I was on the crosstown bus this evening, headed home, when I heard a faint beeping sound from deep within my bag. My pager was going off. As my pager rarely goes off when I'm not at work, I was a little slow in recognizing the sound and digging the dreaded noise box out of my bag, but when I did, my eyes bugged out. I was getting paged to an unfamiliar extension within the hospital, and at the end of the number was the suffix "911".
I was getting paged 911.
Let me be clear that I have been paged many, many, many times over my short medical career, but never in my life have I ever been paged 911. A "911" at the end of a return number means EMERGENCY, means LIFE OR DEATH, or at the very least, it means that if there's any page ever in the history of time that you weren't thinking of returning promptly, THIS PAGE SHOULD NOT BE THAT ONE. I've only ever paged someone 911 once, and that was one night when I was on call as ward senior, when, after 20 unanswered pages to IR, I got desperate because I was very afraid that one of my patients was going to die he didn't get a new central line that night. And now I was getting paged 911. While riding on a crosstown bus. Without my cell phone.
Stumbling off the bus at the next stop, I figured the 911 page could mean only one of a few things:
1.) One of my patients was very, very sick, and I forgot to sign out some vital piece of information that could make the difference between life and death.
2.) Joe had been killed. Or at the very least, maimed.
3.) There had been some sort of epic catastrophe at the hospital, and the Chiefs were paging me back in to man the battle stations as per the Disaster Protocol.
I haven't used a pay phone since the blackout two years ago, but I was pleased to find that they still existed in this city of cellphones. True, many of them don't work, and of those that work, most of them don't smell very good, but for chrissake, I WAS GETTING PAGED 911, AND WHY DO I JUST HAVE A MILLION PENNIES IN MY WALLET WHEN ALL I NEED IS ONE MEASLY QUARTER? It's like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife. Finally, I dug out the necessary change and, hands all a-tremble, I dialed the number.
(Picking up the phone)
AAAH! HELLO? WHAT?
Are you still here?
ARE YOU DEAD?
Um, no. Are you still at the hospital?
I'M AT A PHONE BOOTH! I JUST GOT OFF THE BUS! ARE YOU IN JAIL?
No. I just got out of uveitis conference, and wanted to see if you were still around so that I could give you a ride home.
DID YOU JUST PAGE ME 911?
Oh, did I?
YOU PAGED ME 911 911 YOU PAGED ME 911!
Oh. I meant to page you "9911"
[Background: "9911" is a secret pager code that Joe and I use. It's a long story, but it relates back to a prank that he played on me in med school. Anyway.]
MAYBE YOU MEANT TO PAGE 9911 BUT YOU REALLY PAGED 911 WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU I THOUGHT SOMEONE DIED.
Oh. Sorry. So I guess you don't need that ride home.
No. I'm almost home right now.
OK, I guess I'll see you there, then.
OK, see you at home.
So to recap:
1.) Everyone is alive.
2.) I should carry my cell phone with me.
3.) Never, ever page me 911 unless it's a real, live emergency.
Currently reading: "Of Mice and Men." That oldie but goodie. The copy I have is actually stolen from my 7th grade English class--you can tell from the sturdy scholastic binding and the book number stamped on the title page--because I forgot to return it with the rest of my books at the end of the year. And thus began my life of crime.