It Was Storming Last Night
July 18, 2020
Yesterday morning began with a plogging session and a bag of trash. I was feeling hopeful as I had eyed a large clear plastic single-use cup from 7-eleven sitting on the curb and circled back after my run to pick it up. Someone else had picked it up. It was a neighbor a bit older than me with a mask, an orange bucket and a grabber. I waved to him across the street with my own two plastic bags and said, “Are you part of the Street Stewards? We have a Facebook group.” He replied, “No. I just started picking it up recently.” I said thank you.
It was a Friday morning and I thought it would be a long but normal day in clinic. I’m always booked at full capacity with all my families coming in for check ups and their concerns that I need to address. The kids were settled in their virtual summer camp plans, and their grandparents were home to watch over them. Mr. Plastic Picker was already planning on picking up pizza last night as a treat. We are cooking mostly at home but it’s still sometimes nice to demarcate Friday with pizza.
So I expected to work my normal day and have pizza at home with our kids and maybe watch a movie together, but I did not get home last night until well after 9pm. I pulled out of the parking lot and it was already a dark summer night, and I haven’t stayed this late in clinic for months. I almost had forgotten how to turn on my car frontlights. As I pulled away from clinic, I drove by the alcove tucked behind some airconditioning vents that has some sad generic tired looking trees and a few outdoor seatings and two lone figures were sitting there. They were sitting, likely husband and wife, in the still and cool night air. They were part of a drama that included 10 other entities that were pulling out of the HMO parking lot last night. It was a drama that lasted 6 hours.
The dichotomy of my own home life and sometimes what transpires in clinic is sometimes stark. Society in all it’s wonderful chaos of colors comes in and out of our clinic doors. I am a doctor for children, and the adults that have created those children, that form the units that surround them, that fight over those children and sometimes families that fracture around them are complicated. The children themselves are very similar, going through similar developmental milestones – but the course of their lives are inevitably altered by those adults around them.
And those adults were storming last night in my clinic. One room at the end of the hallway was cordoned off for a long time as a storm of hurt feelings and broken promises and hurled accusations unfolded. Unlike a televised drama, these things take time to unfold and yesterday it took 6 hours. One of my colleagues asked me several times if I wanted to sign out to her, she is so kind. But I am the pediatrician for this family, which includes all the children and both parents, for years now. I’ve been with them through the happy first time they brought the babies together. I’ve been with them through the difficult times when they weathered new diagnoses and difficult circumstances. I was there last night, going safely from room to room as social workers and police officers were around. And I will be there afterwards and inevitably having to work with all those storming adult, because they are the ones connected to the children that I care for.
I don’t often hold the patients I care for. I am often too busy. The babies are adorable and I want to pinch their chubby cheeks, but I often have a full slate of patients to get through. I am their pediatrician and have a checklist of mental tasks to get through for them: vaccines, preventative counseling, nutrition counseling, depression screening, developmental screening, medications, allergies, school notes. But yesterday I held one of my patients in my lap and it was COVID-19. I was wearing two masks and a faceshield, and the toddler was unmasked. There were so many people in the room, that if I catch COVID-19 it was probably last night. But what was I to do? I held him in my lap and I looked him in the face and jiggled and rocked him and distracted him. I think this is the first time I have really looked at him, and he looked at me back. And I danced with a 9 year old yesterday in the same exam room 8 which was strewn with crackers and toys and chaos, because she needed to be distracted. We danced to Baby Shark and she was pretty good. And I was there for both parents, never trying to judge as I let the drama unfold.
And when it was over, everyone left. Ten cars left the parking lot about the same time I left yesterday. The fractured family left in several cars, and one with a mother that I know is trying to do what is right in her heart that was wearing a beautiful blue dress last night and had mascara smudged. I asked her it she wantged me to call her this weekend and she nodded and smiled a little for me. Social worker. Police car. Nurse who worked overtime. Security personel who have their own tragic medical stories. RN Plastic Picker even called to check in to see why we were in so late, and whether a special report needed to be filed with the HMO. But I said, it was just a storm that came that landed in our clinic but none of us were ever threatened and everyone was always civil and peaceful with the medical staff.
And I came home much later than expected. I’ve learned now that this is the responsibility and priviledge of being a physician. When a storm comes into clinic, you sometimes have to hold a toddler in your lap and dance Baby Shark with a 9 year old for three hours. The storm passed and as the sun rises this morning everyone will try to pick up the pieces.