How bad is your pain?

We had it all worked out, my medical partner and I. She would  fly off and lounge on the beach for a week while I held down the fort. Then she would return rejuvenated and ready to cover my one-month maternity leave. Since my due date wasn't until November 4th and she'd be back by October 10th, we felt sure I'd be fine. Only problem was, we'd neglected to obtain baby Steven's input on this decision.

No sooner had my partner boarded the plane and buckled up her seatbelt then my water broke and I doubled over with contractions. Every four minutes, a knife stabbed my innards and twisted until I threatened to sue Dr LaMaze for his silly claim that breathing exercises could rid me of this unbearable pain. Try a wheel barrel  full of morphine. Or a shotgun.

Just then, my pager went off. I grabbed my beeper and after perusing the phone number, I groaned. Wanda. One of the few patients who called so often I had her programmed on speed dial. A pleasant but neurotic hypochondriac, Wanda pestered me regularly with panic attacks she felt certain were heart attacks. Never mind that she'd had a normal cardiac catheterization less than six months ago, along with an Echo, CT scans, Halter monitors, ultrasounds, and a comprehensive GI work-up, all showing nothing. She refused to obtain medicine or counseling for her panic disorder because, despite all the normal tests, she was still convinced it was her heart.

When my contraction died down, I called Wanda. "This is it," she insisted. "The big one. The heart attack that will do me in for sure." I listened patiently as she droned on. Heart palpitations. . . shortness of breath. . . feelings of doom. The exact same symptoms she'd had last month. And the month before. And the month before that. Even a cat has only nine lives!

Just then, a contraction hammered me so intensely I could only keep from screaming by mentally cursing Eve for eating that stupid apple in the garden. This was all her fault! And Nathan's. I grabbed the edge of the bed and held my breath as Wanda continued her monolog: "My legs tingle and my hands shake and I'm weak and trembly all over and my heart pounds and my chest hurts."

Clutching the phone, I flopped onto the floor flat on my back, hoping a change in position would lessen the excruciating pain. No such luck. I clenched my teeth and forced out, "On a scale of one to ten, how bad is your pain, Wanda?" (Mine's a hundred, I wanted to add.)

Five minutes later, Wanda's chest pain dissipated and we ended the call. Mine? Worse than ever. In fact, was someone performing a hysterectomy on me without anesthesia?

Nate rushed me to the hospital and after a whole night of labor, Steven was born at eight a.m.-- healthy, adorable, and hungry. After nursing him, he fell into a sound sleep.

But now came the sticky problem of my four hospital patients. By hospital guidelines, patients had to be evaluated every twenty-four hours. Since my medical partner was two thousand miles away, that left only me.

Thus, as soon as the OB nurse completed her morning assessment and left, I flung off my hospital gown and dove into my doctor duds. Just as I was about to sneak out of the room, my husband said, "Shouldn't you let the nurse know where you're going?"

"Don't be an idiot," I snapped. (A ten-hour work day followed by no sleep, eight-hours of hard labor, and plummeting hormones had done little to sweeten my disposition.) "They would absolutely forbid it. An hour after childbirth? Women pass out, hemorrhage, fall into epileptic fits, go psychotic and start talking to their IV poles. No nurse in her right mind would allow me to leave."

"Then should you be doing this?" he inquired, concern etched across his brow.

"Of course not!" I bolted from the room and charged toward the first patient's room before he could stop me.

But talk about depressing! Not a single patient even noticed I'd given birth! One patient had the audacity to ask, "So when's that baby coming?" Since the patient was high-risk for a haircut-- let alone shocking news--I responded, "Oh, you know babies. They have their own time-tables, no matter how inconvenient for their mothers." (If he only knew. . .)

Once I'd completed morning rounds (thankfully, without seizure, syncope, or psychotic break), I slithered back to my hospital room, changed back into my patient gown, and crawled into bed--the ideal patient. (What the nurses didn't know. . .)

This weekend was just the first of many challenges in my attempt to combine medicine with motherhood, but my two wonderful kids have made it all worthwhile!