Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

Cape Cod

Doctor As Patient

I don’t feel so hot. No, that’s not quite right. I feel really lousy. Yah…that’s more accurate.

I’m really not much of a complainer, at least for a guy (women are much tougher than men in all ways). I go to work unless I simply can’t rise from bed and crawl to the shower. The entire staff, my family, and every patient who walks into my office feeds off my mood. No matter how I feel, how up or down I might be, on the outside it’s always a good day and I’m always feeling great. That’s the way it is, and that’s probably the way it’s supposed to be whenever you set the pace, and it’s certainly what’s expected of a doctor in the office. I get that, and that’s what I’ve done all of my adult life.

Except now. I’m feeling really lousy, and it’s so bad that I’m having a really hard time hiding it.

It’s partly physical, and it might be medical. No one, patient and doc alike, ever really thinks of the doctor as susceptible to human frailty of any type. Sick day? Yer a doctor…you don’t need any stinkin’ sick day! Just the same, there are a couple of things which just aren’t right. Sure, I’m 51 years old, and that might have something to do with this, but…

So what’s going on? Hmmm…my hands hurt. Pretty scary, eh? I’m an eye surgeon; the quality of my kids’ diet depends on the health of my hands. Nothing too big dealish right now, but just enough to engage my consciousness, oh, all day. And my shoulder, the one I hurt 3 years ago doing push-ups, it’s been buggin’ me after a little kayak rescue adventure on the 4th of July. It’s not really a new problem actually, and it still only keeps me from doing a couple of things I LIKE to do (play golf) and not anything I NEED to do (work), but it wasn’t getting any better, and for a few days it was a little worse.

The gym hasn’t been the sanctuary it’s been for me over the last couple of years. I’m a Crossfitter–we measure everything in the gym. I’m not making any PR (Personal Records) on repeat WOD’s (Workout of the Day) to speak of. In fact, if I’m really being honest here, my times and loads on repeat WOD’s are actually off by about 10% or so. Greg Glassman, the founder of Crossfit and a real, live, certified genius has postulated that measured fitness is a proxy for health. Indeed, he posits that Fitness EQUALS Health. I’m a huge Greg Glassman fan, but I really hope he’s not entirely right on this one.

Whaaaat! Is that it? Is that all this is about? A few physical dings after 51 years of being a knucklehead athlete? Not doing so hot in the gym? Ack, suck it up and quit yer whining!

(Laughing) Sure! It would be cool if that’s all there is! But there’s this little bump in my neck (probably just left over from a virus), and a general decrease in energy along with generally poor quality sleep. My tolerance for the little inconveniences in life is nil, and my ability to let the myriad little discourtesies that are directed at a doctor or a boss is at an all time low. A couple other vague and maddening symptoms that have turned me into every physician’s nightmare: the doctor as a patient.

Medicine of all kinds is the ultimate looking glass. Patient or doctor, you spend pretty much all of your time on one side or the other, and your perspective is irrevocably set by which side you started on. As much as we as docs try to empathize with a patient it’s simply impossible to do any better than sympathize, even if we have the exact same symptoms or diagnosis;  our experience is NEVER the same because we are doctors. We speak the language so our conversation with our own doctors is different, and our doctors nearly always treat us as colleagues first, patients second. We either receive a little lip service and a pat on the rump, or more likely end up with the “blue-plate special” work-up in which no stone is left un-turned, no opportunity to pet a Zebra missed.

Nope, it will likely turn out to be the result of the unrelenting grind of being a doctor who takes care of patients. The countless little cuts from folks who are involved in the “care” that make it more difficult to do your job. The incessant bleating in every media outlet about the “problem with healthcare” and the “problem with doctors”. The patient or family member of a patient who has received state of the art, best in class care and the best possible outcome, and yet finds it necessary to find something to complain about. It will likely be the endless weight of carrying the financial health of 15 families on my shoulders like so many other small business owners. It will likely come down to the blessing and the curse of having an out-sized work capacity and an under-developed ability to demand the same from others, to demand that they share the part of the load that is rightly theirs. Non-medical business owners have resources to call on in these situations, organizations like YPO, Tech, and EO. Docs? Meh, not so much.

Who watches the watchers? Who looks out for those who are tasked with looking out for others? Who is there to care for those who dispense care?

I know what you’re thinking. WAAAAA…what a crybaby! Send in the Whambulance and get this whiner outta here! Maybe. Perhaps. But you’d better have a bunch of those Whambulances on call, because when the doc does go down he/she never goes alone. Private practice or huge institutional setting, we are each an integral part of a complex micro-economic and social ecosystem. Set apart, but never truly separate. We never go down alone.

So, where to turn? To whom do I bring this? My own doc will undoubtedly rule out any and all illness as expected (but I’ll still end up with that CT of the neck). I have an image in my mind, a slow video of waves washing over a rock on the beach which sits at the mid-tide mark. It’s a substantial rock. Sturdy. Large. Not unattractive. Steady. I imagine  people walking by all day, every day, occasionally glancing at the rock, but mostly just peripherally aware that it’s there. A jellyfish in the surf or a crab underfoot might prompt a jump to safety; a daydreaming beachcomber might stub a toe, but mostly folks just don’t really think about the rock. No body notices that after years and years of twice daily tides the rock has started to show some wear. A tiny crack here. A little chip there.

I don’t feel so hot. High tide is nigh.

One Response to “Doctor As Patient”

  1. August 1st, 2011 at 8:05 am

    Hi Doc says:

    I get it
    some of it is physical, some of it mental
    get it all checked out physically so you can rule that out
    then take baby steps to the mental
    it will take some time
    most will never match your energy level or enthusiasm for your business/work also for your desire to be there all the time for your family when your passion is that strong you are entitled to have some burnout the important thing is to recognize it and each time you can notice the signs a little better at this point it is ok to say no to some you do not want to give up your passion for being you for your family it is important for them to learn that we are not always up all the time and how you deal with that and get your balance back will be an inspiration to them and those around you you are in a place where you have the opportunity and time and support of some pretty cool people to reset some expectations that you can live with

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