Burnt Out Motorcycle: Burnt Out Doctors
May 17, 2021
Sometimes life is stranger than fiction, or even my trashart. I gathered bag #455 yestserday and it was a reused pita bread bag that was filled with wet plastic bags mostly washed up on Tourmaline Beach. I hadn’t really meant to head to the beach but I’m glad I did. It’s always an adventure. I wanted to start jogging more, so naturally ended up in my spot and did a beach cleaning amongst the rocky shore. I saw a beautiful snowy egret. They are a rare sight and only come feed where the kelp is left in it’s natural state. Where there is kelp, there are insect and remnants of crabs and other crustaceans. The “beach” of the white sand is really not natural. There is supposed to be kelp. The surf-rake removes it for us humans so we can recreate (and I mean to use that word in a new way). If it was up to me, we’d leave the kelp and the beach would be for the beautiful birds like the snowy egret.
I’ve collected/salvaged 34 items this month from the ocean that have mostly been recycled. In total I’ve salvaged #1609 things from ending up in the the landfill/ocean and it’s fitting and not suprising that the most recent 5 items were crushed beer cans next to a burnt out motorcycle.
I got a comment from someone yesterday. A criticism really about something at work. Maybe two years ago, that comment would have generated a lot of sadness or anger. Even three years ago, a comment like that would have made me put that person into a mental box – written them off in my mind. I used to do that, literally just delete people from my mind. But since I’ve been picking up trash, I notice things and the world and nature – and I certainly notice people. No one deserves to be deleted.
But when I received that comment, I took it at face value and did not read anything more into it. It’s funny when someone is deep into their own anguish, their own issues – it’s hard to notice what other people are going through. This is why burn out in physicians is so dangerous. Clinical medicine , the true practice of healing and not the endless “smartphrases” and algorithms, is about noticing the details. If you miss those nuances during the history and the physical, you can make an error. This is why burn out is so dangerous in middle-managers as well. Our colleagues that we “manage” especially the young ones, are like our patients. There are subtle signs in their own pscyhological health that we can miss if we are in the midst of our own burn-out. Yet middle-management is exactly the types of position that drives one to burn out. It’s a catch-22. I had a good interaction with said colleague but I was frank with that colleague and texted back “The last four years almost broke me. If you are interested in admin, let me know.” My text was met with silence.
I used that opportunity to move forth another quality project, but how the exchange ended is my being honest and frank. I want people to know, especially now that I am stronger and feel free – it is a choice. You have a choice in the words you use. You have a choice in the comments you send. We are all human. And we can be hurt. Be careful what you say with your colleague as much as with your a patient. I try to be more careful with my words now. Words matter. Words matter so much , and that has been the biggest lesson of the last two years. And I hoped that my interaction yesterday made that person think a little bit and helped them on their journey. I know their journey has not been an easy one. I thanked them for their contributions to the department and to patient care, and I thanked them for their criticism – and took the value in their comments and brushed off the sting of the delivery.
And I looked at Mr. Plastic Picker yesterday and said, “is this the year? One more? I’ve done enough I think.” We have six year terms in the particular middle management position we are in. He is also at the beginning of the 5th year of his term, but for him it hasn’t been quite such a difficult set of obstacles as I have had. For him, he has always been my cheerleader and the best source of advice. “Just take it day by day, year by year.” And with that, I am still here. No longer burned out. Stronger for each bag of trash I’ve picked up. Stronger for each snowy egret I’ve seen at the beach. And as I’ve gotten stronger, I try to make everyone around me stronger. I try to build people up. I try to build the department up. But I know how fragile things are. I know how fragile people are. Just one comment from one colleage, and it makes me question myself. But I am here, still standing. Better than the motorcycle.
We are all fragile creatures. I thought I was like teflon when I was younger. Knowing good people, strong people helps. Surrounding myself with positively helps. My friend Dr. Jill Gustafson once told me that I was senstiive, and I never realized that about myself. I am sensitive and it’s okay. It’s okay to feel hurt, and I hope that it helps me not make hurtful comments to others. I’m sorry if I ever said hurtful things to anyone who is reading this blog. I’m sure I have. We all have. Your forgiveness is something that I am grateful for.
And with that, at some point this journey will end. Dr. Plastic Picker will get to at least 1000 bags, but I think my fighting for planetary health and pediatric health that will never end. That I feel so much joy and freedom, because each bag I pick is completely voluntary. I chose to pick those bags. No one made me. It was my free will. But management, sometimes it feels forced. It really does. It’s not for the faint of heart.