A friend of mine who finished her residency in June just took a job in a non-medical field. I talked to her over the phone last weekend. She is so happy in her new position, she said, so happy.
Sure, I said, who wouldn’t love a 9-to-5 job after what you’ve just finished?
You know, it’s not even the hours, she said. It’s the respect.
See, apparently, when you’re not a resident, people sometimes appreciate the time you spend at work. People consider your feelings when they respond to your ideas. When you do something well in the real world, sometimes you even get praise. Praise!
Apparently, there are people out there who occasionally own their own time; who feel entitled to ask for support; who, when they are treated like children, can turn their backs and leave.
I used to live in that world. I had lots of weekends then, and what felt like options.
I don’t live there any more. My job stinks. The hours stink. The way it isolates me socially stinks. The havoc it has wreaked on my relationship with my family and my perception of myself stinks. I used to be creative, and I used to have energy and faith in people. But where I am now, every day seems full of special punishments created by the cosmos just to fuck with me. Those punishments–only the most recent of which involved missing most of the ScienceBloggers’ meet-up in NYC–stink.
I went to a noon conference the other day on Mindful Medical Practice. (“Mandatory,” said the reminder page at 11 a.m. “Attendance will be taken.”) As we sat in front of our plastic plates of iceberg salad and semi-congealed ziti, a little man with glasses and bushy hair sat in front of the room and demonstrated a meditation exercise. I wanted to reach out and take him by the throat; ask him, sincerely, whether he had any recollection of what it was like to be a resident; and then squeeze.
The thing is, I am mindful. I identify my emotions as they come up, often without immediately reacting. I appreciate physical sensations in the moment: the wind in my face, the coffee in my hair, the sun in my eyes, and occasionally, pleasant things, too. But those things are crowded out by the other things I’m mindful of, and the mental attention required to cope with those things.
I’m mindful, for example, of how much the medical profession has taken away from me. If it weren’t for this goddamn residency, I’d be living somewhere that pleased me with a heap more freedom than I have right now. I am qualified and capable at doing a million jobs that involve no pager, no condescending attendings, and no needy patients. For the love of all that is sacred, why did I choose this one?
I usually have some kind of great answer for that question, often in the form of a story. But I haven’t had a great story in months. They’re still happening, but I am no longer a part of them: I am watching from the outside as people experience my care–able to give them what I ought to, but no longer able to take much away.
P.S. Many thanks to the kind support in the form of comments and private emails. I’m not sure why you’re all so warm and lovely and nice, but you are, and I’m so grateful.