Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Colleague's Betrayal

We like to think that anesthesiologists are all congenial, selfless individuals looking out for each other and our patients. Anesthesiologists get accustomed to being screwed by the surgeons or the operating room. It can be pretty exhausting during the course of a day dealing with all the nonmedical issues we have to put up with. It is nice to believe your partner has your back and can be depended upon to help out. Therefore when you get the shaft from your own anesthesia colleague, it can be really disappointing.

I'm not talking about patient related emergencies like a difficult airway. I like to think I can still depend on them to help out in such a dire situation. I'm thinking more about personnel issues that should be the last thing we have to worry about. For instance, we have an overnight call team that starts their shift at 3:00 PM and is responsible for all the appendectomies, D+C's, traumas, etc. that roll in through the course of the evening. When we're on that shift, we usually can count on having the day free to run errands, take the kids to school, or just sleep in. But on more than one occasion, when I've been on the night shift, a colleague will simply not show up for work and all attempts to reach them are futile. So guess who gets called in to do the morning cases and still have to work all night, essentially a 24 hour shift?

Sometimes it's the other way around. The surgeons may decide to keep adding cases far into the night. As the anesthesiologist in the room, I have the option of having the on call person take over the room so I can leave at a reasonable hour. However I've had instances where the call person (not the overnight shift) has refused to accept this responsibility. He might argue that he's already home and doesn't want to drive back to the hospital. Or he has a long line up of cases the next day and is too tired to take on more cases that night. That's when you dishearteningly realize you are on your own and are stuck with the cases until the overnight person is free and can finally take over your room which might be anywhere from 10:00 PM to 2:00 AM.

Granted this disgraceful behavior is decidedly uncommon within our group and is relegated to a few usual suspects. Complaints to higher ups usually get a "we'll deal with it" reply and not even a noticeable slap on the wrist. The fact that this happens at all though is frustrating and adds another level of stress to our already taxing profession.

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