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On Being a Doctor |

Trial by Fire: In Memoriam

David Muller, MD
[+] Article, Author, and Disclosure Information

From Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, NY 10029.


Requests for Single Reprints: David Muller, MD, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, One Gustave Levy Place, Box 1216, New York, NY 10029.


Ann Intern Med. 2008;149(1):60. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-149-1-200807010-00014
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I'm standing in a long, empty corridor in a cold sweat, a scream welling up inside me. There's a phone wedged between my right ear and my shoulder, and while part of me is listening to the voice coming through the receiver, another part of me is staring at the LED display on my beeper in disbelief. Instead of a distinct 5-digit phone extension, all I see is a steady stream of digits. After hoping for a brief moment that it's a malfunction, I realize that it's because I'm being paged so often that the display can no longer keep up with the messages. The numbers are like planes stacked up over Newark Airport, unable to land because the runways are full. As I struggle to suppress my scream, I find myself frantically jotting down names, room numbers, and disasters being communicated to me by the relentless wave of nurses whose calls I answer. And while I write, I must simultaneously keep a running list of the other LED digits that are backing up. Each conversation contains its own horror: fell out of bed, chest pain, wants a Tylenol, vomited blood, needs to be discharged, come push the chemotherapy. And then, each conversation (but these aren't conversations, they're more like lobbed grenades) ends the same way—“What's your name, doctor?”—because the nurse on the other end wants to enter the dreaded “MD aware” in the chart.

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