“Burning the Short White Coat” by Eve Shvidler M.D.
Blurb: In “Burning the Short White Coat: A Story of Becoming a Woman Doctor,” author Dr. Eve Shvidler narrates the humor and heartbreak in love and medicine through young medical student Elle Gallagher. A medical chick-lit novel, “Burning the Short White Coat” exposes the personal battles that single women must overcome in balancing a demanding profession and the desire to find a trusting and loving relationship.
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The shrill of my pager jolted me from a dreamless sleep, and I fumbled for my eyeglasses. I focused on the tiny glowing screen of my nemesis leash and dialed the dreaded numbers to Labor and Delivery.
“This is Doctor Gallagher. I was paged,” I mumbled into the receiver.
“We have a decel in room five,” the nurse replied. “Heartbeat has been in the sixties for-”
“Get the terbutaline ready and open up the OR for a crash!” I said and slammed down the phone.
I bounced out of bed, pulled back my messy hair, slipped into my black dansko’s and grabbed my long white coat. My heart raced and thumped in my chest as I ran down the hall, through the double doors to the maternity ward.
I heard my patient moaning as I entered the delivery room. Her pregnant belly swayed back and forth as she squirmed in the hospital bed. The baby’s heart rate had not recovered, and I nervously slipped on a sterile glove.
“Did you push the terb?” I asked the nurse while examining my patient.
“Yes, Doctor, about thirty seconds ago,” she replied.
I felt the baby’s head well applied to the pelvis, but my patient’s cervix was only six centimeters dilated. I rubbed the baby’s head, hoping to stimulate him.
Thirty more seconds passed, and the heart rate continued to beat in the 60s. Normal heart rate for a fetus is more than 120 per minute. I sensed my patient’s helplessness. I sensed my own helplessness. I knew I had to get this kid out fast.
“What’s the problem?” my patient asked.
“Your baby’s heart rate has been down for four minutes. This is a sign of distress. At this time I would recommend performing an emergency cesarean section-”
“I don’t need to hear anymore. Just do it,” my patient said. She started to sob. I took a deep breath to calm myself.
“Crash!” I screamed. “Crash!” screamed the nurse. Four more nurses entered the room, hustling to grab IV lines, disconnect the fetal monitor, draw blood from my patient and roll her out of the room. The oversized scrub tech quickly waddled to the sinks and prepped her hands. The anesthesiologist emerged from his on-call room, eyes drooping with a mess of hair like Alfalfa from the Little Rascals.
“Call the attending,” I ordered the desk clerk.
My patient had broken down into hysterics from all the commotion, her bed rolled to the side of the operating room table. I shuffled to slip on my booties, blue bouffant and facemask and joined her in the OR.
“Take deep breaths. Everything is going to be okay,” I said, rubbing her shoulder and looking into her wet and puffy eyes. I glanced over at the anesthesiologist and nodded as he injected the milky fluid into her IV line. My patient dozed off to sleep.
“Just splash the betadine and start draping her,” I ordered the nurses, and I slipped out the door to the scrub sink. A twenty-something girl with long brown hair and a thin frame, wearing a short white coat approached me as I started to vigorously scrub my hands.
“Doctor Gallagher?” she inquired. I nodded my head, lathering my hands with orange-brown suds. “I’m Tracy, the third-year medical student on service. I just started-”
“Well, what are you waiting for, Tracy?” I asked. She had a startled look on her face and stood motionless for a moment.
“Start scrubbing. We don’t have much time,” I said.
She ran to the closet to hang her short white coat and joined me at the scrub station.
My attending arrived from her on-call room. She looked refreshed, her chocolate skin shiny and clean, scrubs unwrinkled and neatly tucked, her black hair perfectly fixed. I was always amazed by how composed she was.
“What’s the story, Gallagher?” she asked, grabbing an iodine sponge and firing up the scrub sink.
I explained the emergent situation to her. The anesthesiologist informed us we could start as I rinsed off the soap from my hands. Tracy fumbled around with the scrub sponge, trying to follow my attending’s lead.
“Get started,” my attending ordered.
I slipped on my gloves and gown and approached the left side of the operating table.
“Knife,” I ordered. The scrub tech handed me the scalpel, and I made a ten-centimeter incision just above the pubic bone. I took the incision down to the fascia, a tough connective tissue layer covering the muscles of the abdomen, and knicked the fascia in the midline. My attending and Tracy entered the room and joined me on the other side of the operating table.
“Quickly!” my attending cried. We cut across the fascia, separated the rectus muscles, poked through the peritoneum and incised the lower uterus. I placed my hand in the uterine incision and pulled out the baby’s head. My attending put pressure on my patient’s upper abdomen as I pulled the rest of the body out. The baby appeared floppy, breathless, dusky colored and silent.
Shit! Dammit! Breathe, dammit!!!
Expletives continued to run through my mind as I cut the cord and handed the little one off to the pediatricians. We listened for a faint cry, some sign of life, while we delivered the placenta and started to stitch up her uterus.
Breathe! Please! Breathe!
My fear was communicated to my attending through my eyes. The most agonizing moments in obstetrics is waiting for that cry. The bag mask continued to make a swishing sound as the pediatricians mumbled about exam findings. For a split second, I felt like hunching over, giving up and walking out of the room. My moment of weakness passed quickly, and I focused my attention on the open belly in front of my face.
“Please hand Tracy, the medical student, a Richardson retractor,” I said to the scrub tech. She handed Tracy the retractor, and I helped her properly place the instrument on the superior aspect of the incision. I then gave her the suction device and told her to keep the area dry. Her hands shook as she searched for fluid to suction.
We heard the cries from the new life as we finished closing the uterus. They were faint and soft cranky cries, but cries nonetheless. My heart felt as though it had sunk into my ankles and the entire operating room sighed with relief.
Thank God! Thank God! Thank God!
My heart rate slowed to an average rhythm as I removed my bloody gloves, gown and booties. Another life saved. We had won the race with Mother Nature this time.
“Nice work, Gallagher,” my attending said, strolling back to her sleep room. She had not formed a single drop of sweat over the potential catastrophe. I dreamed of one day practicing my trade with such finesse and confidence, but I still had a long way to go.
“That was amazing,” Tracy said to me, approaching the nurse’s station after we finished in the operating room. She appeared flustered and astonished, like a deer in headlights, still processing the late-night events. She reminded me of myself when I was a medical student — shy, clueless, awkward and anxious.
“In three years, you’ll be standing in my shoes,” I commented.
“I can’t believe how far I have gone and how much farther I have to go,” she said.
I thought about Tracy’s statement and reminisced about how much I had grown and changed in the process of my training. I remembered that first day of medical school, when I eagerly left my small town life nestled in sunny New Mexico to follow my dreams, only to find myself in a lab full of dead bodies. My life changed in an instant, and my journey began.
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About Eve Shvidler M.D.: Dr. Eve Shvidler wrote “Burning the Short White Coat” while still single and in medical school. She is now a practicing physician specializing in obstetrics and gynecology. Dr. Shvidler is married, and they have three children.