Showing posts with label self-care. Show all posts
Showing posts with label self-care. Show all posts

Saturday, November 12, 2016

What's This Week Been Like For You?

I’m sure we all have an opinion about the election outcome; most likely, a strong one. I was following with intense anticipation as a Canadian. I am utterly despondent with the result. The day after, I met a friend for coffee and together we tried to process the reality. It felt much like the morning after 9/11, where we knew we were facing a ‘new world’ and an uncertain future. 

Our national public radio station’s coverage was filled with interviews with Americans relaying their uncertainties about the future. One gentleman felt a sense of betrayal by his neighbours; that he did not feel he really knew his city as he thought he did. I know that some of you are heartbroken, as I am. Others may be elated, or at least satisfied with the outcome. Some of you may feel conflicted. Still others may be Republicans who feel dismayed that Trump was their candidate. Maybe none of these captures your sentiments. I know many people are struggling to talk to their children about the outcome. Many American citizens and residents of colour and other vulnerable populations are especially worried about the “Trump effect” on their children, and perhaps some of you are seeing its effects in your daily life in medicine. In Family Medicine, it's not uncommon for some patients to bring up political topics, but I try to stay pretty balanced and general.  Personally, I found inspiration here, which cites this great article about talking to your kids about the result. Reading personal accounts and opinion pieces by those who are processing the results thoughtfully is helping me deal with the result. 

I realize that politics in general, and this election in particular, can be polarizing to discuss, and I know this blog does a great job of being a safe space. A refuge from the constant barrage that was so consuming during this campaign, perhaps. I think we can maintain that safe space by respectfully sharing our own personal experiences, fears, and worries. Because no matter your political stripes, I think it’s fair to say that the months ahead are uncertain for the United States, and the world.  

I have great faith in the American people, and the American system, to uphold their democratic values. I believe that most people are decent and that political and social tides ebb and flow throughout history. Let's help one another navigate the best way forward for our families, communities, countries, and the world. 

Monday, November 7, 2016

The Soul Condition



The day to day practice of General Internal Medicine can be particularly challenging and trying, but also thoroughly rewarding. I have found that the most incredible moments of privilege and wonder in this profession come in the most unexpected times and places. Especially during this past year, which has been particularly trying for me personally, just when I think I can’t bear any more suffering, there is a surprising glimmer of light that penetrates the darkness. I’m thankful for those moments, and being mindful of recognizing them when they present themselves.

One morning recently, I entered an exam room to see a patient of mine during a busy Tuesday morning clinic. He was sandwiched in my schedule between a lovely middle aged woman with a newly diagnosed metastatic lung cancer (sigh) and a young adult patient with a sore throat. I saw him on my schedule for that morning and smiled – he was a lovely elderly man that had a difficult past few years with depression, obesity, and was ever skeptical of my western medicine approach to his longstanding hypertension. Despite it all, we always found a way to have a good talk, able to cross the chasm of our cultural and religious differences and find a way to speak a common language with each other. I take care of his wife and his adult daughter, as well, so I have a multi-dimensional sense of his life at home.  In the flurry of the day, I closed the door finishing with the patient across the hall and stepped in the doorway of his exam room to say a big hello. I looked up and barely believed my eyes – “Oh my goodness, how are YOU?!” I said. There he was, big sparkling smile, bright eyes, “Hello there, doc!” He looked twenty years younger than his 74 year old self, and strong and happy.  This was such a stark contrast to our last meeting, about year ago. “Well, doc, I thought you’d be proud. I lost 70 pounds.”

I smiled. I paused. I looked at him lovingly and proudly and then squealed with excitement as I gave him a hug. “How did you do it? And how do you feel?”  He went on to tell me how he feels terrific, both physically and mentally.  When we last saw each other about a year ago, he was sad, lacking motivation, irritated with his wife who was ‘nagging’ him, and about ready to move away to a warmer climate.  He was morbidly obese, had aching knees, and just didn’t feel like himself. I recall distinctly (one of these moments that just are quite captured in the EMR documentation!) at that visit we talked about “why are we all here?” –I had referenced a friend who had recently passed away at the age of 49 and I was feeling great loss at the time – he too was feeling loss and disappointment about moments in his life and was reflecting on his 73 years, having an existential crisis of sorts. We hugged at the end of that office visit. And now here we were, a year later, and he is bright and happy and has lost so much weight. 

A year has changed so much of who we both were. I was about to hear about his year long journey. Over the last year, I had seen hundreds of patients while I tried to keep my own tattered life afloat. My marriage broke up, I sold my house, I moved, and have tried to weather the storm of a messy divorce while parenting two little kids who were trying to understand it all. I couldn’t help myself as these thoughts rushed in--the year since we saw each other last had affected us both so profoundly. And here we were, again. And I think we found unspoken strength in each other.

“Well doc, this is all about my ‘Soul Condition’.”  I looked up, saying nothing, but my eyes gesturing ‘tell me more.”  He went on to tell me that he thought a lot about his life after our last appointment. He realized that his poor health habits, for him, were about failing to care for himself and his ‘soul’. He realized at some point he is worth more than his poor health habits, so slowly he started eating better and exercising. He said “Doc, you told me to go for a walk. So, I’ve gone for a walk everyday ever since I saw you last.”  Wow! I admit I had a moment that I couldn’t believe someone actually listens to me!  We went through the rest of the visit, me with genuine joy for him, him with the pride of a child reporting back a good deed to a parent.  And then we finished, as he and I somehow always do, sharing tidbits of our lives and hopes, and he teaching me more about the Soul Condition. He said “Doc, if you are unhappy, just work on your soul. You should tell your other patients that. I’m not even tempted to smoke or drink alcohol, or eat ice cream. Why would I now that my Soul is so happy in this body?”

I’ve thought of him a lot since that day. I could certainly learn a few tips from him – or at least my Soul needed a new kind of condition after all I’ve been through this year.  I couldn’t help but wonder if he saw it in my eyes, if he knew I needed this advice.  Divorce is ugly and bitter and deeply devastatingly sad – it does break a soul as it breaks a family.  I bear witness to so much human suffering on a daily basis in my role as physician, and sometimes the only thing I can do is sit with a patient and listen and hold his or her hand, offer a supportive word or a hug.  I have found it an incredible burden to also carry my own suffering into the room with my patients as I listen to their stories, offer kindness, support and advice. I’ve often wondered over the last year if I’m good for any of them and if I could possibly bear any more. During that 20 minute appointment, I earnestly rejoiced in his improved health and happiness and learned from his wise counsel. 


Just like my patient worked to make his Soul happier, I’ve learned I need to deliberately take steps to do the same. I savor my kids’ giggles, and give more hugs, and spread more love, and have learned my own needs count.  I have long taken care of others, and I’m just now learning the skills to recognize my own Soul Condition, and tend to it.  Today I went out of my way to spend time with a long lost friend, take a walk, and bake banana bread. I went slowly through my day, took note of how I felt, and listened to what my Soul needed today.  I also held my son, as he cried in my arms for a half hour after coming home from a weekend with his dad. He wanted to know “why can’t mommy and daddy just live together?”  And so I hold these things, some so difficult, some so beautiful, and think about what we all need to care for ourselves and our Souls. In this moment, my heart ached wide open for my sweet child, and was also warmed by his earnestness and his openness and his absolute softness in my arms.  My Soul has a little farther to go to feel healed, but I’m listening and trying. My patient is a beautiful man and a special, special Soul. May both our Souls triumph in a beautiful year ahead of us, until we meet again.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Summer Book Recommendations

Ah, summer. There's nothing like the joy of sitting with an iced tea and a book on the deck... or waiting in the dentist's waiting room reading tiny print from a reading app on your phone.

1. Vaccinated by Paul Offit. It was completely fascinating to learn about the early days of immunization. Even if you've learned the science before, reading about the social context is so interesting.

2. Overdiagnosed by H. Gilbert Welch. This book changed the way I look at my practice, every day. Welch is an epidemiologist and explains the principles in a very accessible way.

3. Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche, by Ethan Watters. A must-read, especially if you work in mental health. I see a lot of refugee and newcomer patients, and do some element of cross-cultural mental health most every day. It's challenging because our entire mental health assessment is rooted in the culture in which it was created, and the very definitions of mental illness vary so widely in different contexts.

4. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. I know you are hearing about it everywhere. It is beautifully written and helped me reflect on medicine in a different way. "But if I did not know what I wanted, I had learned something, something not found in Hippocrates, Maimonides, or Osler: the physician's duty is not to stave off death or to return patients to their old lives, but to take into our arms a patient and family whose lives have disintegrated and work until they can stand back up and face, and make sense of, their own existence."

I was on a female memoir kick last year, and thoroughly enjoyed the following:

5. Julia Child's My Life in France. Transport yourself to France and witness the early days of her love affair with French cuisine.

6. Nora Ephron's books of essays, I Feel Bad About My Neck and I Remember Nothing were, of course, hilarious.

7. Laughing All the Way to the Mosque by Zarqa Nawaz. Zarqa Nawaz is the creator of the TV show Little Mosque on the Prairie. She diverted from her parents' expectation for her of a career in medicine and found her way to journalism and the arts instead. As a fellow Canadian Muslim woman, I loved hearing her always-funny perspective on issues she faced along the way.

8. I Was a Really Good Mom Before I Had Kids by Trisha Ashworth and Amy Nobile. A down-to-earth book about the real issues we face every day as mothers, I found it totally affirming to read.

Fiction:

9. On Beauty by Zadie Smith. "And so it happened again, the daily miracle whereby interiority opens out and brings to bloom the million-petalled flower of being here, in the world, with other people. Neither as hard as she had thought it might be nor as easy as it appeared". Filled with breathtaking passages but also dry humour and wit, On Beauty was captivating.

10. Everybody Has Everything by Katrina Onstad. Following years of infertility, a young professional couple takes guardianship of a young child when their friends suffer a terrible accident. The struggles of being thrust into parenthood of a unique sort; with the same truth that we all live with - the uncertain future.

What books would you recommend?

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?

Friday, June 17, 2016

On Five Year Plans

This is a throw-back to a MiM post back in 2013 that really resonated with me at the time, and still does, in which T writes about someone asking her, "Do you have a five year plan?"

When asked this recently, I fumbled. Actually, I tossed back the answer, asking the asker to mentor me through getting such a plan. It wasn’t even someone who knew me well and it had been asked in a fairly casual way. Regardless, I was not able to answer the question. But if I were to answer it, the answer would be, “No I do not.”


The comments that followed included other MiMs stating that they too did not have five year plans. People cited living in the present, and checking in periodically to ensure satisfaction and fulfillment, but not necessarily a structured plan. Others did have plans, which they found informed their present-day decisions. I was on maternity leave with my first when I read this post, and was feeling very unmoored. I felt that I should have a very clear path of where I wanted to go in my career.

I remember being asked the same question by a male faculty member during my first week of medical school. I fumbled too, as I entered medical school interested in family medicine but open to possibilities. My surgeon-keener classmate piped in with his plan for surgical specialty x, making me feel even more self-conscious. In retrospect, I don't blame myself one bit. I think some people do well with a well-defined, honed-in focus. Others, like myself, find the goals harder to identify; my priorities have to emerge - they can't be easily forced out.

I have broad goals - community contribution through medicine and beyond, strong faith and family, a healthy lifestyle. I have diverse interests; one is health equity, which has led me to refugee health. Various other interests have led me to different projects over the years.

I do find it helpful to have short-term career priorities; a necessary honing-in to avoid over-commitment and burnout. Dr. Mamta Gautam, the Canadian physician wellness expert, tells physicians that as people who have plenty of interest and enthusiasm about many things, there will always be more interesting things that we want to do, more than we could possibly have time for. So, it is a matter of choosing and narrowing down options.

Right now, I'm focusing on clinical work, local refugee health coordination efforts, and writing - both here, and on a blog aimed at patients. I supervise learners periodically, but have flexibility. There have been other tempting opportunities recently, but I have declined them in order to preserve family and self care time. Personally, I need regular downtime. I schedule a day off every month, sometimes more. I need some "empty space" on the horizon in my calendar, which can involve self care time, and sometimes catch-up work and projects. With two young kids, I've found the regular days off invaluable for recharging.

With the births of my two children, the last four years have been full of transitions. I think motherhood fits naturally with evolving priorities and goals. I look forward to more changing priorities over time. And I'm still OK with not having a five-year plan.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

When The Doctor Is Sick, Again

Genmedmom here. Coughing, coughing, coughing. This is the third respiratory thing to catch me in as many months. Damn germs, can't get away from them.


I'm apologizing to everyone: my husband, for waking him up all night with my uncontrollable hacking; my kids, for my medicated and exhausted attentions (or lack thereof); my patients, for spewing my droplets about the tiny exam room; my fellow commuters, for daring to get on the train sick.


I'm following all my own advice. I know I've got cough-variant asthma and I'm on top of the Albuterol. I'm taking Dayquil and Nyquil, and snarfing tea with honey and endless Ricola.


But still coughing, coughing, coughing. No fever, non-toxic, I'm eating and drinking and walking and talking and parenting and working and COUGHING.


Not sick enough to call out; miserable enough to want to.


Docs, what do you do?


Never mind, I know the answer. Suck on my inhaler, take Dayquil and Nyquil, snarf tea with honey and endless Ricola, and suck it up.





Monday, March 21, 2016

I'm a grown woman and my work bag needs to represent that

What do you do to celebrate yourself? How do you toot your own horn?

I am a part of several very lively on-line support groups for mothers. I love many of the posts and I have especially started to really enjoy the posts that talk about how busy mothers reward themselves with things like fancy purses, fabulous trips and paying off their loans. I don’t think we do as much as we should to celebrate ourselves, to be gentle with ourselves, to love up on ourselves. After the first 8 months of being an Attending, I sometimes realize that besides going to the gym I haven’t done a single good thing just for myself in a week; that’s when I schedule an eyebrow shaping or pedicure appointment (I am overdue for both by the way, uggh!). I am going to start with the purse, build my way up to a trip next year, and before turning 40 - these loans will be paid off!

Back to the bag - the work bag my mother bought me at the beginning of residency has been through a lot. It’s a nice, large personalized LL Bean bag but it has begun to look weathered and frayed. I’m too young to look sloppy and unkempt and I need an upgrade. I went out with some of my Sorority Sisters recently and I noticed how all of the Lawyers had beautifully sculpted, supple leather bags - they were gorgeous! 

That’s when I decided - I’m upgrading myself as soon as I get my first check from my new position (more on that later). My budget is modest and several friends recommended Coach (my favorite is the Coach Mercer Satchel in eggplant) due to their durability and timelessness and some sister-doctors recommended the Dagne Dover (I like the roomy Charlie Tote the best). And now I’m ready for my own, not-a-hand-me-down, grown lady work bag. One that I’ll feel like singing Beyonce’s “Grown Woman” out loud as I carry it into my new office. 

Any recommendations for your favorite work bag or purse? One that will not be flashy while commuting on the DC metro? One that will allow me to easily go from work to picking up Zo from kindergarten?

Friday, January 1, 2016

Saying their names

I don’t have a television but your story flashes across my Facebook feed, my friends tell me about you, my husband the Anthropologist tells me about you, and I look you up online.


You were bullied for being a cheerleader and you took your life (Ronin Shimizu). You went out for a pack of Skittles, a stranger chased you, you were shot and killed (Trayvon Martin). You were selling cigarettes on the streets of New York and you were choked to death as you screamed “I can’t breathe” (Eric Garner). You were playing with your big brother and he accidentally shot and killed you with a gun you found (9 month old in Missouri whose name will not be released). You were born a girl but your birth body was that of a boy, you tried to be your true self but took your own life after not being accepted by your parents (Leelah Alcorn). You were misunderstood, you were playing with a toy gun in the park and you were killed (Tamir Rice). You were with your friends listening to music in your car at a convenience store when a stranger approached you and began arguing with you about your music, he shot you and you died and he went back to his hotel room, walked his dog, and had dinner and drinks (Jordan Davis).


I honor your legacy with my tears. I think about your family. I snuggle my little one more tightly knowing this world is both a beautiful and dangerous place. I honor you with this post; I apologize it has taken me months to find the courage to say your name in this space. This space that is sacred to me but after my last post about Trayvon Martin received some insensitive comments I was hesitant to share some of my deeper feelings since I don’t see much social commentary here at MiM. Why is that? We are mothers and we are providers and don’t we see how unique our vantage point is? We can talk about the intersection of life and policy, public health and personal life from a place most others cannot. I struggle to find the time to read anything besides mindless fashion blogs when I’m not balancing my own needs with full-time medical practice, my husband’s needs and those of my four year old let alone to allow myself the freedom to reflect on society’s transgressions and tragedies.


I thought of you today while looking at my ever growing to do list. And because your life matters to me I put away other thoughts and wrote your name, I am saying your name.


#BlackLivesMatter #ProudLGBTQAlly #MothersInMedicine #2016LivingMyTruth

Friday, October 23, 2015

10 lessons learned in 10 years of Private Practice

This summer marked two major milestones in my life: My 40th birthday and 10 years in practice. Both have prompted some serious reflection on my part. As I thought about the most significant lessons I've learned over the years, I realized some were grasped the hard way and others came from great advice (some of which I got from this blog). For those of you in residency or just getting your ears wet in practice, here's a bit of what I've learned, hopefully it might help a little.

1. Make friends

When I first started practice I would often ask senior physicians what advice they would have for a new kid starting out and I was surprised to hear from several colleagues (male and female ): make time for your friends outside medicine. Several remarked that the felt lonely and isolated as they got older having devoted most of their effort to their career with what little time they had left over to their families.

Quality friendships require the one thing I hold the most precious: time. However, thanks to this early advice, over the years I have been very purposeful about making an effort to make time for relationships. Now I have a community of close friends who truly enrich my life and offer me a reprieve from the drama of the medical community. This year I unexpectedly lost my father and I'm not sure how I would of have survived without the support of my girlfriends.

2. The sky is not falling

Since the day I started medical school in 2001 I have heard how the sky is falling. Managed care, EMR, meaningful use, ICD 10 these were all going to send us to the poor house and ruin medicine. Yes, they have caused me some headaches and I may not make as much money as doctors did in the glory days, but I still can pay my bills, take care of my patients and enjoy my job. (see #10)

3. Lean in (but don't fall in the damn lake and drown)

I hate self help books, but if you haven't yet read Lean In then stop reading this post and go to Amazon right now and buy it. In medicine many committees may feel like pointless wastes of time. I would encouraged you to attempt to find one you can be passionate about and get involved. (If not "passionate" than at least one that doesn't make you want to bang your head against the wall out of desperate boredom) By being willing to say "yes" and giving a little bit of your time to get involved in the processes of your organization, you can learn a lot about hospital administration and make valuable networking connections.

I can always find time for a least one committee, but sometimes I can get a little carried away with my ambitious projects. Recently, I found myself on 4 major committees (all volunteer) at my hospital. That was a little too much. I'm still learning to find the balance between leaning in and falling in.

4. I can't please everyone

In medicine, there is a lot of emphasis on patient satisfaction. It's not enough to provide good care, you must be nice as well so the you and the hospital get good grades on our score cards. That's not to mention internet ranking sites, blogs and facebook. If someone hasn't written something nasty about you that wasn't true, then you haven't been doing this long enough.

Of course, we all want to be liked, but in medicine, sometimes you have to be the bad guy. At the end of the day you must be kind and compassionate to all your patients. They will not always like you and that's OK.

5. Know my stuff

Some of the best advice I got as a resident was that you can't know everything, but the key is to know your bread and butter conditions, learn what's normal, know your emergencies and you can look up everything else. I remind myself of this advice when I begin to feel overwhelmed with keeping up to date in my field. I focus on knowing the basics inside and out and keeping references handy.

6. Find my own version of work life balance

To me my work life balance is a combination of having a fantastic SAHD husband, living 8 minutes from my office/hospital and the flexibility of being my own boss in private practice. When I first started practice I would frequently fret during slow office weeks that I would never make my overheard and equally fret during busy office weeks that my children would grow up never seeing their mother. I slowly learned to enjoy the slow season and embrace the fact that the busy season would help me pay my kids tuition.

{In my opinion no one has ever explained work-life balance better than FreshMD right here on this blog.}

7. Be kind

Be kind. Treat the janitor with the same respect you treat the CEO. Treat the cokehead patient with the same care you would your best friend.

Especially in surgical specialties practitioners tend to yell and pitch fits to get their way. I've seen nurses chewed out for pulling the wrong size gloves for a doctor. To be a confident, respected female physician you do not have to be a bitch. The only excuse for yelling is emergent situations where patient safety is being compromised. I'm not saying to be a pushover, but you can be assertive without being mean. When you are characterized by levelheaded kindness, your true complaints will be taken much more seriously by your supervisors.

8. My kids will not be scarred for life because I missed a few bedtimes

I've missed a lot of bedtimes over the years. I still hate the fact that I have to miss out on important events in the lives of my littles because of my job. But at age 11 and 6, they are doing fine and I can already see that the missed bedtimes are harder on me than them. And I promise all you resident mamas out there: LIFE DOES GET BETTER!

9. Have a financial plan

Again, I hate reading non fiction, but one of the best financial book I have read is The Millionaire Next Door. The title is rather misleading, seeming to be yet another "get rich quick" book, but the actual point of the book is to learn to live well below your means and focus on avoiding the traps of debt. I wish I had read it as a resident.

10. I love my calling

There will be rough days. Patients will die, you will get sued, many nights you won't sleep but through all the crap, try your hardest to focus on the times you made a difference. Don't let yourself become a bitter and filled with self pity. This isn't a job we have, but a calling. Concentrate on the moments you saved a life, provided comfort to the grieving, eased someone's pain and changed their lives. If you find the grey cloud of negativity hovering for too long, then make a way to cut back your schedule and refuel your soul.


I'm not vain enough to believe that what's worked for me, will be the answer to all. I tried to leave out all the obvious things like eating your broccoli, exercising and maintaining your marriage. Hopefully even if my advice doesn't apply that much to you, it may make you pause and think.


Anybody else have some lessons to share?




Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Intern of the Year

Eight years ago this month, I entered the hospital for the first time with the label "MD". My assignment was a prestigious transitional year internship at a large private/academic hybrid hospital. Amongst my rotations would be Internal Medicine, Surgery, ICU, and some electives.

My internship year was wonderful. I relished in the new freedom of managing patients and writing orders. I thrived on the stress of the endless to-do lists; each time I checked a box on my paper, I got a sense of thrill. The learning curve was so steep, and I became addicted to finding ways to be efficient. I enjoyed my co-interns, the staff, and the attendings. At the end of the year, they voted me Intern of the Year!

Then I started my residency in anesthesiology. I had done no anesthesia rotations during my transitional year and had instead chosen to focus on getting exposure to things that I was likely to not see much in the future. The change was abrupt and was not exactly smooth. Like the swipe of an eraser on a white board, all the positivity and excitement quietly vanished. The sheer volume of material to learn was overwhelming, not to mention the technical parts of the job – placing IV’s, preparing and dosing drugs, mastering the anesthesia monitors and ventilators, patient positioning, and the delicate dance of the patient consent process that is unique to anesthesia. Every day was a great battle to keep wits and stay calm while learning the academic and procedural aspects of the specialty.

As the fall months spread into winter and the days became shorter, a gloom washed over me. Rushing to work in the dark and returning home in the dark… was this what I had signed up for? Were other residents feeling the same way? How did I compare? These questions never really get answered since we don’t work together in the same OR. Come wintertime, performance evaluations from faculty started to trickle in. Some comments were positive, but the negative ones cut deeply into my motivation and self-esteem. But I was the "Intern of the Year"; what was wrong with me?

I continued to struggle with procedures, and my In Training Examination scores were well below average. I suffered from incredible fatigue and knew deep down that something was wrong. It took many months, over half of my residency, to figure out what it was: a pituitary macroademona had taken residence in my sella and was wrapping its tentacles around my optic nerve. I was going blind and didn't even notice! Within a week after my MRI, I was on the OR table being anesthetized by one of my attendings. What followed was a long hospital stay and complications of hyponatremia requiring readmission. After a long period of healing, I returned to residency and finished my training.

A stay in a hospital ICU will change you forever. My achievement record during residency, despite having been crowned Intern of the Year, may have ended up being quite lackluster... but my experience as a patient was a priceless learning experience that I'm grateful to have had. It helps me connect with my scared and vulnerable patients every day, and it is a constant reminder of how lucky I really am. And as an attending, I now thoroughly enjoy the practice of anesthesia.

I'm shortening and simplifying a very long and detailed story, but I write this to inspire all the new interns and residents with their sights set on perfect ITE scores, accolades, votes, and awards. In the end, none of that matters. Your years of training will hold a mix of times of difficulty, times of gratitude and times of great learning. Do your best to navigate these times with balance, and make sure to take care of yourself!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Vacation sans bebe

I read a few articles recently about Americans and vacationing. Of the only 25% of Americans who have paid vacation days, they have an average of 3.2 days left unused each year (OECD, 2013).

Unused vacation days. Not us!!! We use them all up. Zo travelled with us for the first close to 2 years of his life. However, once he was weaned and could no longer be lulled into a breast milk-induced-coma, we began planning trips without him. Many thanks to my parents and in-laws. And thanks to my cousin for letting us use her timeshare to enjoy fabulous, affordable vacations.

Here is my chronicle of our delectable and delightful second Vacation Sans Bebe, New Orleans style. I will focus on the food because New Orleans has to have some of the most amazing, creamy, luscious, sinful, gluttonous food around and there is just too much to write about (the wonderful people, the outstanding architecture, the cultures, the alcohol).

Best brunch ever - I can’t tell you how much O and I love an excellent brunch. My Sorority Sister B and her husband R who work for a major oil company in Louisiana met us at Slim Goodies. The french toast below was the best I have ever had; crispy French bread crust, fluffy middle, dusted with powdered sugar, and drizzled with syrup! Paired with mimosas that you prepare yourself (orange juice from Slim Goodies and prosecco from a neighboring restaurant they have an arrangement with), it was amazing!

(scrambled eggs, french toast, and large mimosa from Slim Goodies)


Best lunch - oooooh oooooh oooooooh. Gumbo and crawfish at Cafe Reconcile. Amazing nonprofit organization that trains local teenagers and young adults for careers in the restaurant business. Wonderful staff. Delicious food. The crawfish sauce was so complex yet not overwhelming. The grits were soft but had some substance to them and were perfectly seasoned.

(crawfish on grits, from Cafe Reconcile)

And the tie for best dinner - Bacchanal Wines and Houstons.

Bacchanal had to be one of the most fun experiences. We took a taxi into the Ninth Ward past factories and train tracks and end up in a cute neighborhood. You see a line on the corner entering a house with a big fenced in yard. You enter what may have previously been a living room, but has been converted into a wine and cheese shop. You purchase a bottle of wine, get a cheese plate (we unfortunately didn’t order one and the line was too long by the time we wanted some cheese), and go find a table. There are at least 100 people sitting and standing around. There is a live band playing in the courtyard. It is magical.

My husband and I failed on our first attempts to find a table, finally separating while he waited in the 20 person long food line and me making googly-eyes at folks with finished wine glasses taking up space. Finally, a very nice retired couple took pity on my and told me to pull up an empty chair. We sat at a candlelit table talking and drinking until they left.

And then the CHICKEN arrived.

Notice how I put that sentence on its own line. I had confit chicken that literally melted in my mouth with bok choy and a yummy carb I can’t remember. I did a little research on what confit means; it is to cook meat in oil at a low temperature (it’s not fried, it like melts away, oh goodness, soo yummy). That chicken was soo freaking good I am hungry just writing about it; the skin was crispy and perfectly salted and the chicken literally fell off of the bone and just melted in my mouth. O had a grilled tilapia that was equally divine. For dessert we had dark chocolate drizzled with olive oil and sea salt with even more wine.

(courtyard at Bacchanal Wine, image from http://fleurdelicious-nola.com accessed 11/1/2014)

Beignets - and on our last night in NOLA, we toured the city, stopping in shops. Eating. Drinking alcohol-containing beverages in plastic cups while walking (crazy that you can do that legally in NOLA). We ended the night on the banks of the Mississippi eating beignets from Cafe DuMonde with B and R. We heard approaching music as a first-line band leading a wedding party approached. As is the customary, we all stood up and joined in dancing and singing “As the Saints go Marching in” under the twinkling night sky.

Here’s to the best vacation sans bebe, NOLA, we love you bebe!


(Voodoo Tour, St. Louis Cemetery #1)



Our recommendations for excellent food in NOLA:

Slim Goodies, Cafe Reconcile (weekday breakfast and lunch only, nonprofit that does job development and career training for teenagers and young adults in the Garden District), Cafe DuMonde, Houstons, and Bacchanal Wines (get there early and just go ahead and get the darn cheese plate!).

Of note, I have no conflicts or disclosures, we went everywhere based on recommendations from friends and paid for everything ourselves. All pictures were taken by me and O unless otherwise mentioned and cited.

References:

An Assessment of Paid Time Off in the U.S. Implications for employees, companies, and the economy. Accessed Oct 16 2014.

Center for Economic Policy Research. No-vacation nation revisited. 2014. Accessed Oct 16 2014.

Work-life balance. Accessed Oct 16 2014.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Self advocacy - why is it so hard?

It’s funny how a few things collide, to suddenly make life crystal clear. It’s job application time for me, and I was lucky enough to receive three offers, strangely enough covering the gamut of work life balance from no after hours to full on subspecialty. After much deliberation, I chose the job that would best complement all my roles – mother, wife, doctor, furry friends owner, health advocate wannabe – you all know the list. I recognised I was burnt out, and at risk of leaving medicine altogether if I didn’t make an active decision to change my hours and where I was headed. Both my husband and I are in high level, full time roles, something I never felt comfortable with for the children. Here was my opportunity to make a change more in line with what I wanted for my family. I’m a firm believer in if-something-isn’t-right-fix-it, don’t just wish or whinge! Fast forward one week - past all the happiness at finally making a decision, the peace that the decision was right for me and mine, excitement of starting a new job, the daydreams and plans to incorporate fitness, walk the furry friends, spend more time with hubby and children - to today. I’m catapulted from a state of contented decision-making bliss into Guilt – guilt I now know is ‘doctor guilt’ (thank you Emily). It deserves a capital G, don’t you think, for the central place it often plays in women’s lives? So what happened?

Well a couple of things. Firstly, taking this new, wonderful job involves resigning from my current job, something that I’ve never had to do before (I’m yet to do this, because I’m waiting on a formal contract). It also means leaving a path I’d always thought I’d follow, and jumping into a reasonably unknown area for me. After making my decision, I had a conversation with the boss of the subspecialty I’d originally planned to follow, creating doubt in my mind that I’d made the correct choice. She wanted me to take her job offer, and I felt like I was letting her down in choosing not to. It was also ‘known’. After the ‘doctor guilt’ came self recrimination – in resigning, I am jumping ship, baling out, leaving colleagues in the lurch. In reality, my position is actually supernumerary at present, so in actual fact, no-one is left in the lurch, but my soon to be old hospital won’t remember that. I’m now the person I never thought I’d be – the one who leaves a post early.

This really forced me to choose what was important to me. I sat down and thought long and hard about my values, what I considered ethical, the life I wanted for my family, the sort of mother I wanted to be, and whether that married with my current workload (no surprises the answer is no). I pictured myself in each of the three jobs, and tried to see how I felt, what my reactions were. I read widely, trying to build a picture of my future career options. I came across an article about women failing to speak up when sexually harassed and why we are all so ingrained to be ‘good girls’, to not create waves, keep everyone else happy. I had many long chats with close medical friends, trusted senior colleagues, and my husband, who all agreed I should take this job. People who, like me, would never ordinarily leave a post early. I was told leaving a post early is common, people do it all the time. Not me though. Never me. In an ideal world, I would ask to start the new job when this one finishes, in five months time. That’s the path of least resistance.

But spending another week, let alone another month, in my current position is too long. My family needs to make a change now. As well as that, moving now saves me time at the end – possibly nearly a year of time (due to retrospectively counting some of this year, something that probably won’t happen if I don’t move until next year). The next five months in my current job is surplus to my training needs. So, for the first time in my life, I’ve chosen to do what is right for me. I’m going to take the community based, no after hours or on call job, and I’m going to start in 4 weeks. All I have to do now, is tell them. Resign. Although I’ve decided, I still question it, and probably will, until my contract arrives, and I have to make the decision final.

So I guess two questions. Has anyone else ever left a post early? Taken a leap of faith? Any advice on whether it turned out ok in the end? Fingers crossed.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Taking Care Of Ourselves

Genmedmom here.

A patient of mine recently asked me how my kids are, and what cute things were they doing nowadays? I'm very open about my family with all of my patients. They've seen me huge and pregnant, and they've seen my colleagues during my maternity leaves. My kids' photos hang in my exam room. We often trade parenting experiences as part of the visit.

So, I was not at all put off by her asking about my kids. Her visit was over anyways, and we were only making small talk as we wrapped it up. I described how Babyboy is a little engineer, always building and figuring things out, and that Babygirl is full of sass and song, teasting and challenging and singing all day long. She laughed and said a few things about her kids, how they were all grown up, how she missed their little days, but didn't miss how hard it had been.

"Make sure you take care of yourself," she said, suddenly not laughing anymore. It was a bit abrupt, this serious turn of mood.

"I mean you need to take the time for care for you, because you need to replenish your strength, to be able to care for your kids. Exercise, salon time, friends time, it's really important. You need to do that." She was beseeching me.

"Uh, okay, yes, I know what you mean, absolutely..." We were moving towards the door.

She stopped, and said, quietly: "No, really, I can see how tired you are. You're really, really tired. Remember to take care of you. I need you to, too!" Here she smiled, and the door opened and she was gone, leaving me unusually flustered, standing there for a few seconds, wondering what next.

I know I carried on with my clinic, and then went home, and did the dinner/ bathtime/ bedtime routine with my kids. I know I crammed in some mail opening, bill pay, and reading. I know that sleep was likely disrupted by something... If not one of the kids (usually Babygirl) then the cats, or this nagging cough I've had. I know I am really, really tired.

Now, I have alot of help from a wonderful husband and my untiring mother. I do get to exercise twice a week. I write, which is therapeutic. Hubby and I sit down for dinner every night that he's not traveling, and we have family dinners every week. I don't shop much, or see friends that often, and I can't remember the last time I went to a salon.

I honestly can't tell if I'm taking care of myself enough or not. I think I am. But if patients see me as exhausted, drained, that's not good. I'm not sure how much more time I can carve out for "down time" things, and I'm not sure I feel that strongly about making that happen.

What do others do to take care of themselves? How much down time do you need?

Friday, October 25, 2013

The me-time problem, or rather the no me-time problem

Recently, I have been having a me-time problem. The problem is, I don't have any. Now, there are pressing and non-modifiable external reasons for my lack of a life, namely residency, which severely limits the total number of hours that I can devote to non-work activities. Then's there is parenthood and I know I don't have to go into detail here at MiM about the ways in which that limits me-time. Let's just say: Last weekend I turned on the shower and read a New Yorker article while sitting on the bathroom floor and telling my daughter through the door in a sing-song voice that I was almost do-one with my show-er. So my expectations in the me-time department are not lofty. I'm not talking about daily me-time and there are months when I resign myself to the fact that I might only get a few hours per month to myself. But I'm beginning to see the toll that no me-time can take when it begins to stretch from months to years. My best friend in the world has been with her "new" boyfriend for almost a year and I have never met him. One of my other dearest friends had a baby over a month ago and I have yet to talk with her in person. The list of friends and relatives whose birthday I have under-celebrated or whom I owe calls, cards, gifts, or visits is long. I have not formed very many lasting social connections with my co-residents because I never attend happy hours, dinners, or trips.

Also I am just so unbelievably tired. I am locked in an almost compulsive cycle of sleep deprivation. I race home from clinic to be with my daughter then finish notes late into the night when I should be sleeping. I get up with her at 5:30am on weekends even when my partner offers to let me sleep because I want to spend every last minute with her. I wake up only 2-3 hours post-call so I can pick her up from day care. My sleep deficit feels as insurmountable as my student loan debt, something I will be paying off until I die. Will I ever be able to go to a movie or a play without falling asleep two minutes in?

Don't get me wrong, I love spending time with E. It is my favorite thing to do without even a close second. The delight and pleasure I take in even the simplest activity with her is beyond anything I have ever experienced before. Let's load the dishwasher! I say, and her little face breaks out into a beam of excitement and suddenly arranging bowls on the rack takes on a new quality of magic a la Mary Poppins. But I do miss myself. And see above re: I am really tired. I'm beginning to feel a little wan and a little crazed and very, very grouchy in the mornings and sometimes in the evenings and sometimes in the middle of the day. I know rationally that it would be good for me, for my daughter, for my marriage, for my career, for my health -- good all around -- to take breaks and keep from getting burned out.

The problem is, I feel deeply conflicted every time I am faced with the decision of leaving my daughter for any reason other than work and especially if the only reason is my own comfort or enjoyment. When I have only four days off a month, how can I spend even part of one day away from her? When I might have only one hour with her at the end of a day, how can I decide instead to go to a bar with my co-workers? When she is cutest in the mornings and I almost never see her in the mornings, how can I roll over and let my partner toddle down the stairs with her and get all the sweet toddler action? In the abstract, I know I should do all these things at least once in a while, but when I'm in the moment a noose tightens around my heart, part guilt, part sheer hunger to be near her and hug her and listen to her talk and watch her grow up, which I increasingly find is a quantity-time and not a quality-time activity. So I end up deferring or canceling plans or bringing E along and spending the time chasing her around rather than socializing.

I have a vacation coming up in December and I'm toying with the idea of planning a one- or two-night trip by myself to visit a friend but I'm nervous that when the day comes and it's time to drive to the airport, I won't want to go. I won't be able to go. I will end up "getting sick" and canceling and wasting money I don't even have on lost tickets and hotel reservations. Or going and feeling unsettled the whole time and regretful about time lost with my daughter when I have to go back to my 80hr schedule the following week.

Fellow MiMs: How do you handle the me-time dilemma? Should I suck it up and reclaim some me-time or suck it up and realize that these years are precious and schedule a reunion with myself in a couple of years after residency and toddlerhood are over? What strategies do you have for fitting in time for yourself? In other words: help!