Fast forward a decade, and I had fallen off the wagon again into whining doctor mode: headed into my second weekend night shift in as many days. The first night had been a killer, where the spigot of patients opened to a steady gush around 1 A.M. and all four of the late shift docs stayed several hours past the end of their shift to flush the proverbial toilet that our waiting room had become.
I was grumpy with my family the next day, going through the motions with my kids, disappointed that all I had left was my worst self for the people I loved most. During my pre-shift nap, I couldn’t sleep – mind racing, restless, annoyed.
It’s a weird thing that happens, but I tend to remember extremely specific encounters with dead relatives when trying to nap before a night shift. Although none of the departed say this explicitly, I assume they mean to tell me: Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think.
Settling into the shift, my third patient was a five month old infant with normal vital signs brought in for a nonspecific complaint – an infant that immediately cooed, babbled and smiled at me as I entered the room. We see a lot of babies in the ED, but this one was child actor beautiful, and had nurses taking turns to peek into the room and fawn over her.
The mother, in stark contrast, had a downtrodden look, averted her gaze, and answered my questions in an almost inaudible whisper. I gently inquired, and it turned out she was not in a situation where she was at risk for domestic violence, nor was she acutely psychotic or suicidal. Then she asked if this was a place where she could surrender her infant.
Now it was my voice that nearly failed me. I replied that it was. Our social worker came in to see her, followed by a rep from the Department of Child and Family Services, and several hours later this very broken woman left the ED without her daughter.
Some people have real problems.