* * Anonymous Doc

Monday, October 5, 2009

It felt good not to set an alarm this morning.

Makes me realize one of the blessings of this job-- when you're not at work, you're free. I look at my friends in consulting or banking, at law firms, anywhere in business, and they're constantly on call. I think we work a lot harder than they do when we're in the hospital-- but at least I know my pager isn't going to go off if I'm on vacation. No one's going to send me an urgent e-mail, I'm not going to have to rush to the hospital to deal with an emergency, no one cares if I'm accessible or asleep.

Of course, the reality is that this is a residency-only situation.

Come three years from now, if I'm part of a private practice, sure, when I'm not in the office calls will go to an answering service and only one of some number of us will need to be on call at any given time-- but I'll have real patients, and those patients will expect me to be reachable, and available if something happens to them. Easier in the outpatient setting than for an OB/GYN or a surgeon-- if someone's calling me in the middle of the night, odds are I'm telling them to go to the hospital and then I can roll over and go back to sleep-- but it's not as if I'll be able to completely shut off when I'm away from the office (although that's one of the appeals of something like Emergency Medicine-- it's shift work, and when you're off, you're off).

Of course, the flexible time this weekend and so far today just serves to remind me how hard it's really been to keep in touch with people over these past three months and how quickly my life has gotten unfortunately small. I e-mail with friends-- the past month doing outpatient has let me do a lot more of that than the months in the hospital did-- but my calendar is really pretty empty. And after these two weeks, I'm back on hospital floors-- so it's not like I can really sign up for any sort of continuing activity that would take any time once that starts.

I'm fighting two impulses-- the desire to pack as much as I can into these two weeks, travel to see as many friends as I can, at least the ones within driving distance, and make sure I build up enough friendship goodwill to last through the months I'll be almost completely overwhelmed and inaccessible-- along with the desire to sit in my apartment and zone out, do nothing, watch TV, take walks, decompress.

Truth is, I'm not good at doing nothing. None of us are-- if we were, we wouldn't have gone to medical school. I don't know how to do nothing. I just get bored and depressed. I first wanted to be a doctor because it meant at least I'd get to be around people. I didn't realize at that point that so much of being a doctor ends up meaning you're just sitting in front of a computer alone in a hospital office inputting orders. It's not a social profession, for the most part. There's interaction, but there's not very much connection. I talk to the nurses in the course of the day but I don't actually talk to them. I don't know anything about most of the people I work with. There isn't time or the inclination for actual conversation except about the patients. Most of my colleagues talk exclusively about work, even at the weekly happy hours I've dragged myself to. They're boring. The happy hours I mean-- although I guess it applies to my fellow interns too. We're one-dimensional people. We've spent so much of these past four years just thinking about medicine that it's all we're left with.

I'm not obsessed with medicine. I don't want to talk about everyone else's patients, I don't read medical journals for fun, the academic part of it doesn't excite me. We've had some talks at grand rounds by doctors who seem genuinely into what they're researching-- genuinely passionate about it. They don't get bored. They don't need other things in their lives. I do. Or at least I worry that I do. I can't get by on just this.

But what does that mean? I don't know that medicine is that much different from anything else my peers end up doing, at least in this respect-- it's not like it's any more satisfying to be a lawyer dispassionate about the law than a doctor dispassionate about medicine. I don't know that I'm passionate about anything-- that's the problem, I guess. I don't know that I'm passionate about anything. I don't know that most people are passionate about anything.

But if you're not passionate about anything, how do you fill the empty space?

I have two weeks to solve that one... of course, even if I find an answer, then I have to go back into the abyss and won't have time to do anything but the job. Argh.


  1. It's the relationships with the people in our lives that make us happy or not. I would take at least some of your time to go visit friends and maybe even go out to meet some new people.

  2. Maybe its not that you have no passion, maybe its that you are a little passionate about a great many things. In the age of specialists you might be a generalist.

  3. What if you're missing the best thing offered to us as humans? You can only love something on this planet so much. But what if you could love something infinitely, and always feel satisfied? Theres definitely something wired in us that makes us passionate for things, but time after time we are left feeling empty, which only leads us to believe something bigger out there is suppose to fill it.