Zoe Kiren Deol, MD, FACS

Every hospital I have ever worked in seems to have a case of split personality. During the day, a hospital seems to take on the persona of a doting mother, full of rules and regulations created for your own personal safety: “Don’t run with scissors” (dispose of sharps correctly); “Eat your vegetables” (low fat, low sodium diabetic diet); “It’s past your bedtime” (visiting hours are now over). 

At night, however, the hospital takes on the personality of the crazy, eccentric aunt who wears a flowered hat and always orders take-out: “Sure you can stay up all night and watch a horror movie” (of course your entire family can stay in your room with you all night); “You can eat whatever you want to eat” (of course you can eat the curry that your family brought you); “You don’t have to wear a coat when you go outside if you don’t want to” (if the monitors are bothering you, we’ll just take them off so you can sleep…).

Never has this been more apparent to me than now in my new position as a surgical hospitalist covering the night shift.  It seems that there is a certain kind of personality that is attracted to the night shift ... let’s call them “quirky”. 

I am allowed to say that, because I am now one of them. Gone are the daytime coffee pots filled with government issued Cadillac Coffee. Out come the home-brewed Brazilian mixes with flavored syrup.

Gone are the medically decorated nurses stations strewn with charts, rhythm strips, and lab results. Out come photo albums of the latest wedding and the most recent issues of People magazine.

Gone are the standard hospital uniforms of green scrubs and white coats. Out come the personalized sweatshirts with comical slogans and cartoon characters (mine of course has a picture of Doc from "Snow White"). 

It is a transformation akin to that of the gleaming New York City by day into the wacky Gotham City by night. 

One of my most amazing nighttime discoveries is what I refer to as “Shelly’s Rolodex”. Shelly is a PACU nurse who has, over time, collected all of the “Bat Phone” numbers of all the surgeons. These are numbers that even the hospital operator does not have access to. 

Shelly appears to have assumed the persona of Alfred the Butler in the Batman series. She is the filter through which everything must pass before summoning the “Bat-Surgeon du jour”. In sharing this information with me, I imagine that I am now Robin. My role as a surgical hospitalist requires that I not only cover general surgery, but also: ortho, ENT, plastics, thoracic, urology, vascular, neurosurgery, etc … Having spent the last 7 years as a bariatric surgeon, this type of exposure is both overwhelming and exciting.

I have to admit though; it is giving me a second wind in my career to see things I otherwise would not have seen as a bariatric surgeon, like a man with congenital absence of his IVC, or a 14-year-old with a mysterious mediastinal tumor. It is a nice change from calculating BMI’s day in and day out.

Is the split personality of the hospital just a metaphor for the transition I am going through in my career?  More importantly, is it a transition that all surgeons are going through in one form or another? 

As the term “general surgery” becomes obsolete (with the near universal sub-specialization of general surgeons into: breast, trauma, colorectal, hapatobiliary, endocrine, etc…), new specialties are beginning to emerge, such as “acute care surgeon” and “surgical hospitalist”.  Are we bound to go through life in a perpetual identity crisis?  And if so …. is that such a bad thing?

For now, I am happy to patrol the halls of my Gotham City, and protect my compatriot day-surgeons from being awakened at night by villains such as: The Scarecrow Internist, The Riddler nurse, or …. The Joker from the ER.

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Dr. Deol is a board-certified general surgeon.