The phone rang at 3:30 a.m. An airline pilot at the Costa Mesa Hilton needed a doctor, explained the caller. Could I go?
That Hilton is 46 miles away, but I drive there regularly for an agency that provides medical care to foreign airline crew when they lay over (American crew are on their own). It’s an easy drive at this hour. I accepted for several seconds until I woke up and remembered that the 405 freeway closes at the Orange County border during the wee hours for major construction. Despite the hour, closing the freeway produces an immense backup, and the detour through city streets is slow and tedious. Forced to go, I take a different freeway which is ten miles longer and only slightly less tedious.
I was in luck. Wee-hour patients usually suffer intense symptoms such a vomiting; they don’t like to wait. This guest had a cold and didn’t object to a visit later that morning.
I breathed a sigh of relief and went back to sleep. The delay would cost me $150 because the agency pays less for daytime housecalls, but it was worth it.
In his regular column “The Life of a Hotel Doctor”, Mike Oppenheim shares remarkable stories around visiting hotel guests as a doctor. When he began as a hotel doctor during the 1980s, only luxury hotels had a “house doctor,” usually a local practitioner who did it as a sideline. Nowadays, in a large city even the lowliest motel receives blandishments from a dozen individuals plus several agencies that send moonlighting doctors if they can find one.
More from Mike Oppenheim