Saturday, October 23, 2010

Dr. Bob Z's Twins (Pink Hats Part IV)

It was 5 AM when his sunset rendezvous with a luscious brunette from New Hampshire, who bore a striking resemblance to actress Megan Fox, was rudely interrupted by Jerry Reed's country twang, "She got the gold mine and I got the shaft."

"Wait, baby, let me find...the…damn...button..." he said, waving his arm in the general direction of the nightstand, fumbling the effort to distinguish lamp from radio, and knocking both to the floor. He tried to roll over and mentally grasp the fleeting remnants of his dream girl, but gave up after a few seconds -- like it or not, he was awake. "Oh, God," he sighed, threw off the bed clothes, got up, stepped on the clock, swore again -- this time more colorfully – and resisted the temptation to drop kick Jerry all the way back to Nashville.

His earliest patient wasn't due at the office until nine, but he wanted to stop by the hospital on the way and look in on the twins. Breakfast had never been his ex's strong suit and he found out long ago if he was going to avoid crashing and burning in a mid-morning hypoglycemic conflagration, he'd better learn how to cook. A pile of scrambled eggs and hash browns later, he pulled into the parking lot of the Nook and Cranny, feeling a sudden, inexplicable urge for one or maybe two of their legendary Mochas. Two would definitely be better, he thought.

Inside of twenty minutes, he’d gotten his order, driven up the hill to Maine Medical Center and despite Halley’s admonition, quietly slipped up behind a young woman in light blue scrubs and wrinkled white coat sitting at the NICU nursing station. Reaching in front of her, he placed a muy grande Mocha on the counter and asked softly, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”

“At this point, I'm not sure,” she said, yawning, “I'm so tired I could literally be almost anyone.” She cupped the cardboard-collared recycled paper mug in both hands, took a long appreciative whiff, and smiled at him over the rim. "How is it you’ve always known when I need this the most?"

“Doctor’s intuition, GMTA -- shoot, maybe we're just on the same wavelength. Speaking of which, I actually do seem to remember reading something to that effect in the hospital newsletter.”

She laughed and said, “It’s our own fault for having a wannabe gossip columnist for a PR director.” 

“He’s got to write something of human interest, I guess,” he said, half-shaking his head to the right in a way she’d long ago memorized like a teenage girl memorizes the lyrics to her favorite song.

She reached for a tissue to wipe whipped cream from her upper lip, blushing slightly. “So, besides being my hero and bringing me coffee, what’s on your mind this fine morning?”

He sidestepped the potential set-up for the moment and said, "A pair of female twins I sent up from the ER yesterday afternoon. They'd been abandoned when one of your classmates -- no, one of the newer students -- found them. I was the attending and thought I'd follow up."

"I saw your note; they’re both wonderful; nary a peep from either. You’d have made a great neonatologist. But you want a closer look, right? Let’s mask and gown.”

A few seconds later they were standing next to the NICU equivalent of a crib built for two, the twins snuggled close and sleeping on their backs, when he saw the name tag. Usually, in the absence of formal identification, these read something like “Alpha” and “Beta,” but not this time.
“What…in…the…hell?” he whispered, enunciating each word as though it was a sentence of its own.

“Hush,” she said, raising a gloved index finger to the mask over his lips. “This is a NICU, remember? Now relax -- it’s a little staff humor. Soon as their story got round, one of the nurses said her daughter was reading stories involving the Bobbsey Twins -- the girls who were amateur sleuths? You're a pediatrician, you've seen the books I'm sure. Well, everyone calls you “Dr. Bob” because your last name is unpronounceable and begins with “Z,” so it makes sense. Dr. Bob Z’s twins.”

“Oh, shhh…” he began and stopped, noticing her warning glance.


(Photo copyright 2010 by the author)
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Friday, October 22, 2010

Shaken Not Stirred -- With Extra Chocolate (Pink Hats and a Mack Truck, Part III)

Halley Henry considered herself comfortably cushy. Her BMI put the fear of God into obesity, but as she put it, "My hourglass figure has just accumulated some extra sand." Her husband didn't mind, remarking how his spare tire had gotten over-inflated, too. She loved him for that, but there were still times she wondered if Jenny Craig wouldn’t be good for them both.

What brought this to mind this morning was a chance encounter at the Nook and Cranny Coffee House, just off Congress Ave. in downtown Portland. Known for its home-made pastries, free-trade coffee, and live acoustic music, the NC was a haven for liberal politics, students, and not-so-straight-laced doctor-types like him. Besides, he was convinced they made the best Mocha in town. At the moment, he was precariously balancing two of them and trying to open the door of his hybrid Ford Escape when Halley got off the bus, walked up behind him, and said, "You look like you need a third hand."

"No kidding," he said, stepping back while she reached for the door handle. "Where did you come from?"

"Venus," she said, and seeing his look, went on, "You know, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus? Oh, forget it, it's still wicked early. So, we're doing some serious drinking this morning -- a little too much fun last night?"

"I wish -- no, I wanted to drop by the NICU on my way to the office."

She raised an eyebrow quizzically and he added, "To look in on the twins and make sure they didn't lose either of them," referring to the newborns he'd seen in the ER the previous afternoon.


"Hey, I'm just a concerned doctor following up on a patient, or in this case, patients."

"I only said, 'Oh'," she replied, innocently, "but you couldn't have done that by phone? Or is coffee already on their menu -- Lattes laced with formula. Better be careful, you're going start a new trend for mothers of infants with ADHD."

"They're Mochas -- you know I hate Lattes -- and they're not for the twins. The new neonatal fellow, Jessie Livingstone -- you've met, right? She was a student of mine during her residency. Anyway, she worked the overnight and I didn't think it would be polite to walk in drinking coffee without bringing an extra.” At her silence, he added, “I'm being polite, that's all."

"Uh-huh, and yes, we've met, and of course the fact that she's single and hot as a pistol has absolutely nothing to do with your chivalry. You haven't forgotten she could be your daughter, have you?"

"I haven't forgotten she could be yours,” he said, with a twinkle.

"Yes, but I'm not the one buying her a Mocha and don’t try to change the subject," she replied, as he started the Escape.

“I’ll buy you one tomorrow.”

“Make it a Latte with fat-free milk and you’ve got a deal. As of this minute, I’m going on a diet. And we're not done with this conversation.”

He smiled and shook his head, then turned toward the exit onto Congress. Sure Jessie was younger. Most of the time it seemed to him like everyone was younger, everyone except Halley, and the difference in their ages defied basic arithmetic. Halley has a good read on me; this isn't going to be as easy as I thought.

After all, he’d told the barista, “shaken, not stirred, with extra chocolate.”

(Creative Commons image by zappowbang via Flickr)

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Recharging Me

"Not everyone is as mono-maniacal as you." ~ Donatello Moss

Before we go any further, I should tell you, Donatello Moss aka Donna, is not a real person, but she ought to be and in some world, she probably is. In ours, she's Dr. Watson to Josh Lyman's Sherlock Holmes in the syndicated program The West Wing, which you can still see on Bravo. If I was in Maine, my dog and I would be munching breakfast together while getting our daily dose.

The line I've quoted comes from the opening scene of one of the final episodes in which Josh is suddenly becoming aware of all the romantic pairings that have developed during the presidential campaign he has been directing. Enter Donna, who has a gift for remaining human when Josh has become so hyper-focused that he misses the details of daily life. Every now and then he has a meltdown and it takes someone else to remind him to take a vacation once in a while.

I hate to admit it, but I'm very much the same way and maybe you are, too. Perhaps that's one reason I love The West Wing so much: Josh's character is a mirror of my own proclivity to overlook the obvious. For instance, lately I've gotten so engrossed in what I'm attempting to do out here that I haven't permitted myself the pleasure of sitting on the patio with the computer and writing about the experience -- at least on anything resembling a regular basis. I've treated my sanity-saver as a luxury and the truth is, as the demands on us increase, the more things like this become necessities.

But it's hard to see them as such, especially when we regard every moment devoted to self-nurturing as one taken away from the task at hand. Sooner or later, however, the inner well runs dry and we become touchy, irritable, and resentful. Even those of us in the helping professions have limited reserves and that's oh-too-easy to forget when the stakes are high and we're under the gun.

Unfortunately, in the same way we can't make up for several days of sleep deprivation by getting a single good night's sleep, making up for self-deprivation can't be done in one fell swoop. It takes time and that's just the way the universe works. I know, it sucks. We'd all like to believe our internal battery recharges automatically, but there has to be a power source. Even when a person has a spiritual connection, they can't assume it will do for them what they can only do for themselves.

So, here I am, it's 40 degrees in the shade, but like my cat who is no doubt sitting on his window ledge at this very instant, watching the squirrels scamper for late-season acorns, I've found a warm spot in the sun. An hour ago I was feeling pretty anemic, but now there's a little tingle down inside. I'm betting even the Ever-Ready Bunny needs an occasional carrot and today, this one is mine.

(Creative Commons image by Ben+Sam via Flickr)

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Monday, October 11, 2010

The Clubhouse Turn

It's been a long time since I've had roommates and the past four weeks have involved some adjustment. The kitchen in our apartment is large enough for two to cook, three to socialize, and on those occasions when all four of us (and we're big guys) crowd in at once, it approximates a mosh pit. We have individual bathrooms, thankfully, and our schedules vary sufficiently that coming and going is never a problem. But it's the conversation that I've come to appreciate the most. I've missed my classmates the past few months and being able to talk with like-minded souls at the drop of the hat has been really nice.

Since classes begin early here, around 7.15 AM, late night conversations are restricted to the weekends, but their detritus may last for days and stirring oatmeal in the morning can just as easily stir up concerns about insurance, patient care, and when is potassium at its greatest concentration in the cardiac cycle. Life and school intermix as smoothly as coffee and Splenda in my cup.

Sitting out here in my airy third floor patio perch this morning, the sun is already warm and it will hit near 90 before the day is out. Contrast that with Maine where fall is in full bloom and my dog will take his walk this afternoon along a lane enshrouded with pine needles and temperatures in the upper 50s. I've noticed colors are starting to slightly shift toward the yellow end of the spectrum and the high cirrus clouds I associate with autumn are streaming by more and more frequently.

I've come to really value mornings out here for the chance to maintain some sense of flow. As in medical school, it's terribly easy to become so engrossed with material we're reviewing that one loses track of time. Tunnel vision is our common opthalmic disorder and everyone is infected. Being able to disconnect for a few minutes reminds me that I do have another life and in a few weeks I'll return to it. My dog and I will take his walks together, he and the cat will curl up next to me for naps in our chair, and I'll build a fire in my study to take away the chill before settling down to write.

Those weeks before rotations begin in January are going to be a blessing. The last few have been wonderful, overwhelming, intense, and enlightening. The ones to come, the ones intervening between Friday's final lecture and my exam, are going to be devoted to interacting with my physician-tutors, practicing exam-taking skills, and wrapping my head around all that I've learned. It's not exactly the home stretch -- more like the clubhouse turn -- but it's going to be good and sometime or another, I don't know when exactly, I'll write about it -- thanks for bearing with me through all of this. For now, as usual, it's back to the grind. Have a good day.

(Photo copyright 2010 by the author)

Monday, October 4, 2010

No Offense, Nick (Nolte)

Nick Nolte"You remind me so much of Nick Nolte," she said, "only when he was a lot younger and sexy." I was surprised, genuinely flattered, and thanking her, said so. I've been told I look like a lot of things, some printable, some not, but never Nick Nolte.

He's what women called a "hunk" not too long ago and much as I may have fantasized about achieving hunkiness, considering myself in his class strikes me as borderline delusional. Coming on the heals of a recent birthday, as it did, the "younger and sexy" part of her comment was, well, let's just say it was really nice.

In his later years, my father was distinguished, at least according to my mother, and I think she was right. As a young man he was all of tall, dark, and handsome. Where those genes went in the crossover phase of meiosis when his half of my genetic code was being hammered out, I'll never know. I got the one for height but the rest went AWOL and have been missing ever since.

It's especially welcome to get a compliment like hers when you crawl out of bed in the morning, look in the mirror, and wonder what on earth you were doing to yourself between lights out and sunup. I mean, you thought you were dreaming, right? Some days I have to wonder.

Admittedly, it was tempting to ask which Nolte she had in mind. Was it the romantic Prince of Tides (1991), rough and tumble 48 Hours (1982) with Eddie Murphy, or the football player from North Dallas Forty (1979)? But that didn't seem polite, nor did I want to risk it. At this point in my life, I'm grateful when someone vaguely contemplates using the adjectives "young" and "sexy" in the same sentence where I'm concerned. It doesn't happen often and I've learned not to look a gift horse in the mouth. Besides, no doubt the day is coming when she's going to decide I look like the older Nolte and for that, I'm in no hurry. No offense, Nick.

(Creative Commons image by Alan Light via Flickr)

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