Beeper Stories

In the olden days before cell phones, an item which used to be worn proudly by its owners, was the beloved pager, or as it was often called, a beeper.   Young doctors like me who were privileged to carry this Motorola marvel thought of ourselves as Very Important People.  

As a new intern in 1975, I was issued the most modern piece of equipment available at the time: a voice pager.   This enabled VIPs like myself to be on-call whenever someone needed us.   The paging operator would be able to find us wherever we happened to be, day or night.  

I remember one time when I had just finished a totally sleepless on-call night.  Somehow, I managed to make it through the morning rounds without falling asleep on my feet and I looked forward to the noontime conference.  I conspired with the operator so that she would call me and I would be able to sneak off to my on-call room for a brief well-deserved nap.   

Midway into the meeting, as scheduled,  her voice came through loud and clear, “Paging Dr. Kraft, just as you requested.”  Busted!    It was obvious to everyone in the room that I had planned my escape.

On the same subject, my second favorite beeper story was when my oldest daughter was only four years old.   As a busy pediatrician, my life at home was constantly interrupted by calls from anxious parents.   Dinner time was often especially busy because this was when parents would realize that their children were sick as their evening temperatures would start to rise.   The answering service would call us on the hour for routine calls, except if it sounded like an actual emergency and couldn’t wait.  There were many frustrating times that it seemed as if I was always on the phone.  

Kids say the “darnedest things

My pager went off and my daughter ran to retrieve it from the kitchen counter.  As she presented it to me, she said, “Daddy, here’s your damn beeper.”   Obviously this was the word she had learned from me for my precious possession.

In the early days of the sprawling West Palm Beach suburbs, I was living in the western section of the county in what is now called the Town of Wellington.   Since Palm Beach County had spread out westward from the Atlantic, there was a time that this section was considered “far out of town.” 

Back in the 1980s before cellphones were ubiquitous, we had to rely on our beepers.  There were vast stretches between the hospitals and where I lived where I knew exactly where the few payphones (remember them?) were located.  At night when it was still common for pediatricians to be summoned to the Emergency Rooms or to attend problem C-section deliveries, it was always a dilemma when the beeper would ring while you were heading through these desolate territories.   Should I go back in the direction of the hospitals just in case I had to return to the hospital, or should I take the chance and make the call at home 15 minutes later.  There were many times that I rolled the dice and I lost.  It was either a non-emergency that made me turn around or I would reach home and then have to quickly return once again to the hospital.  One night I had to return three times to the hospital by 3 am, so I decided just to stay overnight just in case. 

This kind of cellphone was usually mounted in your car and could be connected to an external battery to make it portable. But it was heavy and inconvenient, but we thought they were great!

When cellphone service was finally introduced in the mid-1980s, the whole package was so large that they were sold with a briefcase or a backpack.  The battery itself was over two pounds and the antennas had to be positioned just right in order to be able to catch the signal.  It was often a funny sight seeing people outside restaurants or buildings trying to make those original cellphone calls.  

It’s amazing how things have changed!   Young owners of cellphones nowadays have no idea how our communications devices have evolved over the past 40 years.  From my original “damn beeper” to our present cellphones, it is hard to imagine what it was like “in the good old days!”