The chairman of the bored


Beneath my isolation garb I could feel my pager vibrating for the third time. I attempted to disimpact myself from the room, but my graceful exit was marred by the tangled knots of the yellow gown tied around my neck.

It had been a tedious morning after 3 really long days on a service packed with complex patients and family psychodramas. In other words, it was a normal week on the ward. My circuits were fried and my dogs were tired. I did not have to look at the pager to know what it was: I was late for the hospital medicine division meeting, and our much-feared departmental chairman, a.k.a. the chief, was attending. As a senior (i.e. old) member, I was expected to attend.

Photo courtesy of Jamie Newman
Photo courtesy of Jamie Newman.

I rushed into the hot, over-crowded room at 10 minutes after the hour. I had crossed the subtle barrier from stylishly late to just plain late. All the chairs in the back of the room were full. The same applied for the less-desirable-but-still-palatable middle-range seats. To my horror and dismay there was only one spot left, right up front, wedged between our administrator and the chief. I contemplated the old “fake page” dodge, or the “whoops, I forgot something” maneuver, when the chief waived me over with a malicious smirk, announcing that now that “our most celebrated” hospitalist was here, we could begin.

I wedged myself in with my most ingratiating smile. Our division chair was droning on about safety or quality or productivity or something. I struggled to keep my eyes open. I tried the “hold up your head with one finger propping open your eye” routine, well-loved by students the world over, but it was no use. I shifted and fidgeted in my too-tight seat, crossed and uncrossed my legs, but I was losing the battle. I felt myself sliding down a slippery slope into the sweet arms of Morpheus, down the road to the land of Nod.

I felt my body twitch. I heard laughter. I startled awake with a painful jerk of my arms. I heard the chief say, “Thanks to our esteemed senior hospitalist for raising his hand and volunteering to serve as committee chair.” The room applauded. What had I done? I couldn't ask which committee I had just been appointed to lead; I just smiled and waved to my adoring crowd.

The next day I saw a new meeting pop up on my electronic calendar. It was the Hospital Practice Committee! Oh brother. Well, I guess I could do it; why not! I reviewed some old minutes to try to get the vibe of the committee. It looked like the chief had been the chairman. I was surprised he had given up this seat, especially to me, as our long-term antagonism was palpable. We had been at odds since medical school, when he was my intern.

The meeting was scheduled for Monday at 7 a.m. and there was nobody I could really ask about it. It seemed like my colleagues were avoiding me. I decided to go in cold and play it as it came. I arrived atypically early. The walnut veneer table that seated 30 was my new home. I sat at the front of the room in the captain's chair and waited for people to arrive. I would show them how to run a hospital!

The members filtered in, giving me odd looks. I assumed they were jealous or nervous to see how I would handle things. They murmured in what I assumed was a response to the power of my newly appointed leadership. The committee secretary came in, just as the hour turned, to see me at the head of the table of smiling doctors and administrators. Then the chief walked in.

He stared at me, then laughed. He told me I would have to leave the room until it was time for my presentation to the committee. “I was confused,” I said. “I thought I was leading the group.”

“No,” he said. “But the committee will be most interested in your presentation as newly appointed chair of the Call Room Committee, though.”

I was stunned. I wasn't chair of the Hospital Practice Committee, and I wasn't prepared to present on the lamest assignment of all. I had been set up. The chief smiled.

I thought fast. I explained that I knew I wasn't chair of the Hospital Practice Committee, I was just checking out the seat to see if it would be a comfortable model for the call room. I stood, stretched and yawned, and told the seated crowd that, as chair of the Call Room Committee, my first official act would be to go up to the call room and nap. I handed my pager to the chief and thanked him for covering it while I grabbed some shut-eye.

The events in this column are fictional.