The Secondary Victims of Physician Burn Out
July 11, 2022
by Dr. Plastic Picker
I don’t talk about physician burn-out as much anymore. But as I get further from needing to talk about it, my own teen daughter brings it up here and there. I never realized how close we were to the other alternate reality of if I had not decided enough was enough – it was time to pick up trash and go to the beach. Then it was that decision a few months ago when everything was honestly fine with middle management and Assistant Boss, but I decided I wanted more time to work on climate work and spend time with family. I decided 5 years was enough of Assistant Boss, and as quietly as I could left without burning any bridges.
We are having a slow summer. It’s that beautiful time that I know will be gone in a moment, when both of our young people are here at home and still dependent on us. Our son is studying for his drivers permit and at 17, still has to ask for a ride. He’ll be driving soon enough and I’m happy to keep this one connection still strong between him and the adults in the house. Our daughter has friends that are traveling throughout the world, and she is here having a slow summer of mornings in the ceramics studio, afternoons practicing volleyball, reading and keeping herself busy. And I am still miraculously one of the people she still wants to be with.
So yesterday afternoon Mr. Plastic Picker had to again work extra shifts in the hospital, because that is what happens in his department. He’s still in the thick of middle management and surviving because I’ve decided I need to focus on him. I dropped our son off at a friend’s house for one of an endless stream of teenage summer get-togethers. They are seniors now and hanging out at the mall, beach, and doing innocent things like taking pictures with their shirts off and reenacting Lord of the Flies around a La Jolla backyard propane fire pit. I know because our son is close enough to us to text us some pictures, that his sister playfully threatens to keep as backup blackmail evidence. It’s a beautiful glimpse into a Southern California Suburban childhood that we wanted when we left Cambridge and our dreams of Harvard academic careers.
But after dropping off our son at his friend’s house, my now 14-year-old daughter was feeling restless with our relatively quiet weekend and wanted to DO SOMETHING. So I said, let’s keep the earth in mind and do something relatively close to where we are. We headed to Balboa Park and it was 430pm on a Sunday afternoon. We’ve been there before perhaps 6 months ago at 430pm on a Sunday afternoon, and I think it’s my favorite time to go there. There is parking as the days visitors are leaving. You can see the remaining stragglers who are still grasping the last moments of their well-planned weekend. There were couples sitting outside coffee shops that had already closed. There were families speaking Korean on skate boards around the plaza. New fancy restaurants were closed that were so fancy, that I cannot believe this is the same town I grew up in. I had forgotten my wallet and we only could find $5 in the car, and that is all we had. Only having $5 and knowing that we wanted only to drive as far as my electric hybrid car would take us but still remaining on the electric powered mileage part, had us wandering around the park on foot as San Diegans and tourists ended their day in Balboa Park.
As we walked hand in hand, and she was chatting her thoughts and I daydreamed about her future – she told me again what makes me sometimes sad but at the end grateful. I remember mommy when you were so busy, and angry sometimes. You would yell at us at times in the car, and I remember seeing a book on the table called “Stop Physician Burn Out.” And then you went to the beach and started picking up trash and you were happier. And in the context of her telling me this, she wanders into her volleyball tryouts and her new work-out strength regimen and how she realizes the running part she can stop at 30 minutes. She wants to concentrate on getting more touches into her volleyball regimen. I don’t comment on her body purposefully as I’ve seen too many mothers do this, and the downstream consequences of focusing on body image. And she talks about food in a beautiful way. We had just $5 and we bought a $4 ice cream. She wanted most of it, and she made sure we both had a good simple dinner at home which she cooked. And she mentioned off-hand that she realizes among the beauty tips on facial care that she is watching and the new hair cut she is planning and the new wardrobe that she is dreaming of, that at dinner it’s important to just add some tomatoes and fruit and it makes her body feel better and full.
That is the reality I live in. And I realize that the alternate reality was frightening closer than I imagined. Children especially teen girls need attention from their mothers. Tangential thoughts of your local litter picking pediatrician. It was a very nice weekend with only $5 to spend.