Taking a Step Back to Move Forward

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This was first written and posted on Doximity’s Op-(M)ed and can be seen by clicking here... I will be writing monthly for them and hope to have a year-long discussion about the trials and travails of being part-time. Whether its enjoying more time with the kids, suffering through a bad Locums placement or learning to be a student all over again, I plan to share it all with all of you. For those that have been keeping up with a lot of my writing, a lot will be familiar. But I hope you enjoy the slightly different perspective.

Taking a Step Back to Move Forward…

“The simplest questions are the most profound.
Where were you born? Where is your home? Where are you going? What are you doing?
Think about these once in a while, and watch your answers change.”
— Richard Bach, Illusions

To an outsider, a hospital often feels like a chaotic place. Varied people flutter in and out of rooms, the color of their scrubs identifying nurse vs. patient care tech vs therapist. Bulky portable X-ray machines compete for hallway space against more streamlined transport carts, shuttling patients to procedures and tests and back again. All this against a soundtrack of monitor alarms in-between intermittent overhead announcements.

For those who work inside the hospital walls, there is a structure and pattern beneath this apparently random Brownian motion. Environmental services with their Zamboni-like machines clean the floors at 4 AM. Phlebotomist follow soon after to draw 5 AM labs. Portable X-rays make their way into the rooms about 5:30 AM. Resident handoffs start at six before the nurses have their shift change at seven. Multidisciplinary rounds tentatively start at eight. Notes finished by twelve so I can get to my first office patient by one in the afternoon.

Patients add improvisation, going off-script to inject their own episodes of distress, instability and crisis. But every day, in each hospital, there is a unique structure and rhythm to the day to anchor and build off of, to manage and cope with the unpredictable nature of the ICU. Almost every day for the last twenty years, I have relied on and used these routines and patterns to navigate and manage my day.

A year ago, everything changed.

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Friends

“Your friends will know you better in the first minute you meet than your acquaintances will know you in a thousand years.”–Richard Bach

It’s has been a bit since I last wrote, but events over the last few days have pulled me back tonight and has compelled me to write and try to focus some of my thoughts.

Life has been busy. Despite the lack of sunlight, the absence of heat, two polar vortex(es?) and an abundance of snow  here in the midwest, time seems to be flying by. Mornings filled with workouts, days at the hospital packed with endless patient after patient, and evenings racing the kids  to dance practice and swim meets, helping with homework and final exams.  The days turn to weeks and weeks into months and in a blink of an eye half a year has gone by.  And that phone call to reach out and reconnect with a friend,  put off till “tomorrow”, all too easily extends into the unknown.

And then certain events happen that can literally take your breath away.  Facebook for me has become somewhat of a love / hate relationship. I do love following my friends from high school and college and watching their children grow photo by photo. But I hate how it has taken the pressure away from actually reaching out to hear their voices. Virtually connecting with people has taken the place of literally reaching out and “touch” someone via phone as the old AT&T commercials used to say.

3 days ago on Facebook I read that one of my dearest friends from college, Liza,  got married.  I saw the change in her status posted on my “feed”.   My breath taken away,  I found myself grinning from ear to ear.  Recently engaged, the wedding was actually a bit of a surprise.  I find I’m kicking myself for not having called earlier and am now behind on both congratulating her for both an engagement and wedding to boot!  But my frustration at my slow response, is overwhelmed by my elation for my friend.

Tonight, I found myself again breathless as I read about the death of the father of another close college friend, Dan.   It appears he was battling cancer and passed away yesterday.  Mixed in with my sadness for my friend and his family was frustration at myself for not even knowing his father had been ill for several months.  I have failed to reach out even since his daughter was born almost 6 months ago.

In the fall of 1988 as a Freshman, I moved into the Statesider at the University of Wisconsin. And there by luck, change or  good fortune, I was forced to live (or more accurate,  people were forced to live with me!) on the fourth floor.  Many of these poor saps would go on to be some of the most important and profound people in my life.   I do truly believe Richard Bach’s quote written above.  And feel so blessed that so many of the friends made that first year still matter today.  I remember sobbing in Liza’s arms the night of college graduation, physically overwhelmed by the uncertainty of my future.  And I remember quite a few late nights over the years with Dan,  wrestling with the weight of our worlds over many bottles of Chimay Ale. Although its been over a year and a half since I  met Liza for breakfast in the city, and close to the same time since Dan and I saw Springsteen at Wrigley Field, our friendships are as meaningful now as they were 20 years ago.

So it is with my heart  literally  mixed with joy for my newly married friend Liza and what must have been a whirlwind year, and sadness for my friend Dan over his loss and the difficulties faced these past few months, that I start to write again. In part to deal  with some of the guilt I feel over not having reached out to them (and a handful of other close college friends). But to write about  the strange comfort that fills within me that their change in fortune (both good and bad) still has a powerful effect on me.  That despite college ending and us moving across the US more than 20 years ago, what happens to my friends still has sincere meaning, and can still take my breath away.

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