Unplugged Time

We recently interviewed a promising candidate for a position in our practice. Several  of us were asked to meet with her, each focusing on a different practice area, like teaching, or clinical responsibilities. I was work/life balance.

Like most of us, she is a doctor-mom, and in thinking about the interview, I reflected on what work/life balance means. Six years into practice, with two preschool-aged kids, I have a better handle on what I need to do (or not do) in order to feel sane. At least most of the time.

There’s a number of things that I need to do to feel good and be able to do my job (as a mom and as a doctor). These include adequate sleep, regular exercise, and healthy food.

But, even when all of those ingredients are in place, it’s not enough. I’ve learned that a key component for me to stay balanced is to have regular “unplugged” time. This is a stretch of time, usually more than twenty-four hours, that I don’t log into work to check patient lab or imaging results, or check patient emails.

This is difficult to accomplish. Usually, even on weekends or holidays, there are important tests pending, or someone admitted to our hospital, and there are things that I just have to be checking on and aware of. Many weekends, I’ve promised a patient that I would call them with the result of some test, and I do, even if I’m not technically on-call. It’s much easier for me, who has met the patient and knows the story, to check it myself and make the phone call, than to try to explain everything to the on-call doc, for whom the task would be a thousand times more time-consuming and annoying.

Even when I haven’t made any promises, and I’m not aware of any important pending results or anyone inpatient, I regularly scroll through my work email account, just in case I get that dreaded “IMPORTANT RADIOLOGY RESULTS” email. This is when the reading radiologist sees something serious on an image and wants you to know, and if my pager is signed out, email is the only way that I’ll know. These can be anything from an abnormal mammogram that really looks like breast cancer, to a suspicious nodule on a lung cancer screening CT scan, to a mass on a pelvic ultrasound.

When I call patients on the weekend, I try to use our home phone, so that they see my name on their caller ID. Typically, they pick up on the first ring and say something like: “If you’re calling me on a Saturday, it must be serious.”

But I have now enjoyed two weekends in a row without needing to check anything or call anyone, and it’s amazing how clean my brain feels. Both weekends have been pretty packed, with good stuff: last weekend we traveled to upstate New York to visit family, and this weekend we had family and friend get-togethers, as well as a charity road race down the Cape. We’ve truly enjoyed all the gatherings and activities: it’s all been sustaining, rather than effort. But we have been running around a lot more than usual, for people who don’t often travel (or even have set plans) going into the weekend.

This afternoon, I was driving home from a friend’s house with the kids, and Babyboy asked:

“Mommy, is tomorrow a school day?”

“Yes, honey, today is Sunday, and tomorrow is Monday. It’s a school day tomorrow.”

He thought about this, then said, “Mommy, I don’t like Mondays. Can we make it be a Sunday again?”

But, I’m ready for Monday. I feel relaxed, and ready to jump into the week.

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