Last week, I had my first illness of the season. Horrid fatigue, pounding headaches, hacking cough, constant runny nose, and sinus pain that felt like an ice pick shoved up my nose. Yes, it was absolutely as pleasant as it sounds. I has spent the weekend on my couch with a box of tissues, a hoodie, and a water bottle, sleeping 2-3 hours stretches and barking at anyone who disturbed me.
Monday rolled around. I wasn't feeling much better. However, I didn't want to burn a sick day this early into the flu season. And since I wear a mask all day anyways, I thought I'd tough it out. I fully medicated myself on allergy medicine, DayQuil, ibuprofen, and Tylenol, and went it. I did two cases and by noon I was done with my assigned procedures. I felt even worse, was running a mild fever, had a fast heart beat, and my sinus pain was worse. I was able to convince the operating room desk that I should go home (and since I was done with my cases, it wouldn't count as a sick day, despite leaving 6 hours early.)
I went home, slept some more, and by 8 pm, was starting to feel normal.
Here's the thing...Monday was the best day of the week.
Even being sick, and having chills, and not being able to open my eyes due to my sinus headache, I would rather that than be at work.
My good friend called in sick a couple of weeks ago with a migraine. She voiced the same sentiment. She said that even as she was vomiting from the migraine pain, she was thinking how much better it was than work.
Lots of jobs suck, but to get to the point that we would prefer to be physically ill rather than drag ourselves out of bed at 4:45 am, work 13 hours in a high stress environment...that can't be normal.
Looking back, preferring to have the flu to manning an operating room is pretty mild.
Last February was one of the darkest, most demanding points in my intern year. I was grasping at straws to maintain my hope that I would make it through.
I cross train tracks entering and exiting the assigned hospital parking lot. Nearly every single day, I hoped that I would get hit by a train so that I didn't continue to have to go to work. It felt that spending the month on a ventilator in the intensive care unit would be better than having to continue to round on, write notes on, and manage a seemingly endless number of complicated patients.
This makes it sound like I have a death wish, am passively suicidal, and need to be seriously medicated. I'm aware of that. The fact is that I'm none of the above. I had no intention of hurting myself. Those thoughts were escapist fantasy of the worst kind.
What's actually depressing about this is that I'm not alone. I've heard nearly all my fellow residents endorse similar thoughts. Maybe they would get hit crossing an intersection. Maybe they wouldn't wear their seat belt. Maybe they would fall down the steps in the stair well. Not enough to die, just enough to take us out of commission for a couple of weeks.
As time goes on, we've all developed better coping skills (although tragically, there is still the occasional physician that turns to alcohol or drugs to cope.)
We make friends, we turn to our families.
We recognize that while we save lives every day at work, our own lives go on outside the hospital.