Happy Father’s Day!

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June 15, 2014

I thought the last three weeks were horrendous at work.  I had little time to exercise except for the weekends that I was not on call.  I skipped lunch many times at the office.  Instead, my assistant Roxanne and I would have a bite of a snack on and off while entering our patients’ data into the computer at the nursing station.  We had little time even for water breaks.  On and off, I got irritated and told my staff how I have felt so overwhelmed with all this busy work, seeing so many patients and having no time to enter their data into our Electronic Medical Record (EMR) system. I complained how I have no longer been able to get out of the office before 6 p.m. even when the last patient was scheduled at 4 p.m.  Every click on the computer has been followed by a delay of up to a second.  The medical student who shadowed me in the office this week saw how I became a “multitasker” by turning around to pick up another patient’s chart for review while waiting for the computer to reconcile a task.  Every time I saw an “hour glass” sign, signaling to me how the screen had “frozen,” I rushed to my desk to answer messages left by patients.  You have to multitask as a physician in modern medicine now-a-days if you want to go home in a timely manner to be with your family.  I want to blog more on our website but find it hard at the end of the day to write, as I am exhausted from the day work.  The EMR in my office has seemed to “take over” my life.

The hospital work was no better, since we also started new tasks with its EMR.  The “super users” lurk around the hallway in case we doctors need help entering our data.  It’s a different EMR system, so I have different user names and passwords.  My life is full of user names and passwords now, and I seem unable to keep up with the names, which gets me in trouble many times.  I reluctantly get out of bed when I am on call to get to my laptop on a desk in my bedroom to enter orders for patients who come to the hospital for different reasons in the middle of the night.  Medicine has become cumbersome with all the EMR systems, and I am going to be burned out soon, I tell myself.  I read in the Washington Post’s Health Section last Wednesday an article about physician suicides.  It’s troublesome to hear how at least 400 physicians kill themselves every year.  As in my article on job burnout last month, we healthcare professionals are prone to being burned out and depressed.  We have to take care of ourselves and our colleagues.

Somehow, whenever I felt burned out, something bad would happen elsewhere in others’ world to “wake” me up to my personal reality.  Last week, for example, a patient who has been so close to me for years came into the office for her routine yearly visit.  She was working on her PhD when she was carrying her first baby almost a decade ago.  I nurtured her through her pregnancy and got to know her life in detail.  She was married to a successful professional with an ocean front weekend home in addition to their comfortable home in this area.  They were on top of their world, like a typical successful Montgomery County young couple.  Since then, her marriage has fallen apart and she and her husband are like two enemies.  She has custody of her two children and has devoted her life to them while continuing with her job. 

During our visit, this lovely patient informed me of her newly found 6 cm brain mass, soon to be biopsied, most likely malignant as her neurologist has told her.  She fears for her children, not for herself, that she won’t be around to see them grow up.  Her only brother just died of pancreatic cancer last year in his forties.  Her parents might have to deal with another child with cancer again, this time, their only remaining child!

This week, another patient whom I also have known for years came for her visit and informed that she was recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.  She still believes she contracted it after she was yelling at her husband when she found out he was cheating on her.  She thinks her anger must have caused her to have a “ministroke” that led to her  Parkinson’s disease!

 When I thought I witnessed enough sadness at the office, I turned on NPR Friday morning on the way to work to learn that a Malaysian airplane was shot down in the sky over Ukraine the day before, killing all 298 passengers on board, half of them from Holland.  Many were heading to a conference on HIV in Australia.  One of my bootcamp friends, an NIH HIV researcher, lost some colleagues on that tragic flight!  What was that last minute like in the plane as it was shot down?  Did the passengers have a nano second to comprehend how their fate would end?  While all of this happened, Israel was getting ready to attack Gaza, after giving its people a brief cease fire to “reorganize” their lives!  Just imagine being given a brief time to reorganize your life, not knowing if you still have one the day after.  How absurd was that?

How could I go on with my day not thinking about the four young Palestinian cousins getting killed from a shelling on a beach while playing ball?  How could I go home to my son after work not seeing in my mind the image of the 37 year old Israeli father of three who was the first casualty on the Israeli side during this latest conflict? And the three Israeli teenagers, at my son’s age, the tender age of sixteen, who were kidnapped and killed, followed by the burning to death for “revenge” of another teenage Palestinian? Their deaths started a domino effect in the region.  Also, did you know there have been 1.2 million people displaced in Iraq since January, on top of the 11,600 injured since that time?  When will all these conflicts end?  The collateral damage of wars and conflicts is astounding.

My work and the EMR problems seem to be so trivial now.  At least, I can drive peacefully to work every day, not being afraid of a stray bullet or shelling.  It might be horrendous at work but, by the evening, when the sun is still out, I can try to run my 3 mile route or swim in my neighbor’s pool, knowing I will be coming home safely to have dinner with my family.  We do not have to “stock up” food; there is no need for a cease-fire in our area.  Only the ferocious summer and winter storms sometimes keep us stocking up food and staying indoors.  My only problem right now is not having enough time to do all the fun things I can do in the summer.  Nothing urgent or important, just for fun.

Am I blessed or what?  What is there for me to complain about?