On Call

What does it mean to be on call?

“Call” runs on the principle that people fall sick at all times, not just during the 5 day work week, and that things need to be done for patients at all times, not just during office hours but it’s difficult to have the full hospital running as per a normal day. As such, “call” is to allow the hospital to continue functioning with a skeleton crew until the full cast of characters returns the next day/ on Monday.

It’s not a great time to fall sick, as you can imagine.

It’s also a tiring experience for the doctors involved. As a house officer, J. can only comment on the experience of a HO on call.

A HO covers a certain area or group of patients. For instance, HO1 of internal medicine might cover certain wards, while the orthopedics HO covers all orthopedics cases. Each HO usually also does one of two types of calls: active and passive.

Active calls involve new admissions and new patients. The active HO has to clerk new patients and do what needs to be done for them with the guidance of his seniors (the on-call MO, registrar, rarely the consultant).

Passive calls involve patients who were already admitted previously. These include physical complaints like diarrhoea, deteriorating patients like the “dangerous ill” ones, setting of intravenous cannulae such as for administration of antibiotics, post-operative reviews, so on and so forth.

J. has done one of each so far in his week or so as a HO.

The hospital is nice at night. It’s quiet, patients are quiet, the place is cooler, and it can be soothing walking down the darkened hallway in the dead of night en route to another ward. For some, of course, it can be a bit creepy, but it’s all a matter of perspective.

The phone becomes dreaded very quickly because it means work.

A shower, fresh change of clothes and dinner before call starts is absolutely amazing.

And finally, because J. is dead tired, the nurses can make your life really good or really miserable. Be nice to them, especially the good ones.

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