t deal with the ultra- advanced technology. 

Sigh. So at a children’s birthday party this Saturday I sported this old clunker on my waistband, and surely other parents wondered What the heck is that throwback accessory for? Part of a Halloween costume? 

Then I spent half of the event at the fringes, huddled over pen and paper, finger in one ear and cellphone crammed up against the other, negotiating first with the patient demanding codeine for his smokers’ cough, then with the annoyed diabetic whose refill request hadn’t been filled the week prior, and then with the pharmacist who wouldn’t dispense insulin needles with my verbal order for “insulin needles”. 

What brand, syringe capacity, gauge, number? How often does the patient test exactly? They interrogated. 

I didn’t even know there were options. We have 1cc teensy-gauge orange-tipped insulin needles in our office. A box of those would be great, please. 

That didn’t fly. I had to call the patient back, and she didn’t know either. The ones I usually get, okay? Why is this so freaking complicated?

Poor Babygirl kept looking for me, and other parents tended to her needs. But, at least she got to go to her friend’s party. We used to cover our inpatients, and a typical Saturday was spent rounding at the hospital… I’ll take home call any day. 

Sundays are usually quieter. But the morning was peppered with pages, and the afternoon, worse. As soon as the football game ended– literally, the minute it was over– four pages came over, all at the same time. That last one was a doozy, a half- hour rant of an uncomfortable unhappy unpleasant patient, where my job was simply to listen. 

Meantime the kids ran wild. Hubby works weekends, and I was solo with the kids. Thank goodness we live in a neighborhood where modest homes are set close together, yards run into yards, and neighbors know each other. The wonderful mom next door escorted Babyboy home, and sat with him on the couch while I listened– and listened– to the uncomfortable unhappy unpleasant patient. Poor kid, he had a stomach ache, and she fussed over him while I was trapped on the phone. When I could extract my ear from the call I thanked her profusely, and she let me know that another mom had brought Babygirl over to so-and-so’s for a play date. 

It was almost dark when Babyboy and I crossed the street to retrieve her. The kids are so comfortable in these people’s houses, they just run in and out and all around, for which I both apologized, and am grateful. I stood chatting with assorted moms, and thanked everyone for helping out. 

I definitely have conflicting emotions about home call. Yes, it’s easier than rounding. But, call and kids compete, and it’s hard. Yes, I like my job; it’s a privilege. But, it’s hard — impossible, really — to provide decent care to patients while concomitantly parenting, and vice- versa. These are competing responsibilities, and neither can win. Thank goodness for friends, family, and neighbors! 

I have no conflicting emotions about these ridiculous pagers, however. They have to go. 

5 thoughts on “On Call At Home: On Pagers and Parenting”

  • Ohmygosh! Flip phones, really? But to the pagers…they were state of the art when my kids were young. I was just tickled they had messages instead of those squawky voice ones we had first. The kids hated the pager. They had many, many fantasies about possible fates for the pager, drowning in the potty being one of the favorites. I think (since we covered the hospital –for 30 LONG years, but that’s another story) they figured out that when that thing went off Mama went away. Even though Mama always came back. They are now in their mid 30s, have their own kids and are pretty well adjusted. Neither of them, however work in health care. In any capacity.

  • Ok…I remember as a doctors kid in 80’s only having a single land line in the house. And call waiting had not been invented yet. So poor teenage me was NOT ALLOWED TO TALK ON THE PHONE in case my dad got a phone call from the hospital. Also, he had a AUDIBLE VOICE PAGER—imaging that going off in church—“please call 5th floor burning station” Or , if he got the phone call when he was out he would have to get his bag of quarters out and find the nearest payphone.

    So, flip phones and digital pagers are a huge improvement.

    That said, now as he doctor/parent I try to keep time off time off. For instance, if someone is calling in an “emergency” refill of albuterol or other chronic med ovation I say I don’t have access to their chart (and I don’t—especially if I am driving or cooking dinner) and they need to call back during regular business hours. If they are that sick and need albuterol then hey need to gonti the ED.

    Sometimes patients do need to be trained. Just because you “can” do it does not mean you “should “. And if there are screwups from you staff—ignoring refill requests—that needs to be taken care of at that level, not you putting out fires on call.

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