Sometimes as a hospitalist my Mondays actually fall on Saturdays. While my two children, husband, two cats- even the one who yowls for food first thing- and the dog are still asleep I get dressed in the dark. Of course I wear my black sneakers with the thick gold stripe down the side to make myself feel more weekend-y. I drive to work flanked by ominous shadows that will later reveal themselves as buildings, trees, mountains. By the time I arrive at the hospital the dark isn’t as deep but the sun isn’t quite ready to make an appearance either.
The thing about my work is that I have no idea what’s waiting for me when I walk through the door. On this Saturday it is a happy baby with a new tumor, shocking reminders of how poverty makes children sick, horrific unexplained injuries, and of course, room after room of infants with respiratory distress who are going to get better pretty quick once they aren’t so overwhelmed with… boogers. Another physician makes an error and leaves the hospital so I, the physician in charge of the unit for the weekend have to apologize to a family I don’t know. The patient’s veteran nurse melts with relief when I come in the room. “Thank you so much,” she says over and over, tearing up.
I’m making a difference I know, but still the weekend continues in darkness. As a grade school student I remember staring at the classroom clock, watching the big hand actually jump from minute to minute: a tiny movement backward and then a loud click forward. These days analog clocks move in smooth circles, but at work each time I think to check the time the hands had leaped forward in great chunks of minutes or even hours. I was planning to leave before three o’clock, then by four, until it was four twenty one and I knew it would be at least five. I’m caught in this vortex and by the real Monday, a holiday for my husband and kids, I haven’t seen the sun since Friday. I feel like I’m living in a goth music video, shadowy, dark, and I’m the slightly scary singer with the rest of the world watching me on TV. (Except I’m not really, because remember that gold stripe on my shoes? It’s decidedly non-goth.)
The fifth day, Wednesday is a snow day for everyone but us essential personnel. When I get home the driveway is still covered in snow, the only light in the blackness. I clean it myself, throwing the feelings of the week into the air with each shovel: anger! fear! exhaustion! It’s all heaped there in the snow pile on the edge of the driveway. My girls, the dog and the two cats all watch incredulously from the door at the sight of me in my weekday work clothes hurling snow into the dark. Once finished, I am ready to take a deep breath. I smile when I come inside.
On Thursday I’m off; it’s finally my Saturday. The sun is blindingly beautiful. The lacy fabric of the snow dusted trees is like a wedding dress before the ceremony, filled with promise. The ground is bright white, the sky as blue as a tropical beach. Even the harsh tips of the bristly bare trees on the mountains are muted and softened to a pretty periwinkle wash by the cover of snow. I’m back, I’m me again! I hear some music on the radio- a rock star with a rebel-angel voice has died. And I listen to her sing as I run in the snow, inhaling the clean blue air in larger and larger volumes and exhaling the stale, dark hospital air, thankful that I have the choice to do so.