Friday, October 1, 2010

Sick II

One of my facebook updates this week on my private account was that I

"have a love-hate relationship with interleukin-6. Yes, macrophages and T cells, I know you are doing your job, but how many proinflammatory cytokines does it really take to fight this thing? What's that? Be grateful you guys are even working? Oh, all right. I'll shut up and eat my soup now."

Yes, I've been sick this week. It started brewing shortly before my overnight call on Monday, during which I worked till about 3 a.m., then tossed and turned till 5 a.m. unable to breathe due to nasal congestion, then got woken up by my beeper at 7 a.m. Rested Tuesday, then tried to go to work Wednesday morning but asked to be replaced by a moonlighter and went home. Called in sick Thursday. Was allowed to stay home Friday because of low case volume. This is rare for me. I almost NEVER take sick days.

The culture of medicine has bred me to think of them as a weakness. It has also hardened me somewhat to any intrusion of personal problems into professional life in general. I can't let exhaustion, home stress, or personal worries make me fail to do my job, on time, competently, with focus. It's just not acceptable. Not being "on our game" for any reason is sub-standard because patients' wellbeing is at stake. I find I get mentally impatient with people who make excuses - most of which sound lame to me - for not getting their job done. Medicine doesn't care if I'm planning a wedding or if I stayed up late taking care of my sick child. The job has to get done, and get done well. No excuses. I find myself thinking very harshly critical thoughts when people outside of medicine approach their work with softer standards.

But this week my body just couldn't function. On top of the nasal congestion, my least favorite symptom of a respiratory infection, I had a violent, productive cough that hurt my chest and kept my husband up at night, occasional chills, muscle aches, nausea, and fatigue. I was in bed for three days. The worst part of it was missing my family's hugs. "Air hugs" from my adorable children and the fear of infecting my loving spouse, who hugged me anyway, carefully, despite my illness, were poor substitutes for the tight bear-hugs we enjoy giving each other.

So I've been thinking to myself - because I've had time to do nothing but think and watch reruns this week - how lonely many patients must feel in the hospital, suffering with unpleasant symptoms for days, with only occasional visits and brief touches for human contact. I remember feeling a little lonely even when I was in the hospital for a happy reason - childbirth. Illness is more isolating, and the truth is so few people want to be around suffering for too long. I wonder if I've been forgetting to be present enough to people when I visit them on rounds. Sometimes unexpected time away from work, not because of vacation, is a good thing. Having the tables turned has provided a reminder, a chance to reflect a little on things I shouldn't be forgetting about. Like compassion for the sick.


Michael Leddy said...

I hope you feel better soon, T.

Anonymous said...

I, too, have been sick all week. I'm suffering from sinus congestion and fairly gnarly post-nasal drip. My URI hasn't yet decided if it will become an LRI yet (I hope it doesn't). I worked all week. I had a full schedule of patients Thursday morning and I'm pretty sure I still had a fever then. I made it through, went to an already-once-rescheduled eye doctor appointment, and then went home and went to bed.

Not only are we taught to "suck it up" and work when we're sick, we're terrible patients. I have to tell myself to stop and take a decongestant rather than suffer.

I've been this way since medical school. Now that I'm an attending, I doubt I'll change.

Resident Anesthesiologist Guy (RAG) said...

Wish you well.

I too hate the attitudes I come across in retail or food industries where the employee(s) isn't working as well as they should. I've told one person, once when post-call from a MICU 30 hour call-from-hell, to stop complaining to me about working 6 hours on Friday night. I looked at her and said, "I've been awake for more than 40 hours and just left work. So don't complain to me." She stopped.

Jennifer said...

As an RT student, the whole sick day thing is a big no-win. We can't miss if we're sick, but we are sent home from class if we look ill. So basically we are left with the option of medicating away our symptoms and lying about it.

One thing I've learned already is that I'll deliver a lot of ineffective/not indicated neb treatments. Howver, the visit from me, a smile and the conversation I bring is never contra-indicated.

Kyla said...

It is a very good reminder. One of the things I worry most about in pursuing a career in medicine is the never-get-sick-never-call-in thing.

OMDG said...