PART II: THE OR

For one resident — a pregnant pause

Dr. Leah Palifka, who is the hospital’s first doctor to have a baby during the residency, delivered him at Signature.

By Jessica Scarpati, Enterprise staff writer

   Years ago, Dr. Leah Palifka built a small wooden bookshelf. Nothing fancy, but practical and sturdy and done all by herself.
   Her father, a general contractor, had taught her how to build furniture. It’s kind of a hobby — or it was.
   That was before she left her engineering job, graduated from medical school and was accepted into the first-year transitional residency program at Signature Healthcare Brockton Hospital.
   It was also before she learned she and her husband of six years, Bob, would be having a baby boy.
   “I haven’t done a piece in a while,” she dismissed.
   That little wooden bookshelf has moved with her through various apartments and condos, most recently back to her parents home in Brockton, where she and Bob live until she must move again for her career — to Utah — next summer.
   But the bookshelf is no longer hers. It sat in the blue and white room for the baby, waiting for him to arrive.
   Zachary Michael Palifka was born six days early on Sept. 24. He weighed 6 pounds and 7 ounces and measured 19 inches.

“It’s been fine during the day, but then I go home and I crash. Maybe I’m a little more tired, but everyone is tired.”
Dr. Leah Palifka
   Palifka, who is the hospital’s first doctor to have a baby during the residency, delivered him at Signature.
   When asked earlier this month until what point she would work, she replied, “Until the contractions.”
   “I’m just afraid I’m not going to want to come back,” Palifka said. “I know it’s going to be hard.”
   That’s the part she most fears, she said — saying goodbye to her newborn son after a six-week maternity leave to return to six- to 16-hour days at the hospital.
   Being pregnant through the first three months of residency, being exposed to who-knows-what in the wards, carrying an extra 25 pounds, catching several colds — by comparison, it’s nothing, she said.
   She is convinced walking around the hospital all day and being on her feet might even be making her feel better.
   “It’s been fine during the day, but then I go home and I crash,” Palifka said. “Maybe I’m a little more tired, but everyone is tired.”
   That attitude sounds about “normal” for her, said her father, Joe Platenik, the one who taught her how to build that bookshelf.
   “She just presses through everything. She’s pretty focused,” he said. “She takes herself second, but yeah, she’s exhausted.”
   Somewhere in between, her mother, Millie, threw her a baby shower last month at Cameron’s on the Green in West Bridgewater.
   Dr. Dale Ellenberg, the hospital’s medical education director, said Palifka’s responsibilities have been “unaffected” by her pregnancy.
   She still is on-call every fourth day, requiring her to stay at the hospital until 10 p.m. on weekdays (and 24 hours on weekends) and respond to pages from the emergency department.
   “Leah is a wonderful resident and she’s going to be a great mom. She is hard-working and takes everything in stride, without complaint — she is rock-solid,” Ellenberg said.
   Palifka said letting her pregnancy affect her residency wasn’t an option. She has not turned down any case for fear of infection.
   “This is my job. This is what I wanted to do,” she said.
   “Yeah, you worry ... I’m a little more squeamish about going into certain rooms,” Palifka acknowledged. “When we know what (patients) have, it’s OK. You can cover yourself up.”
   But getting called down to the emergency department — not knowing what she’s going into — is “a little scary,” she said.
   “I’ve had bad dreams about that,” Palifka said.
   That is, when she has had time to sleep.
   These days, however, Palifka has few nightmares — but expects many sleepless nights ahead.
   “I really wanted to get a rocking chair in the room,” she said. “But we couldn’t fit it.”

Dr. James Knutson wears his striking red and green sneakers when he is on call. He says they help staff tell him apart from another intern who is also tall and shaves his head. (Tim Correira/The Enterprise)
By Jessica Scarpati, Enterprise staff writer
   What’s red and green and comes charging toward you when you’re having a heart attack?
   Dr. James Knutson.
   On your next nighttime trip to the emergency room, look out for the scarlet Nikes with the lime green swish. That’s how you know Knutson is on call.
   “These are my old running shoes, so they’ve been relegated to the on-call footwear,” he said. “They’ve been getting rave reviews in the hospital.”
   His kicks also help colleagues tell him apart from Dr. Nathan Himes, who is also tall and bald.
   “For a while they were confusing Nate and I because we like to wear similar hairstyles,” Knutson said. “I finally had to tell people — you look for the red shoes, and that’s how you know it’s James.”
By Jessica Scarpati, Enterprise staff writer
   When Dr. Dale Ellenberg isn’t drumming medical knowledge into the eight first-year residents he supervises, he’s banging on snares and cymbals as “Dr. Dale” with The Downtown Players.
   The blues rock band plays in area restaurants and pubs, jamming to original tunes and covering everyone from James Brown to Santana.
   Check them out online at myspace.com/downtownplayers and downtownplayers.net.
   Catch Dr. Dale and the Players at 9 p.m. Oct. 4 at Huckleberry’s Chicken House in Middleboro, and Oct. 18 at Christopher’s Seafood & Steak in Raynham.
Video and text by Tim Correira, Enterprise staff writer
Dr. James Knutson checks his pager while on his rounds. (Tim Correira/The Enterprise)
   BROCKTON — Dr. James Knutson had his on-call pager off for a month and it was glorious.
   Life took a turn — somewhat — toward normalcy in September as he completed his radiology rotation, an elective, at Tufts Medical Center in Boston.
   The more flexible schedule was good timing for him and his wife, Katherine, who had “a few household emergencies” in their South Boston condo.
   “My dishwasher started leaking,” Knutson said. “If I had been in surgery, it would have been weeks before I could use the dishwasher and be home long enough to have the plumber come out and fix it.”
   But even better, he has been studying the specialty he hopes to pursue as a career — radiology.
   “Many of the procedures have been fun, but there are some boring ones,” he acknowledged, noting he tried to pick cases that interested him most.
   “I also have had a lot of time to catch up on some of the monumental amount of reading that I have to do as part of the program,” Knutson added.
   He returned each Tuesday to Signature Healthcare Brockton Hospital to work in the hospital’s clinics, practicing outpatient care, mostly for the uninsured and underinsured.
   As the rotation wound down, Knutson started to get that itch again.
   “I'm ready to get my edge back,” he said, heading down a dimly lit corridor of the hospital’s fourth floor.
   “I’m almost ready for anything,” Knutson added, on his way to the clinic. “We'll see what happens tonight.”