Apparently all doctors reach a point in their careers where they question their life choices.
Apparently it happens to everyone, just at different times.
Apparently it will probably happen more than once.
I reached this point at 4am one morning, about a month ago, while attempting to reduce a paraphimosis (google it and thank me later).
Now some might say your first year of internship is a bit soon to feel this way, but I am a naturally synical person (as you may have picked up on from my other blog posts), and often have to remind myself (or have others remind me) to see the brighter side, so it was bound to happen to me sooner, rather than later.
Standing over that poor man, my eyes burning, hungry, I though to myself “Is this really what I’m doing at 4am on a Sunday morning?”
“Why am I waking up at 6am to go to work, when I only got home at 9pm the previous night? Why am I living from ‘on call’ to ‘post call’ to ‘still tired’ to ‘on call’ again? Do I really want to spend the rest of my life (okay fine, at least the next 8 years) working every second weekend? And am I willing to give up the next ten years of Christmas’s and Easters and birthday parties?”
“Do I really want to miss out on family life? My friends are getting married and having babies. Do I really want to have to delay that till my thirties? (Yes, I probably do). Or they are traveling the world, experiencing different cultures and living from adventure to adventure. When will I get a chance to do that? Why didn’t I just choose a normal 9 to 5, Monday to Friday kind of job?”
These are the things I’ve started to ask myself on a daily basis. More and more, I find myself focusing on the things I’m missing out on. I need a reminder, or five, about why it is I chose this life. Because I did choose it after all. So I decided to write this post in the hope that it would get me thinking about the positive side of medicine. And here are a few things that came to mind:
1. Getting to show a pregnant lady her baby via ultrasound. One of the best feelings. There is something special and privledged about being able to witness new life. Brand new, untainted life. Whether it be delivering a baby or finding a heart beat on an ultrasound machine, there isn’t a feeling that compares to it.
2. In my nine (really?!) months as an intern I’ve met some pretty amazing people, colleagues and patients alike. Being a doctor puts you in a unique position. When it comes to patients, you see people at their worst and their most vulnerable. You witness their last breaths. They share things with you that they haven’t shared with anyone else. They trust you with their life. Who else can say they have had their hands inside the abdomen of another human being? Okay, I guess not everyone wants to be able to say that but you get the point.
3. You also see your colleagues at their most vulnerable (or pretty close), when they are sleep deprived and hungry and just had to tell someone their mother is dead. There is something special about drinking a cup of tea with someone at 3am in the morning, knowing that you are not alone in your exhaustion. And I have met some very inspiring people, from neonatologist to intern, who in their own way have helped me become a better doctor (and human being).
4. Opportunity. Yes I may be working hard now, going from call to call and feeling like I’m missing out on living. But it doesn’t always have to be this way. Medicine has such a wide range of paths you can take, it’s almost difficult to decide. I can go traveling, doing locum jobs as I go. I can work on a cruise ship. I can join a team traveling to Antarctica. I can be the doctor on a Kilimanjaro mission. As you can see, I have a serious case of wanderlust. Or I could stay here and specialize, which, on its own, brings a whole variety of more opportunities. I could even stay here and not specialize. There are a multitude of options. That’s a rare thing in most professions.
5. Finally, learning. A few weeks ago I saw a patient who is pregnant and was bleeding. When I first started my internship I would immediately find a more senior person to come and do an ultrasound for me, but this time I decided to try it on my own first and see what I could find. And when I saw a fetus, and even a fetal heart beat (see point 1) I didn’t even need to call a senior. The same thing happened again a few patients later. No help needed. This reminded me how far I have come since that first EC call. The other day I treated a man mid-heart attack, preventing a full blown one and all its consequences. Two days later I walked past him in the corridor on his way home, looking fitter than ever. The same applies to chest drains, and putting up drips in babies, and intubating (I intubated a 2 day old baby today!), and looking after ICU patients and and and… I have learnt so much, and have gained so much confidence. The best part is that I still have so much more to learn. I’m sure at the end of this year I’ll look back at where I am today, and think the exact same. I’ll laugh at myself for getting excited because I intubated a baby successfully. And I’ll probably make mistakes which in a few years time I’ll remember and learn from. That’s the beauty of medicine, there is no ultimate level of knowledge or skill. There will always be room to grow.
So even though I still hate my life sometimes, and probably will have many more bad days, and I’ll still have moments of desperate desire to quit my job and travel the world. I will get through the tough times by reminding myself that struggle is temporary and being a doctor is actually quite legit!