Saturday, April 15, 2017

A Secretly Learned Skill

One skill that most physicians are probably good at is compartmentalization. There's virtually no way that you can make it through residency and have a life as an Attending if you don't know how to compartmentalize. There's also no such thing as letting personal life affect your work. Take a day off because you're having a bad day? Ha, that's laughable. Or worse, take a day off because a close family member is in the hospital? Again, damn near impossible.

My whole life I've been extremely good at compartmentalizing feelings and this has gone to another level while as a resident. You learn to shove aside all your feelings while working. You put on a happy face in front of every parent and child. You answer question after question with a smile and then end with "Do you have any other questions?" It's a never ending cycle. You don't even know you're compartmentalizing until a specific trigger later brings out all the emotions you unknowingly kept behind a closed door.

This morning I woke up to a devastating text message from my dad. My grandma suffered from a major stroke and is now unable to move the entire left side of her body. Did I have time to call my dad and clarify what happened? No, because I had to dash to the hospital to preround and then round on my patients. Every rare free second I got, I texted my dad back to ask what happened, what was going on now, what was the next step. I texted my sister to talk about what happened, why things didn't go a certain way. All while furiously prerounding and jotting down numbers, labs, and coming up with plans for each patient. I rounded like a champ, kept up a smiling face while I explained the plan to parents sitting next to their child. I put in my first UVC line like a boss, no adjustments needed after the chest x-ray was taken to confirm proper placement. I had lunch with another physician and chatted like nothing was wrong. Grandma had a stroke? Well, at this moment in time, let's pretend that never happened.

You go about your daily life compartmentalizing every aspect of your life. Personal life goes into one box. Medicine goes into another box. Research, another box. Errands, another box. Social life is, but of course, yet another box.

I love my career with all my heart but I don't love learning to be very good at compartmentalizing. Things that should bother me, don't appear to bother me at all when I'm working. I'm happy to be at work, happy to be a doctor. Until that something or someone triggers my memory again and forces me to bring out what I had already separated into it's own special little box. Then the emotions begin. And when it starts, it floods. And there's nothing you can do about it except figure out how you're going to show up at work again the next day with that happy face, ready to preround, and round, and answer questions.