The pager on my hip vibrated. I pulled it off the waistband of my black skirt and took a look. The answering service had sent a message from the patient of another physician who needed their blood pressure medication refilled. I looked up. A child of about ten was giving part of the eulogy. Everyone around me was crying.
I weighed my options.
Prior to the start of the funeral I had told the answering service that they needed to hold all nonemergency calls until after the service. So, either this was an emergency that could not wait or they had forgotten to hold my calls. I had no way of knowing for sure.
As I had pulled up to the church for the service, I had been hit with a barrage of three calls back to back to back. By the time I had finished those and gotten inside, the only seat available was near the front in the middle of a long pew. My leaving to take the call would not be missed by anyone.
I opted to wait, at least until the girl was through talking about how dear her grandfather had been to her.
Five minutes later, the pager buzzed again. Same message.
The kiddo had finished and someone else, a man who had been a close friend, stood up to show slides of the fellow’s life. More tears. A few sobs erupted throughout the church.
Please hurry, please hurry!
A few minutes later, the pager went off again. Again, same message. I could no longer ignore or delay. I set my jaw grimly, made sure the pager was in my hand conspicuously, and stood up, begging the pardon of all of the legs I trampled as I made my way out into the aisle.
Eyes glared at me in shock and disapproval.
I made my way to the back of the church to the foyer and pulled out my cell phone, seething. I dialed the number.
No one answered.
“This is the doctor, returning your emergency call. Sorry I missed you.”
I knew I could not go back in yet. 50% of the time people don’t answer when I call because I block the caller ID. I don’t want them calling me back on my personal cell phone. That is always infuriating, particularly because the answering service always warns them beforehand. I sat down on the floor and waited. The pall bearers were gathering. They and the ushers stared down at me, quizzically. I pulled my skirt down further over my knees just in case and shifted to a more ladylike position.
Sure enough, a few minutes later, the pager vibrated with the message to call the patient back.
“Doc, I ran out of my medicine on Tuesday. I need it refilled.”
“On Tuesday you say? This is Saturday.”
“Right. I didn’t get around to calling earlier.”
“I was in the middle of a funeral.”
“Oh! That’s why you weren’t calling me back?”
“What is your blood pressure this morning?”
“Let’s see…. It was 145/ 86.”
“Did you tell the answering service that this was an emergency?”
“This wasn’t an emergency was it?”
At that point, the shiny dark wooden casket was coming through to the waiting hearse outside. A crowd was gathering for the dove release and I had to stand up to keep from getting trampled. I could barely hear the patient giving his pharmacy details and my hand kept getting jolted as I wrote but there was no way to move elsewhere as I was pinned to the wall.
“Tell you what. When the funeral is over I will call in seven days of your blood pressure medication. Follow up with your primary care physician on Monday and next time call for your refills when the clinic is open.”
You just never know what is going on with your physician when you call the answering service after hours…