Medicine From The Trenches

Experiences from medical school, residency and beyond.

Time keeps moving and it’s is a blessing that it does keep moving.

In most places, we await the end of 2016 and the beginning of 2017. The passing of one year and the advent of another full of hope and promise for most of us. Still, nothing is new because time always keeps moving and everything changes often from one instant to the next. I have allowed this movement, this continuum to spur me to renew and reinvent myself without question.

This past year to my surprise, I embraced long distance running. My stress level dropped to nothing; my self-empowerment went to high levels. As I race along streets at 3AM, the only time I can get 1.5 hours of pure running into my crammed schedule, I do this movement for me and my sanity. I work on problems, I accept my world with joy and gratitude. This turns out to be a great way to get every day started and every challenge faced head on.

I will often mull some paper or new information as I tread along my winding path in my neighborhood near one the the Great Lakes in midwest United States. I can always hear the ebb and flow of the waves of the lake as I run along the beach; even if it’s too dark for me to see them. On a bright moonlit early morning, now long before sunrise on these shorter winter days, I love seeing my breath just in front of me.

Since I live in a suburban area, I seldom meet any automobiles in the early morning. If I meet anything, it’s a heard of deer grazing or a racoon crossing the empty street heading for the deep woods next to the lake. The deer ignore me but after spotting a coyote or two, I run with mace but still I run with emphasis and determination.

The thing about running, or even a brisk walk to begin your day, is that you can’t do these tasks for others. As a physician, my life and my practice has centered around being present to help my patients and students with solving their problems even if I ignore my concerns. With running, I do this for me and me alone; heady for non-self sacrifice. I think about me and how my middle-aged body runs faster and faster in the cold early morning darkness.

Daily running has a way of adding discipline into every aspect of one’s life. I eat healthy and clean because I know that high fat, high simple sugar foods will zap this burst of energy that running gives. I also forgive my occasional indulgence of beer on a non-practice evening because I have already run and exercised for the day. I also know that I am at my thinnest and lightest weight in my adult life; enjoying how well my clothes fit and how comfortable I am parking far from my destinations and hiking the extra distance.

The discipline that I have achieved with running, eating healthy and lifting a few weights has allowed me to keep a ready smile on my face and a song in my heart. I find that I simply enjoy interacting with my patients; joyful that I can help them feel better and meet the challenges of their worlds. This is some of the true magic of medicine that we keep learning, practicing and enjoying our art no matter where one is in the process. For many, just navigating the health care process is a source of added frustration and fear. Let your patients know that you are always the final common path for them as they place their health and trust in you; have their best interests in mind always.

As this year draws to a close, remind yourself of why you entered this profession and how fortunate you are to be able to help your fellow humans in any way small or large. Remind yourself that while this is a job for you, it’s often a change of life for your patients. Remind yourself that there is magic in empowering your patients; appreciating their fellowship and challenging yourself to be the best that you can be especially being authentic.

31 December, 2016 Posted by | life in medicine, medical school | | 1 Comment

Achieving a balance

Introduction

As I write this, my career has been shifted into a higher level of comfort. I have spent the years since graduation from medical school and residency honing my surgical skills and the craft of taking care of patients. If anything has suffered in the task to become the best physician that I can possibly be, it has been my personal life. In short, it became easy to head off to the hospital or university rather than deal with things in my life that just were not working. Well, working in medicine has a way of making one reflect on what is truly important and making one move past things that are not a good fit for life.  I had decided after ending a relationship that had somewhat sustained me through medical school and residency, that I would throw myself into my work with vigor and a quest for self-discovery.

Make a definition of your “complete” life

I always knew that I was a person who saw the miraculous in all of medicine and humankind. I am just an instrument for our creator does the actual healing. You can call the creator anything that you like, God, Mohammed, the Great Spirit but positivity and balance have a way of forcing one to move along on a plane that is stable. One gets used to “death” as part of “life” and one can sometimes feel how to be aligned with the universe in one aspect of life but “going through the motions” in another aspect of life. So it was with me and I attempted to fill in my “gaps” and “blanks” with interests, flying, sailing and so forth. Being above the earth or on the ocean/lake can allow one to exhale and just marvel at how wonderful the world is at times. I also knew that I wanted to share the miracles of my life with another soul; as a human we all reach out for intimacy in some form. We can have a close friend or we can have a significant relationship (marriage) that allows us to find that person who can help us complete our mission in life. At times, I believed that I needed to work on myself and put all parts of my life in compartments so that I could achieve a close bond with another human that doesn’t mind that I sleep on my abdomen hugging a pillow and look like a “street urchin” in the morning after my nightly pillow fight; that my phone frequently rings all night if I am on home call; or that I might be away for 30 hours straight taking in house call. These are the realities of being in a relationship with most physicians and certainly with a surgeon. I can also add the time that I must spend in reading and study to keep up with my craft. In short, any person who is involved with a physician needs to see that they won’t have 100% of our attention all the time but when we are “with” you, we are 100% committed and need you like we need oxygen, food and water to live. My definition of my complete life was to meet and find a person who could be my friend first and perhaps more later. The inhumanity that is sometimes represented in my trauma bay can color how I look at relationships between humans. Domestic violence is very difficult to deal with but deal with it, I must and I must have a place in my mind that allows me to give my best treatment to the victims and sometimes to the perpetrator too. I am not the judge but only an instrument to an end point – getting that person back to health and solving health problems. My complete life has to allow me to find that person who can allow me to complete my “mission” on Earth and I complete them.

What I tell myself…

I had told myself that my life could be complete and satisfying with a job well-done. I would enjoy “discovering new truths” in my research and writings. I would enjoy hearing the successes of my students and colleagues. I would have a rich and satisfying career giving back with my skills and teaching. Yes, my life was indeed full but not complete. I didn’t have that intimate relationship that adds the depth and richness that just needs to be there. And so I was going through my career, happily enjoying my friends, colleagues and adventures in surgery, medicine, flying and sailing.

No, one can’t plan everything…

I was happily moving along with the things that occupy my time. I decided to do some exploration in trying to reach out and expand my circle of friends. It’s good to be a trailblazer in some aspects of one’s life. I have always challenged myself to take some risk with something at various times. I took a risk and was happily enjoying the experience when a man reached out to me in a most unexpected manner. There was something in the things that he shared so readily with me. He knew that I was a physician/surgeon yet he said that he saw something that drew him to me. At first, my scientific training kicked in and I attempted to define what was going on here; I ran in the opposite direction. Well, there is no definition but only that one has to have the courage and sometimes the faith to know that your instincts are correct (much the same as how I treat a critical patient). In short, life does not always come with clear directions. I have been in uncharted “exploration” the past few weeks and it’s been both exhilarating and unnerving at the same time.  Here I am in a relationship that I can’t plan or define and suddenly my life that I thought was so full, seems empty before I was able to get to this point.

Why this is so vitally important…

In order to give our best to our patients and colleagues, we have to give our best to ourselves. My best now includes a very brilliant environmental engineer (he can’t stand the sight of blood) who inspires me to reach higher and further in all aspects of life. Suddenly the things that gave me immense satisfaction go beyond that and give me immense joy at the same time. I smile and laugh with my patients, my students and my colleagues. In short, he has made me a better and more fulfilled person. The only downside has been that my favorite OR music has moved from my signature “thrash metal” to a bit more “smooth jazz”. For those who work with me, that’s a huge change but they secretly like the music change. I am not playing as much Pantera or Goatwhore in the background. As you move through your university work and your preparation for medical practice, one has to have the best of humanity brought out from within themselves. To be able to give my heart, a myocyte at a time to this environmental engineer who can’t even see my lectures without getting sick, has made me a better surgeon, physician and human being. One simply has to find balance in all things in life and not shut off any part of life to focus on other parts of life.

10 October, 2014 Posted by | organization, relaxation, stress reduction | , , | 5 Comments