The City That Never Sleeps

There's nothing quite like the intense mood swings experienced during a night on call. The stress and fatigue, coupled with arbitrary setbacks and lucky breaks, can take me from dread to euphoria and back in a matter of minutes. And, as the night goes on, the likelihood of such swings rises...

And so I found myself on one call night last month, admitting patients and cross-covering the medical floors. Things finally quieted down at around 4 AM. My co-intern and I took the opportunity to follow-up on some radiology reports from earlier in the evening.

"Hey -- did the radiologist comment on Richardson's chest X-ray?" I asked, staring at the patient census, seated at the Team Room desk.

Jane, who was sitting at the computer, called up the report. "Yep, it's in here:"
"Portable chest X-ray, good inspiratory effort, the lungs are unremarkable with no infiltrates, effusion, or evidence of pneumothorax. The heart is within normal limits. New York is prominent and calcified."

I looked up from the lists. "What was that last part?"

"New York is prominent and calcified."

After we shared a few quizzical looks, we realized what had happened and started to smile, then giggle. Then came the full laughter, reserved for when the the absurdity of hospital work can't be denied any longer.

After about a minute, when our laughter subsided, Jane reasoned it out loud: "I guess the dictation machine interpreted 'aorta' as 'New York'..."

"Yeah, but..." The pendulum had swung, and I was getting serious again, maybe a little paranoid: "What if the dictation is right? What if this city really is..."

My words trailed off in the new, somber mood of the team room.

"It could be worse," Jane offered. "A lot of aortas are described as 'tortuous.'"