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How to Be On Call: As Told By a Superstitious Resident

Op-Med is a collection of original articles contributed by Doximity members.

One of the funniest and most dramatic phenomena in the hospital is a superstitious person on call.

When I was starting out as an intern, I rotated on vascular surgery and met a fellow who was so superstitious that if you told him “have a good night” on one of his overnight calls, he would turn purple and loudly inform you that you had "just blown the whole thing!”

Among his myriad of call superstitions, he did not allow for acknowledgment of the fact that he was on call in the first place.

It took less than a week or two of junior call to join his loony ranks. Of course, that fellow had been taking call for six years when I met him, so the terrified look in his eyes was more than justified. By the end of my first month of taking call, I had a lengthy series of tasteful but fairly eccentric traditions.

Here are a few of of them:

  1. Print out the patient census. It will be handy to have the sheet for old-fashioned note-taking. Fold it carefully into eighths because the last time you went with fourths you were up all night.
  2. Each night, carefully arrange your items on the bedside table. Sleep with the pager closest to your head, then the folded list with the pen clipped in place, and finally the phone. They must be in this line for both practical reasons (reaching out in the dark) and for a general sense of peace and good juju.
  3. Set out your crystals.
  4. If you don’t have any crystals yet, kick yourself for the time you drove past a crystals shop and didn’t stop to get some. You’re going to need them if you’ve begun the time-honored right of passage of taking call.
  5. Do not order food. When you’ve missed a few meals and things have finally quieted, you may think you’d like to order some Indian food. Don’t you dare! When the delivery driver is three or so minutes away from your house, you will get called in. I have had a driver leave an order of hot food in a medium snow pile on my porch once.
  6. Pray to your God. There are no atheists in foxholes.
  7. Don’t shower. This one is pretty self-explanatory; although the hilarious consequences are endless, if you step under the water, that pager will go off.
  8. Don’t go to the movies. One of my chiefs went to see a movie in the theatre once on home call, and to this day that is one of the wildest things I’ve ever heard. I know in my heart of hearts that if I went to the theaters, I would get clowned on for real. That’s how you end up with multiple consults at multiple hospitals across town within minutes.
  9. Do not even think about trying to see your friends. If the pager senses that you are thinking about stopping by that barbeque, birthday party, or bowling alley, it will just start some nonsense. I have been paged nothing but flashing wingdings before when I thought about dropping off a gift at a bridal shower.
  10. Basically, just sit very still on your couch at home. Never let your guard down. If you’re hopeful, you will be crushed. If you are desolate, you may survive.

Godspeed. Your pager is probably going off somewhere right now.

*Note: My experience is that of home call for a surgical subspecialty. I imagine that our colleagues in other areas and call situations have their own set of quirks.

Frances Mei Hardin, MD is an otolaryngology resident who is now halfway through her years on junior call. She is getting by with a little help from her friends and crystals.


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