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Nov 14, 2010

Lessons

In a way, I’m glad I haven’t fallen in love with Emergency Medicine because it would be a downright shame to get confused in the Future Me game this far in. It is nice also that I don’t hate it 100%, since I was quickly tagged as the Future OB and thus get all reproductive aged women with belly pain. Thus, I have practiced the pelvic exam and rehearsed my counseling for nearly every single OB/GYN complaint.

The benign: Bleeding. Not bleeding. Pain. Problems having sex.
The emotionally charged: You’re pregnant. You’re not pregnant. Sexual assault. STD.
The devastating: Miscarriage. Cancer.
It has been a difficult few weeks, made harder by my schedule. Working the late evening shift kept me from being present in the morning or evening, meaning I went several days without seeing Colin awake and only talking to Patrick on the phone when I could steal a minute in a bathroom.
Without them, I found it incredibly difficult to motivate myself. I am a naturally energetic, happy person and I gain energy from interacting with people – the very definition of an extrovert. While I am normally happy to go to work and pleased to meet new people, I found that I could not force myself to be interested in complaints that I deemed unworthy. All I could think that this person’s selfish refusal to take care of themselves and/or see (get) a primary care doctor was the reason I was away from my family. (Obviously this is totally untrue. I would be there anyway, even if not a single patient showed up all night. But that logic was ineffective on my attitude.)
So I got to practice another type of counseling. Self pep talks.
This is not about them. This is about you. You want to be here, because this is a step closer to who you are becoming. Patrick and Colin love you, even if you’re not home right now, so you need to focus on being present for this patient. It is not their fault that you are tired and haven’t eaten and haven’t seen your family. They think they need to be here, so give them what they deserve.
Repeat, ad nauseum.
Finally, Friday, I caught a break. Our schedules lined up so that I could keep Colin home from school and Patrick would be home before I went to work. I can’t say it was the most meaningful morning that Colin and I have ever spent together – it mostly consisted of playing cars and watching Bob the Builder – but that night, after spending the morning with Colin and a few hours in the afternoon with Patrick, I was a different person. Suddenly, I felt full of compassion for the patients. Even the most horrific abuse of the emergency department system was met with warmth and smiles from me, because my soul was full again.
Burn out is not to be taken lightly, and working odd shifts which keep people from their families is an express train to Meltdown Town. Just a few hours with my beloved boys all but fixed my emotional ailment. (Imagine what a weekend would do!)
I subscribe to the notion that we are always learning through our experiences, the bad ones usually more full of lessons than the good. This month has so far been full of dozens of patients, each with an important point for me to see and a story for me to understand, but the most important story has been my own. Learning to live without my family is not feasible, but easing the time away from them is accomplished by cherishing the time we’re together.
What a month to learn this lesson of gratitude and thankfulness.

1 Readers rock!:

Pennsy said...

month has so far been full of dozens of patients, each with an important point for me to see and a story for me to understand, but the most important story has been my own.

You are becomming a better doctor every day. Thanks for sharing the journey...bob