Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Post-Traumatic Workday Syndrome

It was in many ways a typical day following a three-day weekend. My voicemail was teeming with messages by the time I sat down at my desk at 9:15am. Emails were summarily ignored until the afternoon. The phone rang as if it had a mind of its own, and patients---whether scheduled to see me or not---seemed to be in the waiting room of the clinic every time I passed through. At one point, as I walked through the waiting room to find a patient for a scheduled visit, I was literally accosted by three other patients who "just happened" to be lying in wait nearby. I was like a zebra trying to skirt around the edges of the oasis and not be seen by the predators in the grass. But, like the zebra, I am all too noticeable in my environment, and surreptitiousness is next to impossible.

By noon, my head was swimming, and I heard a small voice in my head calling for nutrition---anything to keep the engine going. Buried in paperwork and charts and partially completed tasks, I skipped the microwave and ate my leftovers at room temperature (a common practice, and probably healthier, if you believe the rumors about the dangers of microwaved food). Luckily, a patient scheduled to see me in the clinic at noon was a no-show, since I had double-booked myself for a home visit to another patient at the same time. As I force-fed myself my lunch, I called patient #2 and said I'd be 30 minutes late. (He may be unemployed and disabled, but his time is valuable, too.)

Three o'clock, and the pace slackened only briefly before starting up again just before 4, and it was all I could do to get out the door to pick up Mary down the street at the Senior Center by 5:15, knowing I had a meeting at home for the Medical Reserve Corps of my town for which I volunteer my services. Leaving the office, I knew full well that there were more than fifteen unfinished visit notes in my bag, a number which will only be further increased as soon as I hit the tarmac tomorrow. Will I finish those notes tonight before bed or tomorrow at breakfast? It's possible, but the trauma of the day may only lend itself to a swim, a snack, and retirement to the oh-so-needed bed. (Did someone say "retirement"?)

That said, the remaining business of the day will need to simply fade to the background, or my unfinished work will only interrupt and short-circuit my need for restful sleep. How to turn it off? That is a life's work in and of itself, and tonight is a good opportunity to practice letting go.

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