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Do you think, maybe?

November 21, 2011

I’ve written before about how doctors make bad patients. I’m guilty of this today.

My older and wiser colleague knocked on my door and asked: “Do you think maybe it’s time for a little amoxicillin?” She must have heard my coughing fit. I had to have a chuckle. I’ve been with a cold for almost two weeks now. Undoubtedly viral, really minor in the first few days but developed into an uncomfortable and productive cough. It’s really not the worst as far as colds go, but the violent coughing has been frustrating. It provides a good abdominal workout (ha!) but I’m of course worried about spreading my germs. At least I can control that and wash my hands like a fiend. I said “no, thanks” to the antibiotics, but the offer started me thinking.

The cough can come at the most inopportune times, like when delivering serious news or doing a delicate procedure, but fortunately it is on its way out. Should I have stayed home? I don’t want to get patients and colleagues sick, but one feels a bit silly missing work for ‘just a cold.’ More importantly, when you are one of two or three doctors in town, there is a certain duty that you feel you have to fulfill.

I’m not writing this post to complain – I’m really not that sick. It’s more of a reminder to you and to me to take care of ourselves. Last week was a difficult one for a number of reasons. Personal, physical, environmental. The days are getting quickly shorter, which is at first miraculous, but when the sun sets 5 minutes and 15 seconds faster each day it means going to work and coming home in the cold and dark. A blizzard came, with the excitement of a polar bear near the health centre, but also with the stress of not knowing if/when we could MedEvac sick patients or how long it would be until new staff could get in and current ones could get out. Fortunately everything worked out on the MedEvac front and all patients in the region got where they needed to, when they needed to. The nurses in the outlaying stations held tight and worked with great creativity and patience.

This cough came for me and was not made better by the limited sleep caused by its nagging at night and the occasional call at 2AM. I felt rotten and embarrassed while learning my lesson around an interpersonal issue, despite being met with care and understanding by colleagues. I was stressed about hockey, not being able to go because I was always on-call and I worried desperately about keeping up with the guys when I did attend. The whole health centre was buzzing with the roll-out of our new EHR; we doctors had it the easiest of all, but many of the staff worked overtime to make the transition possible. Although there are still struggles, it went smoother than expected and patients have been very forgiving with us as we learn the way.

Through this, I didn’t take the time to say “wow, I’m kinda stressed!” Work in Rankin has usually been at gentle pace with the occasional high-acuity case or hectic day to keep one on their toes. I don’t think I was attentive to new forces at work. Another lesson learned? Early to bed, apple a day, don’t forget to floss, and don’t leave home without wearing pants that stop the wind! Or something like that.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Marco permalink
    November 21, 2011 11:06 pm

    Hi Jessica,
    To be honest with oneself and take a critical look why you got a lingering URI is the first step. You have taken that step. The next step is figuring out how can you prevent a recurrence. The third one is to actually prevent it.
    Be ruthless in self preservation. That is not something that comes naturally with doctors. We get to feel guilty and wonder about being selfish etc. But when everything is said and done , a healthy doctor is a much better and effective one than the worn out doc battling viral or bacterial infections.
    We get those infectious assaults when we impair our immune system with too many stresses, sleep deprivation, and less than ideal eating habits.and you can probably add a few more energy sapping items to that.
    Working in the Kivalliq is exciting and one gets to use all the skills and knowledge acquired over a good number of years, but in my 8 years working there off and on I have seen too many colleagues burn out. Enjoy the work, but do not become one of them
    Cheers. Marco

    • November 23, 2011 12:35 am

      thanks Marco

      I’m learning every day; not only clinically but personally, I am constantly challenged. I have heard the stories of frazzled docs and I don’t want to wind up there. Going home for Christmas with the family where I’m sure I’ll spent most days just sleeping, but I’ll work 2 hospitalist shifts, just to keep my feet wet. Then up to Rankin over New Years, and then an honest to goodness proper vacation. I spent a week in San Francisco 1.5 years ago and 6 years ago had 2 weeks in Mexico, but otherwise have not traveled except for work/electives/volunteering/conferences.

      So, my first trip to Hawaii in January and it couldn’t come at a better time. I think exploring tide pools and hiking volcanoes will be a better Rx than even amoxicillin.

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