Doctors' books often make wonderful reading, gripping and inspiring. Few other professions are so rich in raw emotions, so loaded with drama where life and death are at stake--with occasions where the skill of a practitioner makes a crucial difference, and others where even the best doctor is powerless.
"Night Calls" stands among the best, for in addition to drama, it also has compassion and insight. Dr. Eisenberg has wisely enlisted here the help of his brother and the brother's wife, both writers. But this story stands on its own merits as it charts the evolution and maturing of a doctor's personality, tracing a journey of personal discovery in a society where the roles of obstetrician and gynecologist are also changing. The initial feeling of a freshly graduated doctor, with enormous responsibility and power--"the doctor as god"--soon meets reality and undergoes subtle change. A man taught to handle private domains of a woman's body is also instructed to stay clear of any distracting emotions--only to discover to his dismay that patients then regard him as cold and unfeeling. Some ob/gyns doctors cultivate such an attitude, to better focus on a profitable and exclusive career. Thankfully, not Dr. Eisenberg, who keep learning how much richer (also more stressful) is the life of a doctor who becomes truly involved.
The book is interrupted by poignant short stories from real life, little chapters titled "leaves from an ob/gyn's journal" which are sandwiched between the main ones. Such is the story of an Oklahoma MD, stripped of his license for performing an abortion contrary to state law: he did so (he told the court) after he refused an impassioned plea by a woman, who thereafter left his office and killed herself, driving at high speed into a power pole. (He lost his license anyway.) The story of a seemingly routine delivery by an Air Force wife, whose baby suddenly began choking on a tangled cord. An emergency cesarean was indicated, but the anestethiologist was nowhere around. "Just do it" the mother pleaded, gritting her teeth. Dr. Eisenberg did the job, in 90 seconds. "How are we doing?" he asks the woman, halfway through. "Fine. Don't worry about me. Just hurry."
And then there are the low points, of losing a patient unexpectedly, sometimes (perhaps) due to no more than excessive fear. And lowest of all, falling victim to a canny and unscrupulous malpractive lawyer--five years after the delivery. Also the writer's attempt to be fair to a devoted wife, in spite of his demanding profession (the book isn't titled "Night Calls" for nothing). And the changing attitudes of society--fathers allowed into the delivery room (a no-no at one time), choices of "natural childbirth" and pain medication, judging when to perform a cesarean, bringing in midwives as partners. As well as the "gyn" aspect--cervical cancer, for instance.
Such a rich story deserves to be read slowly and thoughtfully. For any woman, finding a doctor as perceptive and skilled as Henry Eisenberg must be worth a long search. It is also a book for any ob/gyn specialist to read and reflect upon. If this reader has one regret, it is that "Night Calls" is now long out of print. Books have a shelf-life of years--not days and weeks like news publications, but not enough years, and all too soon they disappear from sight. That is a crying shame. "Night Calls" deserves to be read and appreciated as long as women bear babies, and as long as compassionate doctors like Henry Eisenberg are needed.
Author and Curator: Dr. David P. Stern
Mail to Dr.Stern: david("at" symbol)phy6.org .
Last updated 18 January 2006