This following article is a guest post from a friend, doctor and mom, Emily Tarvin.
The first page comes as I turn onto my street. I pull over a block from my house, so my kids don’t see my car. It’s the nurse calling to tell me that my patient’s daughter has now arrived. Would I like to talk to her? I glance at the clock. My family will be sitting down to dinner. I left when they were still at the breakfast table. Of course, I say.
We talk for a few minutes. She’s terribly nice, and our conversation is so important to her father. I start the car again and park near home. Two small faces watch from behind the glass as I climb the steps. Their joyous, demanding voices greet me as I open the door: “Mama! Mama!” They tackle me with frantic hugs. Their hands shove books and drawings and boo-boos in my face.
My husband is just putting dinner on the table. We sit down to eat, and I set my pager nearby. As we pass the bread, I try to glean tidbits of information about my children’s day. What did Alice eat for lunch? Which friends did Jackson play with at recess?
After dinner, they plead to have Pez for dessert. The task of loading their Pez dispensers distracts them while I call back pages. I start the bath. We pretend they are having swimming lessons: my daughter blows bubbles, while my son perfects his back float. They argue over towels and who should read their bedtime stories.
We put the kids to bed. As I wash the dishes and make lunches, I answer pages. I order Tylenol, a heating pad, a urinalysis. Typical evening requests. The nurses pass the phone around, trying to cover all the bases for the night. Things settle down. I’m ready for bed.
I turn out the light, and my pager beeps again. The nurse sounds concerned. I give an order and ask her to call me back with an update. I fall asleep. An hour later, the pager wakes me again. The same nurse, now clearly worried. She’s new, somewhat inexperienced. Still, my own level of concern rises. With a few phone calls, I transfer the 16-year-old patient to the emergency room. I think of his parents, scrambling to find their shoes in the middle of the night. I wonder if I am overreacting.
Taking home call leaves me feeling unsettled. I learn only bits and pieces about the patients, yet I try to make safe, reasonable decisions. Is a night with no calls a “good” night? Maybe not. I rely on the nurses’ judgment. Not so different from leaving my daughter with the nanny, or the vast unknown of my son’s kindergarten days.
Doctor, mother. The work is the same in so many ways. Piecing together clues, studying vital signs, striving for homeostasis. Sometimes hands-on, sometimes from a distance.
As I answer pages, the rest of my family sleeps. I say a prayer of thanks that we are all under the same roof tonight. Eventually, my pager is quiet. Nothing terrible happens.