Written Words – On Superstition

Somewhat unsurprisingly, physicians have odd profession-specific superstitions that seem to transcend institutions. For instance, a particular resident or attending may be referred to as a “black cloud,” meaning someone for whom call days/nights or times on the floor are always busy, full of crises, have lots of admissions, etc. Alternately, someone can be a “white cloud,” for whom call days are quiet, nothing much happens, and everyone can relax. I was on overnight call with a “black cloud” for special care nursery, and that night we delivered something like five or six babies, including a preterm baby with respiratory distress, an emergency c-section, and a pair of twins, one of whom ended up going to the neonatal ICU after he developed breathing problems after reaching the nursery. We didn’t sleep at all for the entire night.

That somewhat unnecessarily long lead-in brings us to the present, if indirectly. I’m currently sitting in a resident work-room where I’ve been hanging out for the past five hours thanks to the magic of a Saturday call day; we finished all of our active work early in the morning and are now just waiting for patients to be admitted so we can go start working with them. My fellow med student and I would not be at all distressed if we did not, in fact, get any patients prior to 5pm, as our new resident told us this morning that when things are really quiet he’s been known to send people home around then instead of making them wait around until 9pm. However, I’ve been resisting the urge to comment on the lack of patients as the hours creep by, and we’ve just quietly sat and studied for our upcoming test.

The reason? If I mention aloud that we’ve made it to 3:30 without any admits, I’m bound to not only get an admission immediately but also one at 7pm, necessitating that I stay until 9:30 or 10pm when I’ll present the patient to the resident coming on to cover the night. It’s just the way things work around here, and I don’t want to curse myself. I’ve had a 7pm admit every single call night during this rotation and am beginning to suspect I’m gaining black cloud status a few years early.

Thanks, med school. You’ve not only killed my social life, massively sleep-deprived me, and made me neurotic about getting feedback, you’ve now given me delusions.

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