| Diary Serial |

On Call: Chapter 6 — A Time to Dance

Every family simchah throws my careful plans into a wild tailspin


The ping of my phone cuts through the chaos in the hallway, where a child with a suspected fracture is wailing loudly. I have a few precious moments to myself, and I’m trying to sneak a few pretzels (whole wheat, of course) and not overthink my last case. The teenager hadn’t seemed acutely distressed — had I made the right call in pushing for an MRI?

My flip phone chirps again, and I finally check the texts. My coworkers are always fascinated by this vestige of a bygone era, but calling and texting are all I need. The last thing I want is more blinking screens — between reading vital signs on monitors, EKGs to detect heart rhythms, and venous ultrasounds, I prefer to leave the high-tech devices to the hospital.

It’s a text from my mother: Gershon’s going out on his sixth date tomorrow! Keep davening 😊

That’s amazing! 😊 😊 I text back, but all the smiley emojis in the world can’t mask the truth.

I’m equal parts excited and nervous at the news. It’s hard to imagine that Gershon, my baby brother, is really dating. Yet I’m not nervous about whether the date will go well or not. I’ve been so busy lately that I don’t even know who he’s going out with — what I’m worried about, in that deep, dark place where I store the thoughts I can’t share, is that Gershon will become engaged.

The scenario (as I automatically check to see which room I’m assigned to next) is stark. A l’chayim. A vort. The chasunah (probably in Lakewood; where else do people make chasunahs these days?). Sheva brachos. Shabbos sheva brachos. And I’ll be expected to attend, which makes sense, since I’m a sibling, and of course I want to attend everything. Not to mention searching for a gown, and so on, ad infinitum. But while the festivities seem endless, my free time is not. People are sometimes shocked when I tell them: I don’t “get off” during residency. There are three to four weeks of personal days over the course of the year, but if you factor in all the Yamim Tovim, that free time quickly evaporates.

In residency, there’s no room for excuses. You make it work. Schedules are as ironclad as Fort Knox, and anyone who messes up the schedule for everyone is often the target of mass rage. Ironically, I, and probably many of my fellow residents, have come to work with fever, coughs, or debilitating migraines. Anything, rather than use up a precious “vacation” day. When I take off a day, chances are I’ll be making up the missed days over the weekend — and I struggle so hard to keep Shabbos work-free.

During my first week of residency, there was an orientation meeting with our program director in one of the hospital’s conference rooms. After a speech about the basics of the program, everyone left — except for me. There was something we needed to discuss.

My program director said, “I know you’re Jewish and you’ll want Saturdays off as much as possible. When you speak to your superiors, are you making a request or a demand?”

“What’s the difference?” I asked. “Isn’t the end result the same?”

“Not at all,” he said. “When you demand, they’ll treat you ‘by the book.’ When you request, and you explain that you’ll take over Sunday and holiday shifts for your colleagues, they’ll accommodate you. They’ll respect you and try to make things work. I’ve had other Jewish students, and I know how it goes. Stand up for your principles, but do it nicely.” He winked. “Be a mensch.”

His approach has worked well so far, but every family simchah throws my careful plans into a wild tailspin. Sometimes it’s hard for relatives to understand why I can’t simply fly in for one evening for a close cousin or friend’s wedding.

“One day! What’s the big deal?” a friend reasoned in October. How could I explain the complicated hoops I had to jump through to make sure I was home on Succos?

Being a resident is sometimes lonely. The only people who understand are those who’ve been there. They know how grueling it is, how my time is not my own for these three years.

Two weeks later, after successful date number seven, I receive a text on the family chat from my sister-in-law: It sounds like things are going really well. Is it too early to think about gowns? My friend’s brother just got married, and they wore the most gorgeous forest-green gowns. Maybe we can go to a gown rental place together! When did Mommy say it’s becoming official?

My sister Esther is always in the know. They have one more date, and I think that’s when he’s proposing! NEXT WEEK 😊 That means I have seven days to figure out what to do. How am I going to make this wedding work?

The following Tuesday, there’s a breathless mazel tov message on my voicemail, and my mother emails a few pictures of the happy couple, the kallah dwarfed by a gargantuan bouquet of red roses. I call during the l’chayim and squeal excitedly along with my mother and sisters — most of whom live on the East Coast. I don’t share the bleakness of my feverish calculations. What with taking off for Pesach, and Shavuos coming, I don’t see how I can come in for the chasunah and still make sure I’m off on Yom Tov. But to miss a sibling’s chasunah? How can I not be at this once-in-a-lifetime event?

In desperation, I daven. Maybe the program director can’t solve this, even with a hefty dose of menschlichkeit, but Hashem can.

And one night, He does. I’m called in on jeopardy, which is unusual, as a substitute for a different resident, who now owes me two shifts.

I now have one more precious “off” day, and I use it for the day of the chasunah. My mother sends me a gown and I get it fitted before night shift, taking up valuable hours of sleep. The tickets are booked: We’re traveling in on the red-eye flight, and we hope to be at pictures by four. My sheitel is done, and the makeup artist is going to be waiting for me in the hall.

There are a few nail-biting moments, but after a short delay and a car-rental mix-up, we’re on the way.

There is only sheer joy as my mother, sisters, and sisters-in-law pull me into the whirling circle of forest-green. In the ER, it’s a time to heal, but now it’s a time to dance.


The characters in this series are composites; all the stories are true.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 893)

Oops! We could not locate your form.