Mid February 1997

I’ve been skulking around on Labor & Delivery for the past couple of weeks, fighting the good fight, granting the boon of analgesia to women who are soon to be no longer pregnant, fielding late night phone calls from the worried well and the occasional raving lunatic – pretty much typical stuff for an intern covering an L&D ward anywhere.

Let me take you on a short tour of one of our delivery rooms - they’re nice, no lie.  There’s hardwood flooring, comfy chairs and big bathrooms with decadent showers.  Of course, hidden in a closet here or a faux-bureau there’s all sorts of nifty medical thingies, secreted away on the off-chance that someone might, say, deliver a baby or something.  The rooms are on the top floor of the hospital, and every last one of them affords a view of the city that’s just incredible.  There are even speakers up by the head of the bed, complete with little car-stereos and cassette decks to drive them. 

One relatively calm night I took over the room directly across from the nursing station and shanghaied the stereo therein.  Found myself a station that was playing some funky R&B with a fat horn section and cranked it damned near all the way up.  Sashayed out into the hallway and grabbed a startled woman from the housekeeping staff and jitterbugged with her from one end of the corridor to the other.  As the song ended I dipped her, then bowed deeply just as a couple of the nurses were coming out of the side-room where they’d been chatting.

“Oh.  It’s Marcus.  Should have known,” one said, grinning.

“Aye lass,” I answered.  “Who’s gonna grant me the boon of the next dance?”

“You know, I keep forgetting there are stereos in those rooms,” the other nurse observed.

I plopped myself down at the desk, slightly out of breath from the exertion.  Not enough exercise, too many cigarettes.  I need to get myself a good rowing ergometer and write myself for that goddamned nicotine patch. 

I hadn’t even realized the stereos were there until my fourth of fifth night on call, which is sorta unusual.  I mean, I tend to notice things for playing music fairly quickly, and sometimes get myself in trouble for making sure they’re actually doing so.  The exchange tends to go something like this:

“Ah, Marcus - if the surgeon comes in here and finds you playing music in the o/r that loud, she’ll have you wearing your balls for a bow-tie in no time flat.”

“Oh.  Oops.”

There’s a reason I didn’t notice though, honest.  You see, in each room, suspended strategically from the ceiling so you can see it from the bed is a big ol’ color tv, and damn if it isn’t playing pretty much non-stop from the time a patient occupies the room until she leaves it to go over to the maternity floor.  The number of deliveries I’ve attended to the accompaniment of a laugh-track or soppy soap-opera dialogue would boggle the mind.  Of course it’s not quite as bad as the family who insisted on video-taping every moment of one particular woman’s labor to the point of zooming in for a close-up shot of muff engulfing my hand every time I went to check the poor lady’s cervix to assess her progress, but it still freaks me out a little bit.

No, actually, it freaks me out quite a bit.  I found myself thinking of a vaguely similar feeling I had a million years ago (or two, take your pick) as a third-year medical student.  I was working on the Peds service rather than Ob-Gyn, but it was the same general milieu, so what the hell.



There I was, trooping down the hall from the well-baby nursery  to labor and delivery.  Keyed in the secret code on  the keypad across from the doors, strode through as they opened, and there I was right in the midst of it.  I cornered one of the L&D nurses and asked as to the whereabouts of one Ms. Haston, newly minted mom of the kid I’d just examined up the  hall.  The kid was a perfectly normal healthy looking baby; cute, comfortable, and looking just a wee bit astounded by these strange new sensations she was confronting..

I was directed to a room, and in I went.  There was someone in the bed, obviously in active labor.  Oops.  “Heh, sorry; wrong  room.”  I can just see how it might have gone:  “I just  examined your child, and she’s fine,” answered by a quizzical  look that says all at once, “You’re confused and obviously dangerously insane; please get the hell out of my room.”

Fortunately I had avoided that ugly scenario by employing my clinical acumen and some careful deductive reasoning.

Back at the control desk and lounge-about area for residents, nurses  and students who aren’t currently tied up, I tried again; and  this time got it right.  You see, I was on a mission.  My job was  to obtain an informed consent so I could cause Ms. Haston’s kiddo to  receive her first Hepatitis B vaccination.  I say ‘cause’ because I damned well wouldn’t be doing it myself.  I can start an  arterial line, or even place a central venous catheter (assuming  there’s someone who really knows what they’re doing right behind me) but I had never given anyone an intra-muscular shot. Go figger.  You need an IM shot?  Get a nurse to do it; you’re much less likely to walk away aching and bruised.


Anyhow, soon enough I found myself at the threshold of her doorway.  I knocked to announce myself and wandered in.  “Ms. Haston?”  (I wanted to be sure I was in the right room, you understand.)  She nodded  agreement, so I felt free to proceed.  “My name is Marcus Eubanks.  I’m a medical student who’s working with the Pediatrics team, and I’m helping to take care of your baby.”  All okay so far.  “I just examined her, and I wanted to let you know that she’s doing  fine.  As best we can tell, she’s a perfectly normal, healthy baby.  She’s beautiful.  Congratulations!”

I stopped then, to offer her a chance to speak.  I’m not really sure what I was expecting; maybe, “Oh, that’s terrific.  Thanks for the good news,”  or “Yes she is, when can I see her again?”  She looked me right in the eyes and said,  “There’s no tv in here.”


*          *          *          *


I stood mute for a moment.  In truth, my ears were ringing and everything in the room suddenly looked very small and far away.

I looked around her room and saw that she was absolutely right.  I shared this with her, still trying to shake off my confusion.

“Why, sure enough, there isn’t,” I cleverly observed.  “Umm, you could watch your heart tracing on this monitor here, that’s kinda like tv...”

The look on her face showed that she clearly wasn’t convinced.  I tried again:  “Well, uh - there’ll be a tv when you get moved to your room on the maternity section of the floor, and you’ll be there pretty soon.”  Still no joy.  My sacred mission forgotten for the moment, I tried  one last time.  “Anyhow, your baby looks perfectly normal and healthy.  She’s really very beautiful.”  Nothing.  “Um, I could come back and talk to you later, if you’d prefer...”  She nodded an affirmative at me, and I told her I’d check back with her in a little while.

As I left the room, she piped up, “You sure there’s tv’s in the rooms?”  I assured her that indeed there were, smiled at her, and backed out the door.


I hadn't gotten permission for the vaccination until six hours later, after irritating mom for five minutes with my informed consent spiel while she was staring at the tube.


Back in the nursery, I was talking to her daughter.  There I was in a rocker, kid in arms, textbook on my lap.  My pens were strewn about on the floor where I’d tossed them so she couldn’t scrape her face or an eye on any of them as I held her.

I always talk to the babies, offering them sage political commentary or career suggestions.  It generally runs along the lines of, “Hey there sweetie, say: ‘I wanna be a tax-accountant.’  Or, ‘I wanna become a bon vivant, courted by the elite and in demand at parties everywhere.’”

My classmates think I’m strange.  The nurses think I’m insane but entertaining.  I have no earthly idea what the babies think.  I personally thought I was hilarious, but that’s neither here nor there.

The patter was a bit different this time.

“Kid, you gotta listen to me,” I was saying.  “Listen, this is important, I mean it.  Shoot your tv, okay?  Please?  You can be a maudlin hippie chick, or any angry activist spouting canned rhetoric.  Hang out in coffee shops and offer pretentious commentary on authors you’ve never read.  Drop names like Wittgenstein and Camus.  Whatever.  Just please, please, don’t let the great altar of passivity steal your soul.”


So things are a bit different now, two years later.  Central lines aren’t a problem anymore, and I do intramuscular injections just fine, for example, much to the surprise and delight of the nurses I work with.  They’re not that different though.  The ubiquitous presence of the tv still weirds me out no end.  Deliveries with Seinfeld in the background.  Desperate and futile codes with lovely but vapid Baywatch bimbos looking over my shoulder as I place the breathing tube.

The specter of tv in the face of things that would seem (to me) to be a bit more important still just leaves me cold.