Another day, another dollar

The clouds hang in the sky as I drive home on the highway, headed east towards a horizon splattered with gold streaks. My head nods, time and time again. I can barely keep my eyes open. Over the last 52 days, I have completed 30 night shifts and 4 day shifts. I finished multiple certification courses, 4 days in total. Over the last 17 days, I have worked 16 shifts – 13 of which were nights. I did not know, before now, that this would be humanly possible. And, in fact, I still do not know. I have been pushed far beyond my limits. I do not know what has kept me going. Stubbornness, I suppose. Some internal drive. Quit now, or forever hold your peace.

I always knew that residency would be difficult. But I never quite imagined… I did not know it would be this difficult. Day in, day out. My face has become important during this trek. My face can hide me and shield me from the outside world. And so I spend all of my extra hours on my face – creams, exfoliators, moisturizers. As I walk through those hospital doors every day, I transform into the face of a physician. The rest of me has crumpled into a non-physician. And so I wait, patiently, for a reprieve.

I have a newfound respect for anyone who has made it through this journey – for anyone who is a physician. Even if I make it through, I will have done so stumbling and tripping along the way – anything but smoothly. And I will have done so with little, if any, energy left to continue along this path.

A list of gratitude seems hardly possible at this point, but I will give it my best effort.

1. I am not the patient. It is always easy to take this for granted. After working there every day for so many months, the hospital becomes a place of work rather than a place of illness. It seems run of the mill to witness pain, disease, and suffering in others. I see it every day. But it is not.

2. I have a job. The pay may be minimal and the hours grueling, but I have a job and a paycheck. It would take a grand effort for me to lose this job, even for me not to advance in it. A mixed blessing, I suppose.

3. I have the opportunity to serve others each day. This is another thing I take for granted. I go home at the end of a shift with the knowledge that I have helped several people in concrete ways.

4. I get free graham crackers, saltines, and peanut butter at work. I have no idea what it is about these foods that makes them omnipresent – in the OR’s lounge area, the pediatric floors, and the emergency department. I get sick of them from time to time, but they are always no more than a minute away – sustenance in those times of utter exhaustion or internal collapse.

5. I have the privilege of listening to countless stories over the course of a day, and I can learn something from each patient. The emergency department has a plethora of stories.

6. I can wear scrubs and flats to work. No fancy suits, high heels, uncomfortable skirts. I only need 15 seconds to get ready each morning, and I can be comfortable in pajama substitutes throughout the day.

7. I have decision-making capabilities and authority. As my attending stepped out of the emergency department for a break last night, one of the nurses turned to me and said, “Are you running this joint?” Yes. And in only a few short years I will have the opportunity to run it on a regular basis.

8. I still get to go to class. Even though residency is a job, it is also a training program. I can spend one morning a week at class and several months later down the road on various electives.

9. I get to take a huge chunk of vacation without any ramifications. One week, two weeks, three weeks – I can choose to divide it exactly how I please, with no work or projects carried over during that time.

10. And lastly, the best aspect of emergency medicine – the end of a shift is the end of a shift. No worries or work to bring home, no long-term projects, no stress in between work hours, and – that’s right – no beeper. I can relax and release all my memories of the day as I drive towards the sun, windows open, music blaring. Another day, another dollar – and another life saved.

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