Showing posts with label PracticeBalance. Show all posts
Showing posts with label PracticeBalance. Show all posts

Thursday, November 8, 2018

A Beloved Mentor Falls

I walk by the closed double doors and frosty windows of the ICU. You’re lying in there, intubated. It feels weird to go to work now. I can’t see you or talk to you, don’t know the drips, don’t know the plan... and it’s killing me. I, along with many others, desperately want to express my love. So many feelings are swirling inside:

Guilt... For having a chill workday that day, leaving early to sneak in a pedicure before the evening’s family duties. All the while, you collapsed in the OR. Our colleagues rushed to your side. Emergent intubation. Hours in surgery... A trivial moment for me that was horror for you. It hurts my head and heart to contemplate that this is the case for any two people on Earth at any given moment.

Bitterness... For the memories that have surfaced of my own health crisis. My own rush to the OR and surgery and stay in the ICU. The immediate change to everything in my life, the upset of all routines. The label of a disability, the worries about the future. A dark time that I try to forget but never can. For having the knowledge that you will experience this same bitterness later on... if you’re “lucky.”

Gratitude... For my health now. For the part you played in it. You were the one I went to when I knew something was wrong with me all those years ago. My tears didn’t phase you for a second, and you helped arrange my much-needed absence from training. Others thought I was just performing poorly; they judged and moved on, but you knew what mattered. When I was finally diagnosed, you facilitated my prompt surgery with our most skilled surgeon. The same one who is now taking care of you.

Admiration... For your completely nonjudgmental approach to everything and everyone. I have experienced it myself but never realized it was your M.O. with all people. We all exchange stories quietly in the lounge, then fall silent with sadness and worry. For your goofy sense of humor. For our days in the OR and call nights together during my training; you were the one I felt most comfortable failing or struggling in front of; only now do I realize why.

Anger... For why this had to happen. What higher being would take down such a beloved leader, such a good doctor? At you for not knowing something was wrong inside sooner, so as to maybe prevent this catastrophe. At your family for keeping us from seeing you now. They don’t understand how much we love you, how much doctors bond together in a practice, working in parallel to preserve life and limb. Damn you for not sitting up in your bed right now, pulling that tube out and cracking a joke with a mischievous smile.

I have to write all this here to get it out of my head. Work is not the same without you there. I miss you.


Wednesday, September 26, 2018

I Am Kristie Reynolds



A little snippet of a recent email

At work, I go by Dawn Baker MD, MS. But at home, I’m sometimes known as Kristie Reynolds.


I don’t mean to give away my husband’s “Wizard of Oz”-type work secret here, but I will elaborate for the sake of this post. I highly doubt any of his clients are reading anyway. He has his own law firm, and a while ago he came up with the idea of creating a dummy admin email address for sending unpleasant or mundane emails, like reminding clients to pay their bills. It preserves the professional air of his one-man law firm and also allows him to not be “the bad guy” when it comes to collections or deadlines. It’s genius, actually. The admin’s name that he fabricated is Kristie Reynolds.

Well, Kristie has also started ordering (and apparently picking up) coffee beans for our espresso machine, and facilitating document exchange, and she recently became the voice for the firm’s voicemail greeting. Her duties have grown to the point where sometimes she is now required to perform these transactions in person. Guess who gets to be her?

It’s got me thinking about all the other roles we take on in our lives. Besides “Doctor” and “Kristie”, I’m also “Moo” - my husband’s longtime term of endearment for me. Of course, I’m now also “Mommy” - a name I’ll never get tired of answering to. And while these personas don’t have particular names, I’ve also been known at home as a cleaning lady, a driver, and a short-order cook. To my parents, I'm Daughter and Doctor; yet, they still rarely take my advice. Lately, I'm working more on blogger/entrepreneur as well, trying to grow and expand my personal blog (which means I'd better write more)!

Who are you outside of work? What are you known as besides "Doctor"?

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Morning Routines: Is There Such A Thing As A Mother In Medicine?

Years ago, I wrote this blog post about morning routines and how much I adored my "slow" non-workday mornings. I was in the midst of a 3-year IVF journey, but I wasn't pregnant yet. A friend of mine, who at the time had a small baby, laughingly said in response, "That sounds blissful, but wait until you have kids!"


So what's my routine like now? It's still a bimodal scenario: as a part-time anesthesiologist, the morning "routine" varies dramatically depending on whether or not I'm headed to the hospital. On a morning when I don't have to work, the old way I described of waking up to the natural dawn of the sun is a thing of the past. In contrast, many of my mornings start with my two year old daughter either crying or yelling, "Mommy!" I stumble into her room, change her diaper and make her bed/assess for any damage that might have occurred in the nighttime. I may or may not have been in there multiple times during the night prior to the actual wake up. We head out to the kitchen and immediately take our vitamins (me and her), drink a large glass of milk (her) and make a large cup of coffee (me). I tap dance around my husband in the kitchen, which despite being adequately sized, feels like we are bumping into each other constantly. Here's where the "slow" part comes in: we have a little time to chill, play, hug, talk, etc. Eventually we make a breakfast, usually eggs +/- bacon. Once the sun comes over the mountains, we take the dog for a walk to the park.

Those last steps are especially important to me, since I definitely don't make food on my workdays. In fact, on those days I have no idea what my daughter actually eats for breakfast. One thing that has really helped to smooth over my (sometimes rough, always rushed) workday mornings with a baby and a husband with his own agenda has been to hire what I call our Morning Nanny-Taxi. This person comes to our house at 6 AM, plays and takes care of our daughter, gets her ready for the day, and then drops her off at her daycare/preschool at 8 AM (she only goes on my workdays and a smattering of random other days). I've found that this is well worth the market price for 2 hours of service by a driving babysitter. Amazingly, there are people who will do this! Many of the people I've interviewed for this position have another job that is either part time or has a later start time. The few wonderful women we've hired so far were found through websites such as Sitter City and Care.com. (Note: I am in no way affiliated with these sites but have used them successfully to get good babysitters. I would also offer the opinion that Sitter City's pool of applicants seem more suited to random and part-time work as opposed to Care, which tends to have more applicants for regular or full-time nanny work.) While our household is very often awake prior to 6 AM, I don't have to leave for work on my workdays until 6:30. This little half-hour buffer gives me a small chunk of uninterrupted time to get ready, which I now relish just as much as my old pre-baby slow mornings.

You can find mommy blogs and parenting books everywhere that stress the importance of a consistent, daily routine in children's lives. Important for what? My daughter seems to be doing fine despite our undulating schedule. With complicated call schedules and specialties that rely on shift-type work structures, I'm sure I'm not the only mother failing at the routine game. And what about double-doc families? More than one child? Large age ranges? The complexity multiplies...

How do you deal with mornings?

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

I Get To...

I had just survived one of those hyper-scheduled "days off." Early morning short work assignment at the fertility clinic, my daughter’s first gymnastics class, squeeze in a quick workout for me (as long as she agrees to stay in the gym daycare), back home for a fast lunch, then out for a mid-afternoon doctor’s appointment with babe in tow because I couldn't work out childcare. It was the kind of day that used to get me very frazzled, but I’ve been working on my organizational techniques lately, which has really been helping. I won’t lie, though, it’s hectic making that many logistical moves in a day with a two-year-old. It can be as busy or busier than a day in the OR! As the sun was going down, I pulled out my journal to reflect on all the day's events. Instead of the typical narrative you often hear from moms like us, “It was so busy today, I had to… (insert long list here)”, I decided to turn it around. I wrote at the top of the page, “I get to…”

Get To:


  • Wake up at 5 AM to provide anesthesia for two women at the same fertility clinic where I was a patient, giving them hope and reassurance that they too will someday be an IVF success story
  • Take my daughter to a Mommy & Me gymnastics class on a weekday when I don't have to be in the OR
Warming up in Wednesday gym class
  • Do a workout for myself, since after suffering for months with both a back and a shoulder injury, things are slowly resolving and I'm able to perform some of my favorite exercises such as the overhead press and barbell deadlift again
  • Spend more time with my lovely daughter by bringing her to my doctor's appointment (she surprisingly behaved perfectly)
  • Argue with my husband about what wording to use in a text to a landscaper, who we are fortunate enough to afford to pay for landscaping services, as opposed to arguing with my husband about something less frivolous (such as where our next meal will come from or how we're going to pay bills, etc.)
  • Clean up potty training messes x 3 ("Oops, mama! There be poo poo on the seat/floor/etc."), including a wipe down of the whole bathroom each time, and then bathe my beautiful baby by candlelight before laying her down in her bed, where we read books and sing songs and have a cuddle-fest
  • Have a few minutes of silence to myself after everyone in the house is asleep, where I prepare healthy foods for lunches the next day, and then reflect like this on my "crazy" day
What did you "get to" do today?

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Financial Wellness?

Do you know how social security works? Are you maximizing contributions to your retirement accounts? Have you ever heard of a 529 account, or a backdoor Roth IRA?

I combed the archives of this blog, and while there are a smattering of posts on money and costs of being in the field of medicine, I didn't see much about money management and financial planning. It's not a topic people commonly like to discuss, and yet it's so important to our overall well being. Physicians are notoriously horrible at managing money, and yet many in our profession shoulder a huge debt burden, one that can amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars by the time all the training is over. And at that point, the last thing most people want to do is continue "living like a resident", so they commence with lifestyle inflation and remedies for their delayed gratification.

                             

Last weekend I had the pleasure and opportunity to attend the first Physician Wellness and Financial Literacy Conference, aka the White Coat Investor Conference. It took place in beautiful Park City, UT with two days of CME talks, broken up by mid-day skiing time. The conference featured valuable information presented by physician experts in the areas of finance, financial independence, and burnout, along with some financial professionals (who did not have an interest in charging huge fees to physicians for their services, an issue common to many physician-targeted financial advisors). There was even a talk by one of the only female physician financial bloggers, Miss Bonnie MD, who also happens to run the very active informational goldmine Women Physicians Personal Finance Facebook group.

On day two of the conference, I represented both PracticeBalance.com and Mothers in Medicine on a panel of six bloggers for a Q&A session. Despite being the only blogger there who does not primarily blog about finance, it was a lively discussion with lots of inquisitive attendees. It left me with inspiration to blog more, and blog more about financial issues that I deal with!



Over the course of the weekend, I met so many inspiring people - especially women - who are taking control of their finances so as to not become an "underwater doctor" statistic. We often say in my household that debt = slavery, and that sense of lost control is what often leads to burnout for many professionals. While debt is for most people unavoidable on some level during medical training, we physicians have the power to manage it and at the same time plan sensibly for the future. I felt so much more empowered after attending this conference, and I highly recommend that you all check it out the next time it comes around. At the very least, take a look at the blogs (linked above) by the White Coat Investor, Physician on Fire, and Miss Bonnie MD. They are a great starting point on the path to proactively managing your money.

Friday, January 5, 2018

The Little Echo

Almost a year ago, I was worried about her lack of verbal expression. Now, she talks constantly. She knows so many words, it’s amazing. But I'm starting to realize that having a highly verbal child exposes your own verbal ticks.

She adorably engages in imaginary play with lots of critters and stuffed animals. When they “take naps”, she shhhhhs them really loudly and pats them quite vigorously. Hopefully that’s not how she sees my pats and shhhhs. She scolds the dog in the same booming tone and inflection as my husband. She rattles off “thereyago” all the time. Apparently I say this a lot. Along with some choice swear words, particularly the ones that start with S and F, when I drop things or mess up in some way. Bad mama.

But most concerning is actually her use of “sorry”. I’d rather have her throwing around an occasional swear word than apologizing for everything she does. I didn’t realize it, but I do this too. It’s such an easy word to say, yet the meaning is both diluted and potentially detrimental when used to frequently. Saying sorry is apparently epidemic among women. There have been so many pieces written about this in the past few years, but I found this one most entertaining (replete with GIFs). Sasha at Brave Enough gave examples of how sorry is frequently used by women in the OR. After reading this, I'm going to think about what I say the next time there is an anesthesia delay during surgery.

What about you? What do you say that your child echoes back to you, and has it prompted you to change the way you talk?

Friday, August 11, 2017

(Helicopter) Doctor Moms

As my toddler becomes more and more active, I've been grappling with an internal conflict: how do I balance my desire to let her experience life and take chances within the reality of my risk-averse, medical background? The other day, my mother almost had a stroke in the park, watching my 20 month old girl teeter along on the edge of a three foot tall retaining wall while she laughed with glee at her cousins. Below was grass on one side and a stone tile on the other. "Get her down from there!" she cried. I hadn't thought anything of it: if she had fallen on the grass side of the wall, she would have been fine. She would have learned a lesson on how to place her feet to balance. If she had fallen on the tile side, things might have been fine... or they might have resulted in a broken ankle, or a broken head. Flashes of my baby intubated with a head injury in the ICU swirl through my head, and I have to slap myself to break loose.

So much potential badness and goodness in this picture

I don't want to be one of those helicopter parents. I want my child to learn problem solving, to take chances and learn consequences, and to feel the exhiliration of meeting physical challenges. And yet, as an anesthesiologist, I've seen the worst. I've seen the pediatric traumas and the burn unit cases. I've heard the PICU stories ("How did this happen?"), and I'll admit that I absorb these details differently now that I'm a mother. The information is clouded by a background wonder of what I would do if I were in the parents' situation. Sometimes I see my own child's face in that hospital bed or on the OR table.

As a teenager, I had some friends whose fathers were policemen. They always had lots of restrictions, and because their dads had similarly clouded lenses through which they saw everything, I now understand why. But overbearing parenting has been associated with what Jessica Lahey, author of The Gift of Failure, describes as "emotionally, intellectually, and socially handicapped children." How do we as parents allow our children to grow up with freedom, autonomy, and challenge while still appropriately protecting them from physical harm? If anyone has some good insights on this, I'd love to hear them!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Bridging the Wellness Gap

I have to give a shout out to my hospital (University of Utah*) and my department (Anesthesiology). We are trying. In the age when burnout is rampant and physicians are frequently leaving clinical medicine, we are working to foster camaraderie and resilience. A few examples:

The women in my department recently held an ad hoc Ladies' Lunch. We do this every once in a while, approximately once a year, but we should work on making it more frequent. It's merely a casual potluck lunch held at a faculty member's house for all the female anesthesia residents and attendings, but for me it represents more. Because I work part time in such a large group, I can go weeks to months without seeing some of the other faculty. Anesthesiologists practice their specialty alone, so in order to process work-related issues we have to consciously make an effort to seek out those connections. Our blue scrubs and hats were replaced with sundresses and sandals, and the conversation turned from patients to children, schools, and summer vacation plans. Resident MDs who have yet to venture into practice ate lunch alongside veteran tenured professors. Many of us are moms, with children ranging from 8 weeks to 19 years old. I learned some useful school information from a few of my colleagues with grade school-age girls. It was also interesting to talk to a couple of the ladies who work exclusively in the pain clinic, sharing stories about work environment and frustrations with the medical system. Two babies even made appearances: one wide-eyed, active 11 month old and one brand new infant attached to her mother's breast at the buffet table!

We started an intra-department monthly wellness newsletter (managed by my colleague Dr. Jennifer DeCou), which not only includes interesting personal tidbits about faculty members but also links and info for wellness resources. In addition, Jen has spearheaded a plan for immediate support, in the forms of work relief and counseling, when any anesthesiology practitioner experiences a sentinel event or a bad outcome in the OR.

Our hospital just opened a Resiliency Center on the medical school campus. It provides a space and some resources for relaxation, but the main advantage of this addition is a dedicated space where for on site, free and confidential counseling services. I have personally utilized the services of the third party counseling group on two occasions during my employment already: once when I experienced a health scare during my residency, and again when I underwent infertility treatment. It was invaluable to me, and now it will be even easier for employees to access the benefit since it will be in such close proximity to our workplace.

The piece de resistance... our hospital recently opened a faculty lounge that feels like an airline sky club. Attending physicians from all specialties are invited to use it for eating, changing, working, conferencing, meeting, sleeping... it has all of those features. Not to mention two fully automatic coffee drink dispensers! We have never had a physicians' only lounge before, and I'm excited to socialize there more with doctors of other specialties.

Where we could do better: childcare. As physicians, our schedules are often unpredictable and out of our own control. I live in fear of the midday call from my daycare that my child is sick on a day that my husband is unavailable to extract her, or the moment I get stuck in the OR with no one to pick her up at the end of the day. Some physician friends work at places where there is on sight, low cost childcare with extended hours, which to me would be the ultimate benefit. Within the past year, my hospital has at least added a backup care resource to their benefit package, but my experience using it so far has not been seamless.

Does your hospital, clinic, or practice group offer any unique services or facilities to enhance your work experience and promote wellness? Share them here so we may all get ideas to bring back to our own places of work!



* The opinions expressed here represent my own experiences and are not those of my hospital or department.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Mother's Day?

I'm not even posting this close to Mother's Day, and that's just fitting. My second Mother's Day as an actual mother came and went, and a pattern has begun to emerge... I am realizing that this Hallmark holiday is a bit of a joke among many mothers. I read a funny post in an online moms' group where a woman described her Mother's Day with biting snark. She was "allowed to wake up early" while her husband slept in, enjoyed "a peaceful few hours of cooking brunch items for my family with a toddler attached to my leg" after rounding in the hospital, and then ended her day with a hot shower that was interrupted by her husband asking her to scrub the shower walls with his "fun new electric cleaning brush. So. Blessed." It got me thinking about my own two Mother's Days so far.

Last year, we had a plan to go visit my parents for the weekend. My mother makes a big deal of the holiday and holds an annual pool party, the yearly unveiling of their pool for summer use coinciding with agreeable Arizona weather right around the May date. She had a big event planned, as it was my first Mother's Day, and yet things were strained between us. At 43 and with disposable income plus a new baby, my husband and I had decided we were no longer going to stay in my parents' cramped extra bedroom on their uncomfortably small bed (replete with foot board) in their poorly ventilated home. The nearest bathroom is down the hall next to their master bedroom, and last Christmas my mom caught my husband running to the toilet in his underwear in the middle of the night. "Never again," he had exclaimed with stern eyes. Anyway, this decision to stay on our own had unexpectedly hurt my mother's feelings, given her memories of her own young married years visiting their own parents. Painful conversations had occurred, I had put my foot down, and a plan for alternative accommodation was in place. On the morning of our flight, my husband woke up feeling under the weather. I thought nothing of it and continued packing the car with myriad baby equipment, as this trip was also going to be our 6 month old's first flight. He is the picture of health, lean and muscular with no medical problems except for some recurring hemorrhoids. A week prior, I had talked him into having a band procedure, which I thought might solve the problem. In between schlepping loads, he stumbled, perspiration poured from his face, and all 6'6" of him slumped onto the couch. It took a scary minute to revive him, so we rushed to the ER, and in the harsh fluorescent lights I finally appreciated how pale he was. Hematocrit was 20%, and he was admitted overnight for a blood transfusion. I spent my first Mother's Day bringing him barbecue and magazines in the hospital (as if I don't spend enough time there already) and of course apologizing for suggesting the banding in the first place, in addition to playing single parent to my child. Trip aborted and difficult conversations sure to arise again at the next Arizona visit.

This year, Mother's Day happened when I was in Spain on a long trip... which might sound to some like an idyllic scenario. I understand that many people crave an escape from their work and hectic lives at home, but being long time rock climbers and slow travelers, my husband and I normally plan longer trips abroad where we fully immerse in a micro culture for periods of time. We had chosen the Chulilla area for its long climbing routes on tall limestone walls and its balmy spring temperatures. Only we hadn't gotten much climbing done because traveling with an active, headstrong toddler was turning out to be more difficult than we expected. The first week of our trip involved the rental car keys being thrown into the toilet by someone and then - recurring poop theme - me using said toilet before realizing where the keys were. I will spare you the details of the retrieval procedure. A couple of days later, I made the catastrophic mistake of filling our (unleaded) rental car's gas tank with diesel. WHY is the handle for diesel black and the handle for unleaded green in Europe?? Even though our pickiness and frugality usually keep us from eating out much even on trips, we decided to go out to a Mediterranean buffet in Valencia for Mother's Day. The hours for lunch in Spain are 1-5, while the hours for dinner are 8-midnight. Our normal eating time? 5-6 of course, like every other American family with a child. So lunch it was, and it was busy. We waited forever for a table in a sizeable crowd of Spaniards (we are very tall, so envision this as two giants with a giant baby swimming in a sea of tiny Europeans) on the sidewalk outside the glass doors to the buffet. The hostesses didn't even take our name; they just asked how many were in our party and we stepped back, hoping for the best. Over the course of waiting, baby grew tired and hungry. I read her stern face: What's with this late lunch business, during my naptime? We tried to calm her, but the whining grew louder, and then suddenly they took pity on us. We were seated at a cramped two-seat table near the buffet, knees touching under the table and backs of chairs touching the people behind us, and when I asked for a high chair they gave me some sort of booster seat contraption. I fussed with it for a while and then laughingly realized I had situated her in it just perfectly looking like the picture on the side - the red one with the big "X" over it. She ended up on my lap, and I barely ate anything. Hubs came and went happily many times while I entertained our crazy girl, who proceeded to fling paella and jamon in a several foot radius around our table (luckily no other diners but me became covered in food). Lunch came to a hault when she threw a plate that shattered into many pieces and then leaked through her diaper all over my lap.

A glorious day spent at the gas station after my "oh shit" moment

Like lots of mothers this recent holiday, I just might have posted some cute pictures on social media of my family frolicking on the beach (not on the day shown above), followed by comments about how lucky I am. Given the fact that for years I wasn't sure I was going to ever be one, I really do feel grateful to hear that faint little voice say, "Mama". But the sunny travel photos don't necessarily reflect the un-glamorous reality of motherhood that happens every day, with or without a dedicated holiday. Next year on Mother's Day, I don't know exactly what I'll be doing but I'm sure I'll be mothering again. And I'm sure that poop will somehow fit into the picture.


Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Redefining Dr. Mom - A Review of the First PMG CME Conference



If you're a mother in medicine and you haven't heard about Physician Moms Group, you might be living under a (social media) rock. PMG, which started in 2014 as a Facebook group for exchanging advice and support between women physicians who are moms or moms to be, has morphed into a community of more than 60,000 women with an influential internet presence. Any group of women that can sell out the entire stock of Instant Pots on Amazon in minutes or lobby to get discounts on coveted clothing or other products has some serious clout! As part of the group's continued evolution, founder Hala Sabry, DO and her best friend Dina Seif, MD recently held their first CME Conference in Las Vegas on April 1st, 2017, entitled Redefining Dr. Mom. And I was lucky enough to be able to attend!

Let me start out by saying that this was by far the most interesting and engaging CME activity that I have ever witnessed. There is the tendency at such events to plop down in the back row, pour yourself a large cup of coffee, and whip out your phone to scroll email or social media. Instead, this conference was chock full of useful and relevant information, presented in a dynamic and interactive format. Presentations ranged in topic from recognition and prevention of burnout, to financial planning strategies, to nonclinical paths in medicine. To top it off, there was a female physician entrepreneur panel moderated by ZDogg MD (Hala's friend and local Las Vegan)!

ZDogg in the house!

When I looked around at the other attendees, I was struck by the diversity of women in the room. I saw many ethnicities, shapes, and ages. Some women wore jeans while others were clad in suits. Some had bouffants, others had beach hair. There were bare faces and full makeup. Yet we were all physician mothers, present to discuss what might be lacking in our careers and learn what might enhance our current work-life balance. Each excellent presenter shared a personal experience as part of her talk that represented a watershed moment in her journey, something that had led her to question or change her presumed path in medicine.

Another common thread throughout presentations was the emphasis on identifying core values as a way to assess happiness and drive future direction. The presenters also prompted attendees to think outside of standard paradigms - regarding self-care, business, and leadership or mentoring roles. Included as well were optional organized social events for the two nights surrounding the conference - a spa outing and dinner, plus a dinner and Cirque du Soleil show. Being somewhat of a "local" to Vegas (I travel there frequently in the winter), I also led a small group of PMGers and their families on a hike in the Red Rocks the next morning!

PMG is definitely planning more CMEs for the future, and I would highly recommend attending. Also, if you are not a member and are interested in joining, visit MyPMG.com to supply your own credentials, or have a Facebook friend add you to the closed group.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Request Case

One of the things I really enjoy about being an anesthesiologist is the wide variety of patients that I see. You never know who you're going to have the privilege to care for on a given day. Although my group is large, I will occasionally be assigned to a patient that I personally know. And occasionally, someone I know will request me as their anesthesiologist.

Last month I took care of a friend who requested me for her surgery. It was a very straightforward case, everything went smoothly, and she expressed abundant gratitude at the end of her experience. I was also asked to do anesthesia by a friend for a surgery that, knowing her history, was going to be fairly complicated. That one gave me pause, but I did it and everything turned out well.

Gizabeth recently wrote about being a doctor to her friend, and I'll bet that some of you have also taken care of friends (or have become friends with some of your patients). I would venture to say that being an anesthesiologist or surgeon to a friend adds an even further layer of complexity because there is an immediate "life and death" aspect to what we do. However, either fortunately or unfortunately, patients don't usually appreciate this.

On the "pro" side, patients can feel a great sense of empowerment in choosing their own anesthesiologist. A good attitude and sense of empowerment going into surgery can translate to less stress on the patient and better overall recovery. During my residency, I had a scary brain surgery. At first, I thought it would be awkward to personally know my surgeon and anesthesiologist, but out of convenience and timeliness, I chose to have the surgery at my own institution. I was able to choose my anesthesiologist - who at the time was one of my supervisors! In the end, I felt great comfort in personally knowing my healthcare team.

On the "con" side, there is a phenomenon in our specialty called VIP syndrome. Taking care of a VIP subconsciously makes people pause and do things slightly differently than they would normally do, rendering the whole process vulnerable to errors. What if your friend suffers an adverse event under your care? And are your decisions objective enough in the situation?

What do you think? Would you and/or do you take care of friends? How about family members? Let us know your experiences with requests for care by friends, acquaintances, or family.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Witness the Sickness

I am so sick. Like miserable, no energy, hacking cough, congestion, achy muscles type of sick. Who knows what it is, but does it really matter? At work the other day I desperately had one of the X-ray techs do an AP on me. No pneumonia. That would have been too easy. How did I get this? From my 14 month old daycare attending daughter. Only she's moved on and is back to her normal, playful self.

The same thing happened around Christmas, but my husband was the innocent victim. She brought something home that knocked him down with a viral malaise that turned into a raging sinus infection. The babe got better in a few days; he lingered on with "man cold" for a couple weeks. We all know how painful that is for everyone!

I hear that what my household is experiencing is a thing. People tell me, "I've never been as sick as I was my first winter with a child in daycare." I hear, "Every time they change classrooms you'll get deathly ill." I have also heard, "It gets better once they turn two." Please God, let this be the case.

So Mothers in Medicine, my question is, what are your strategies for dealing with this? Is there any preventative magic I should be invoking? Because I don't know that I can go through something like this (two plus weeks of feeling like utter crap) again. We all know how hard it is to take care of our patients (and our children) when we are the sick ones, and we as a profession are the absolute worst at staying home and nursing ourselves back to health! What do you all do?

Monday, January 9, 2017

I Want To Hear Your Voice

I had a dream when you were only six months old that your first words were the complete sentence, "You can't tell me what to do!" You babbled so early and so prolifically that I figured you'd be talking by the time you turned one year. But now here we are two months past that, and I'm still in the dark. At least you've started pointing, but many times I still don't know what you want.

Why are other babies your age using words when you're not? Aren't you the child of a doctor and a lawyer who speak to you constantly in both English and Baby-ese? Who read you books every night? I Google the milestones, and you're definitely lagging in the language department. Have I done all the right things? What did I miss? Is this how it's going to be, you giving the overachiever but unsure parent in me an anxiety attack at every developmental step? I know comparison is futile, but I still fall prey to it sometimes. It's going to be a long parenthood if I don't learn how to stop now.

My thoughts of worry really are just fleeting; all I want is to hear your voice. Your real voice. Not just "mamama", "dadada" and "uh oh". As your mother, I keenly know your cry and your coo, but I want to know what you sound like when you express yourself with words. The lilt in your voice when you're delighted. How the words come out when you're angry. The tones you release when you're sad. I want to talk to you, to hear your thoughts and feelings and desires. Right now all I can do is wonder, but I'll bet it's going to be a beautiful voice.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Buffer Zone

It's July, the time of year when new interns and residents begin their training programs. It's our busiest time at my academic hospital, where all of the anesthesiology attendings pitch in and teach the newcomers. When I'm teaching in the OR, I always ask a simple question: Why do we care about the patient's blood pressure? They usually get it right - adequate blood pressure ensures good blood flow to the brain and other vital organs. Then I sketch this diagram:



Remember the Circle of Willis from medical school? Along with redundant vasculature, our brains possess an elaborate sensor system that autoregulates cerebral blood flow in a sort of "buffer zone". (This curve may also look familiar to you as the representation of how a buffer acts to regulate the pH of an acidic or basic solution.)

Autoregulation is an evolutionary survival mechanism that is meant to ensure adequate perfusion of the brain at a wide range of blood pressures. But at the extreme ends of measurement, autoregulation breaks down. I love how analagous this is to living life. We proceed through our busy days, oftentimes like a pinball falling through a pinball machine, while stressors are flung at us like flags and obstacles in the vertical maze. Too much or too little input leaves us in dangerously unhealthy territory. The next thing we know, we're fighting a virus... or worse.

How can we stay in our own buffer zones? I try to reprioritize self-care. I take some extra vitamin C, drink warm fluids, sit in an epsom salt bath, write in my journal... Make sure I'm nourishing my body with nutrient-dense foods. Say no to extra responsibilities when I can. Sleep as much as possible!

What are the steps you take when you feel you're falling off your autoregulation curve?

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Return From Maternity Leave: Rusty or Rested?

This article on KevinMD was published a week or so before the end of my maternity leave. As I read it, steam emanated from my ears. How dare the author insinuate that physicians lose their technical skills from taking time off equivalent to more than a mere weekend? What about those who must take prolonged time off for sick leave? And what about maternity leave? Are all physician moms, by the sheer reasoning that they had babies, now deemed incompetent?

It goes without saying that we physicians are humans who need adequate time to heal physically in order to perform well mentally. We all need vacations (longer than a weekend) to help stave off burnout, and we all become sick from time to time. During my training and career as an anesthesiologist, I have taken significant periods of time off for vacation, maternity, and sick leave, and yet I've never had a problem integrating back into the basic flow of my job. In fact, on my first day back to work after three months of maternity leave, I had a patient go into anaphylactic shock in the OR - a very rare and deadly event. End tidal CO2 dropped from 37 to 10 and blood pressure was 50/30, but once I identified it I knew exactly what to do. I counteracted the reaction and saved his life with the fortunate and timely assistance of a couple of colleagues who I immediately called into the room (having extra hands is obviously essential in these kinds of situations).

I recently posed this question of competence to physician moms in an online discussion group. Most respondents agreed with me but cited other issues they had returning to work. Some had to regain their prowess with the EMR, others stated that they had a little trouble multitasking, but all felt confident in their abilities to do their required work tasks. I would say that the hardest part for me has been transitioning each day from Mom to MD and back to Mom again. Preparations the night before a workday seem endless, and morning routines take longer than they used to. Picking up my daughter from childcare after work increases the commute time and anxiety depending on how late my OR day has become. I have yet to be the last parent to pick up their child at night, but I'm sure there will be a day like that sometime. Evenings go by so quickly, and I feel I have barely seen my daughter before bedtime comes. Add in being a part-time physician, and suddenly I feel what some moms warned me about: not enough at work, not enough at home.

So Mothers In Medicine, I ask you: how did you feel returning to work after maternity leave? Rusty or rested? Share your experiences here.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Most Intimate of Jobs

A random Saturday earlier this month marked the first time I provided sedation anesthesia for patients in the same IVF clinic where I was a patient for 3 years. It was surreal and a little emotional driving up the hill to the clinic and thinking about the many times I went there as a patient myself. All the shots, the blood draws, the ultrasounds, the procedures... Also all the letdown and disappointment that was flanked before and after by hope and excitement. I now have a beautiful baby girl to show for my time as an IVF patient!

A friend of mine who is also in the medical field said to me, "I bet it took a lot of courage to do that. Creepy and scary". While I instead had viewed the experience with gratitude and excitement at the ability to give back to a group of people who had given so much to me, I can understand what she meant. As physicians, we are faced with daily reminders of unpleasant things. Things that have happened possibly to us or to our loved ones, or things that are at the very least reminders of our own mortality.

I think these reminders are a gift, one that doesn't come with many other lines of work in this world. They keep us appreciative of what we have, what we've been through. Has anyone else had an experience like this in their practice? Share your thoughts with us.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Linea Nigra

I'd learned of it in medical school but never thought I'd have one. I looked for it all throughout my pregnancy, staring down along the midline of my gravid belly. Some telltale signs were there - the nausea, shortness of breath, tender breasts, swollen feet... But I never developed a huge, round, glorious belly that announced the joy of impending birth. Even with the twisting movement of a fetus anxious to emerge, it was hard to believe that this was all real. After years of wanting, of shots and procedures and waiting, it was finally here. But would she come out ok? What would she look like?

Then one day she arrived and they placed her on my belly, now saggy from where she was growing. She was beautiful, and I was immediately in love. Nothing else mattered. The nurse came into the room and announced, "It's time to mash on that uterus, shrink it back down!" It was then that I saw it: a faint, fine, dark line running from my belly button to my pelvis.

It's the tattoo of motherhood, one I never wish to erase, but I know they usually fade after birth. For this year, it's a gift to me from my daughter. A most perfect Valentine.

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Birth Plan

I was 37 weeks pregnant and had just completed a busy Monday in the OR, my last scheduled shift before maternity leave. While relaxing in front of the TV that night, I found my fetal kick count to be significantly lower than normal. I spoke with the on-call OB team, and after going back and forth, we decided it was best if I go to the hospital for further monitoring. I threw on my slippers and jacket (was already in pajamas) and said, "See you in an hour or so," to my husband. I never made it home that night, and six days later I brought my baby girl home from the hospital!

The fetal non-stress test showed that she was ironically doing well, but my blood pressures and urine sample showed that I had developed preeclampsia. My leg swelling was increasing over those last few weeks, but things just got real. My husband dutifully showed up with my pre-packed bag and birth plan. Yes, I had a birth plan - but not the long, detailed essay that some women present to eye-rolling hospital staff, replete with all sorts of unrealistic demands involving birthing balls, hot tubs, candles and music. As an anesthesia resident on the obstetric service, we used to joke that those women with the most detailed and rigid birth plans would inevitably be the women who ended up with "emergency" epidurals at 3 AM, or worse in the OR for a crash C-section.

Instead, what I provided was a one-page sheet with an outline of my complicated medical history and a few important preferences for my care. Because I have adrenal insufficiency and am steroid-dependent, it included a regimen for stress-dose steroids from my endocrinologist. I made it clear that I desired an epidural and that I was ok with all monitoring and testing deemed necessary. I listed a few if-then decision statements regarding vaginal birth vs. C-section. For instance, if I had a vaginal delivery I wanted immediate skin-to-skin contact and delayed cord clamping... if baby is stable.

The feedback I got from nursing and on-call staff about my birth plan was good; they seemed appreciative of the precise and explicit set of preferences that could be passed on through numerous shift changes. I will say, however, that even with my minimal birth plan as a "good luck charm", things still didn't go the way we had originally hoped. And yet, once my daughter was born, none of that mattered one bit. Meconium was present on delivery so she was handed off for resuscitation instead of immediately placed on my chest as I had hoped, we couldn't do delayed cord clamping, etc. But she was healthy! I was lucky to have a smooth albeit slow induction with no complications and a quick period of active labor (only 45 minutes of pushing). We didn't have to go to the OR. I only needed two stitches post-delivery. Again, she was alive and she was healthy! After experiencing a pregnancy loss, I admit that a fear had persisted deep inside me even into the late months of gestation that I would lose her without getting to see her face.

Nothing went exactly as expected, and yet everything turned out fine. Nothing went exactly as expected, and yet everything turned out fine. This is my new mantra, and it would be a good one for all pregnant women to adopt. Because in the instances of labor and childbirth, resistance and rigidity pose potential risks to both mother and baby.

Have you had an experience with a birth plan, either yours or a patient's?

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Thankful For That Creepy Wiggle

Every year, there is always so much to be thankful for. As physicians, I don't think this idea is usually lost on us; we see patients suffering with difficult health challenges or even life-and-death situations on a daily basis. But what is sticking out this year as the thing I'm most grateful for?

Fetal movement. Yes, that weird sensation inside of my own body. My first child is due December 11, right between Thanksgiving and Christmas - the time that we most contemplate gratitude. This is not my first pregnancy, but I have never gotten far enough in the process to experience fetal movement before. I started feeling the movements around 20 weeks gestation, which began as little "pat pats" in my low abdomen that were easily confused with gas bubbles. They have now transformed into squirmy, distinctive wiggles several times throughout the day.

Overall, I have had a pretty easy pregnancy. My early nausea was fairly mild, I was able to continue with moderate exercise and work throughout my first and second trimester, and I have had no major complications as of yet. My tall stature has blessed me with a long torso within which baby can stretch, and I haven't been confined to maternity clothes. However, in my third trimester I have developed severe leg swelling that has significantly limited my activity (and my work, which usually involves being on my feet most of the day). It is very uncomfortable with constant itching and pain throughout my legs. To keep my mind off of it, I have been trying to focus on the good things... like the consistent blessing of fetal movement, a reminder of why I am going through all of this.

Many have described the sensation of fetal movement as "creepy", "surprising", "uncomfortable", etc. Expectant parents jokingly refer to their growing fetus as a "parasite". To me, the squirmy turns of my belly, the head-butting of my cervix and the kicking of my diaphragm are welcome reminders every day (every hour, really) of how hard I've tried to become a mother: the months of IVF cycles, shots, staying home instead of traveling, rearranging work schedules, waiting, hoping... And about how after all this time, it's finally going to happen!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Hormones and shots and procedures, oh my! What is it like to undergo IVF?

People are having children later in life, whether the reason is pursuit of career aspirations, travel, or riding the asymptotic curve to financial security. This truth is never more evident than in the field of medicine, where more and more women are taking the long road of training to become physicians. Some of us (like me) even choose this training as a second career, rendering us older from the start. You've heard saying such as "40 is the new 30", etc., but the reality is that a woman is born with all of her eggs and those eggs age with her. She may follow a perfectly healthy lifestyle and appear younger than her real age in many ways, but her eggs are as old as she is.

As eggs age, their quality declines in the form of DNA damage, which negatively effects their ability to make a healthy embryo that will grow into a healthy baby. By the age of 40, the percentage of eggs that have DNA damage incompatible with healthy embryo formation is approximately 75%! On top of this immutable fact, aging brings the possibility of medical issues that can affect fertility in both a mother and a father. The chance of a naturally-occurring pregnancy during any given monthly cycle of a 40 year old woman is approximately 5-10%, and due to the DNA damage I already mentioned, the chance of a live birth resulting from that pregnancy is even lower. It is truly a miracle in my opinion that women over 40 have spontaneously-conceived, healthy pregnancies.

Enter in vitro fertilization (IVF). IVF is a long and detailed process, requiring lots of resources, money, time, and patience. The first stage of a typical cycle involves, ironically, taking oral contraceptives to reset the hormone milieu and force all eggs into a senescent, follicular stage. The second stage involves stimulating the ovarian follicles with daily doses of a hormone cocktail. It is usually some combination of FSH, LH or an LH inhibitor depending on timing, and possibly GH. There is quite a bit of monitoring at this stage, including almost daily ultrasounds and blood draws to evaluate the growth and maturation of the eggs. The third stage is egg retrieval, in which all fluid-filled cysts within a certain size distribution are aspirated for the contained egg. The eggs are then fertilized with the intended sperm (by various methods depending on the presence or absence of male-factor infertility) and are allowed to grow for 3-5 days into multi-celled embryos. The last stage is embryo transfer, in which selected embryos are injected back into the uterus for implantation. This may occur using the aforementioned, freshly grown embryos approximately 5-6 days after the transfer, or the embryos can be frozen for testing and/or later transfer. Once an embryo transfer occurs, it's up to fate (and continued hormonal supplementation)... after the dreaded "two-week wait", it's time for a pregnancy test!

As you can imagine, the process is not for the faint of heart, nor is it for the person with no flexible time and no extra money. I had to do IVF to get pregnant, and these are my experiences.

Time: If a fresh embryo transfer is planned, all of the steps mentioned above take approximately 6-7 weeks to complete (not including the two-week wait). If the embryos are intended to be tested or frozen, the first three stages themselves take 5-6 weeks. After the egg retrieval, the ovaries must rest and the enlarged follicles must resorb over time. This is achieved by having a period and going back on oral contraceptives for at least 3 weeks. Then the uterine lining is augmented with estrogen supplementation for another 3 weeks prior to the embryo transfer. During this time, other testing may take place for the patient (such as a hysterosalpingogram, hysteroscopy, or endometrial biopsy) and/or for the embryos (such as preimplantation genetic screening for aneuploidy or diagnosis of genetic diseases).

Not only does each pregnancy attempt take a significant portion of a year (during which time a woman's eggs undergo further aging), but each cycle also requires quite a few appointments for monitoring, lab draws, procedures, etc. Although I sometimes had to apologetically make my schedule requests after my practice group's time deadline, I was lucky to have enough vacation time built into my yearly clinical commitment that I could take as much time off as I needed. Not everyone would need to take the entire day off for an hour-long morning appointment, but as an anesthesiologist I found that it was the only way to make things work. A physician who sees patients in a clinic might be able to shift her clinic hours back a bit to make morning appointments - which occur every other day and at times every day during the stimulation phase of a cycle. And at my fertility clinic, the egg retrievals were conveniently performed on the weekends.

Money: With some exceptions, IVF is commonly not covered under health insurance in the United States. That said, I found that certain ultrasounds, lab tests, and medications would occasionally be covered by my insurance based on the fact that they were recognized as appropriate interventions for my preexisting infertility diagnosis. Prices for IVF vary slightly depending on the part of the country where the fertility clinic is located, the medications prescribed, etc. A typical cycle including the stimulation period, monitoring ultrasounds, and the egg retrieval procedure runs $12,000 on average, not including medications (another $3000 - $5000). A frozen transfer at a later date is approximately $3000 - $5000. Preimplantation genetic testing of embryos adds approximately $5000 - $8000 to any particular cycle. A portion of these costs can be offset using "batching" techniques or multi-cycle discounts, tax deductions (in some cases), and an FSA; however, IVF in its many forms is undoubtedly going to present some financial stress for any patient.

"Heart": Egg retrievals are performed across the country using different modes of anesthesia. At the IVF clinic I used, it was treated as a moderate IV sedation procedure with fentanyl and midazolam; however, there are some clinics that do deeper sedation or even general anesthesia. An embryo transfer, regardless of whether it is fresh or frozen, is usually done with oral diazepam, and the patient does not need to be NPO. Prior to either of these procedures, an IVF patient can expect to have many transvaginal ultrasounds, which can be uncomfortable for some women. There are other diagnostic procedures that may figure into an infertility workup or IVF journey treatment plan as well, such as hysteroscopies, biopsies, hysterosalpingograms, etc. In addition to these procedures, the patient must receive daily injections of hormones during the follicle stimulation phase and sometimes additional daily shots after implantation. Most of these shots are subQ, but some of them are IM. I must admit that I myself am somewhat squeamish when it comes to being a patient, but I found the invasive nature of IVF to be tolerable. The mental aspect of the uncertainty, the waiting, the rescheduling of life so that appointments and cycles can be completed, etc. was much more difficult. But if you are a person who does poorly with procedures, this may be an important factor in your IVF decision path.

Speaking of decisions, IVF can take a toll on personal relationships - friendships, family bonds, and romantic relationships. This usually presents in the form of differences in opinion on direction of care, number of IVF attempts, or ethical issues with genetic testing/embryo selection/possibility of multiple gestation/etc. Going through IVF can also impact your feelings about yourself; many women complain of feeling unwomanly, and I was not immune to this myself. It is difficult to accept that you need assistance achieving something that is so basic to human life as reproduction. I dealt with this through therapy, quiet time/meditation, and journaling, but everyone differs in terms of what works for them to manage such stress. I recommend to every woman undergoing IVF that she at least attempt to get therapy for herself, if not couples therapy for her and her partner.

IVF is a physically and mentally involved endeavor. Copious time, financial allocation, and mental fortitude are required. But for many patients with complex infertility issues, it is their only path to genetic parenthood (as it was mine). I'm 32 weeks pregnant now and I am very happy with the path I took to get here. As a "success story" with a little girl on the way, it was all worth it!