Sunday, March 01, 2009

Up, Up and Away?


This is another one of my hypothetical questions.

So you're a health care professional (if you're not, pretend) and you're on vacation far, far away. But before you left, you arranged for someone to cover your practice and you gave the covering doc an emergency number. Why? Why not.

You're getting some much needed rest and relaxation-- you've left work behind and it feels so good not to worry about other people. But back home, something bad has happened to one of your patients-- if you're a primary care doc, perhaps someone had an unexpected and fatal heart attack. If you're a shrink, may be a patient committed suicide. Whatever it is, it's awful, and it's done: there's nothing you can do now that would change the outcome.

Do you want to know before you return home? And if you're the covering doc, Do you call? After all, you were given that Emergency Number.

I've never fully come to peace with this one: many years ago, I got a call on vacation that one of my patients had died in a car accident. It haunted me and there was nothing I could do-- I called the mom from my trip, but I had no relationship with the parent, my call seemed to offer no comfort. After that, I went for a time leaving my cell phone home and being inaccessible while away; this is what coverage is for. At some point, I started to realize that I'd return and get anxious as I turned the phone back on: what bad news would I hear? Might it be better to have the phone with me, to keep it mostly off, but to know that no news is good news?