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The People a Doctor Worries About

The middle of the night is when I worry about a patient like Olevia, whose oldest son was shot and killed at the age of 23. He left behind his baby mama and his two baby girls. Olevia didn’t have enough money for his funeral expenses, so she had to promise to pay in installments over the course of the next two years. So she gets a reminder of his death every month in the form of a bill.

The middle of the night is also when I worry about one of my own babies, the 7-year-old who has croup even at this age. I go back and forth: Should I go check on her? She’s probably okay. I don’t want to disturb her. But what if she’s not okay? What if there’s something going on?

I remember the time when I saw  a little girl with croup who became hypoxic, and, because her parents were in the same room with her, they noticed and brought her in. What if that happens? My husband knows I won’t be able to sleep until I see for myself. So I get out of bed and tiptoe into her room and listen to her breathe for a few moments, watching her chest rise and fall. Then I go back to bed, placated, but still thinking about Olevia and her grandbabies.

Finally, I start my 4-7-8 breathing (just as I tell my patients to do!). I focus on my husband’s heavy arm across my chest. And eventually I fall asleep.

Pooja Mittal
San Mateo, California


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