My Horse and Buggy Days
Okay, I don’t go back that far, but bear with me here. I’ve always heard about the old country docs who made house calls by horse and buggy. They were so tired they’d fall asleep on the way home. Often the family would find them out in the driveway the next morning still asleep. The horse was a faithful servant and would deliver them home safely.
In many ways not much has changed. Before the days of hospitalists we worked day and night. This went on about twenty years. I recall one time I was home during the day and told my wife I liked the new trees in the yard. She said she put them out five years ago! To be truthful, we were so tired it wasn’t safe at times, but it was do or die. (Literal translation) There was no one to pass the baton to. It wasn’t like those years as a resident where you could go “off service” and do a dermatology rotation to rest up.
One time near the end of all that I got called about a hospital patient who had gone into pulmonary edema. (Bad heart failure) It sounded like a little more than I thought I should try to manage over the phone, and I decided I’d better go in. You might think it bad we did some of this work over the phone at night, but trust me it was that or die yourself. Some great nurses often saved us. When they said you’d better come in, I did so without question. We got through those years unscathed only due to God’s grace. I stumbled down the stairs.
My boy was home from college that night. He took one look at his bleary-eyed old man and said, “Dad, why don’t I drive you?”
I didn’t protest. I piled up in the passenger seat, and fell asleep before we were out of the driveway. He shook my shoulders and woke me up in the hospital parking lot. “Dad, we’re here!”
“Huh? Oh, yeah… uh…thanks.” I went in and took care of the patient. He waited, and then drove me back home. He woke me up in the driveway. I went to bed.
Kids usually sleep late, but the next morning he was up with me when I made my morning coffee. “Dad, you’re either gonna have to retire, or at least find another way to do business, or you’re gonna die.”
“I’ll be all right, kid.” (I knew he was right) “I appreciate you driving me last night. You were my horse, you know.” He’d heard the old stories and knew what I meant.
As it turned out, it was one of the last late night runs. We got hospitalists soon after, and I was one of the first to sign up. As much as I miss the thrill, it’s a better system. I’m a smart enough guy, and still good for the 90th percentile on a Board test, but a slap worn out or dead doc is no good to anyone. My boy is now a paramedic, and lives in another town. My wife and I don’t need to be driving around all night long. Without my horse at home anymore, I don’t know who else would get me back to the house safely.