Thursday, February 17, 2005

the origin of the 9911 code

A natural reaction to yesterday's post about Joe mistakenly paging me "911" (emergency) instead of "9911" (our pager code, roughly translating to "I love you" or "I'm thinking about you") would be to ask the question, "Well, then why did you choose a pager code that looks so much like 911 then?" (The closing of the above question with "...dumbass" is implied.)

Well, so here's why. The 9911 pager code looks like 911 because it is 911. The story: third year of med school, Joe and I were on call one Sunday during our medicine rotation at an affiliate hospital. Ever the eager med student, I was following around my intern with such devotion and painful enthusiasm that I think (in retrospect) he may have wanted to kill me. So he reverted to the euphemism that, as a resident, I now understand to mean, "Please go somewhere else so I can goof off and check my e-mail and phone my girlfriend without you peering over my shoulder." He told me to go to the library to read, and that he would page me as soon as we got an admission or if anything of import happened to any of the patients on our service. After triple-checking with him that he had my pager number written down correctly, I dutifully scurried away to read some journal articles I had squirreled away in my pocket.

After waiting around forwhat seemed like forever (and checking my pager roughly every five minutes to make sure it wasn't broken or turned off), I found Joe and complained to him about how pointless this day was turning out. "So I'm just supposed to sit around all day just waiting for him to page me?" I ranted. Joe, unlike me, got luckier in the draw. His intern was a medicine prelim who didn't give a shit at all, and had sent him home early. Even though we were only halfway through our third year, we had already learned the following lesson well: if someone tells you to go home, don't second-guess them, don't think it's a trick or a test, and don't volunteer to stay anyway, thinking it'll earn you brownie points. Just go. So he did.

Fifteen minutes after Joe left, I got a page. I should first explain that [Affiliate Hospital] is quite a bit smaller than [University Hospital], so all the phone extensions only have 4 digits, not 5 digits like the extensions at the mother ship. So, for example, when dialing an internal extension, the number to call Pharmacy would be 4296 and the number to the ER would be 5662 and so on. The number I got paged to was 9911. Thinking that my time had finally come, that my intern had finally remembered me or that we finally had an admission, I dialed back in a hurry.

Hello, 911 Emergency line.

(Hangs up phone)

In my hurry to call back, what I didn't realize is that I had dialed 9-911, essentially, 9 to get an outside line, and then 911. I had been pranked into calling 911. Were the police going to be mad at me? Could the call be traced? And did this mean that my intern still didn't care that I'd been sitting here for the past two hours?

I called Joe back on his cell phone. "You prank paged me, didn't you? Well, I called 911 by accident. I could have booted off the call of someone slowly bleeding to death in a gutter, calling for an ambulance. I hope you're happy."

"Wow," said Joe, "I can't believe you actually fell for that."

Currently reading: (Speaking of codes) "Digital Fortress," an impulse buy at the med school bookstore this afternoon. I realize that Dan Brown just writes that same book over and over again with only minor variations in character and location, but as trashy thrillers go, it's pretty readable.

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