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I saw a Daily Mail headline recently that said in huge font on the front-page, ‘THE DOCTORS ON €100k OVERTIME.’ The might of the investigative wing of the Daily Mail having found out that there are four junior doctors somewhere in Ireland that the HSE is paying that kind of money to, not in salary and overtime – but overtime alone – being supposed to shock us into thinking junior doctors are on some kind of gravy train presumably.
There has been a notable anti-doctor slant in some papers recently, especially in England, where the junior doctors strike continues to have the support of the people and where you wouldn’t have to be a brain surgeon to work out that the UK government is supporting press that are having a go at doctors in an attempt to undermine that.
But anyway back to the headline. I realise that what I am supposed to think is ‘look at those fat cat junior doctors coining it’. But what I actually thought was ‘those poor bastards. They must be on-call constantly’. I didn’t see the euro signs flashing. Instead, I saw the pale, drawn face of a junior doctor, in a peripheral hospital, doing four nights on-call and working 120 hours a week. Walking the corridors at all hours like a zombie, exhausted, numb, and scared. Because junior doctors don’t really know enough to carry the weight of the responsibility that they are given in the Irish health service – so being terrified goes with the territory.
It is brutal work and it is brutalising and in a conversation with a friend recently – who is a non-medic and therefore normal – I was asked how we coped. Not just with the long hours but also with the responsibility and the shocking stuff we see. My lame answer was ‘we just buried it really and got on with it’. And I don’t think that I’m alone in that being the route most of us took.
Work-life balance is something I advise patients on all the time when they come into me stressed. ‘Are you doing too much?’ I ask wisely – all the while clocking up a ridiculous amount of air miles myself
Having said that, it is many years since I walked a late-night corridor in a pair of scrubs but it has struck me lately that that time, that that training – almost militaristic in its effects on us – maybe that is why my work-life balance is so skewed to this day. Because it is.
I work more than almost any person I know. Apart from other doctors. That is probably down to a combination of necessity – GPs’ income was slashed in the last few years. But it may also have something to do with not knowing how to say no to work. I really find it difficult. I feel guilty and anxious if I say no and I don’t think that is a good thing. But it is part of our training.
Work-life balance is something I advise patients on all the time when they come into me stressed. ‘Are you doing too much?’ I ask wisely – all the while clocking up a ridiculous amount of air miles myself. But isn’t that the way? We doctors, in a mixture of foolhardiness and arrogance, don’t see ourselves like other people. We can do more than the common man. Which may have something to do with our higher than average levels of depression, alcoholism, and drug addiction. But again I digress! My work-life balance is a mess and as a woman with four kids that is not a good thing. It is not good as a man either but no one seems to care about that.
So this month I did a funny thing. I did an art workshop. In a very atypical move by me, I signed up to spend a day drawing in pastels last weekend, in a quiet room in Enniskerry, listening to music and not talking much to anyone at all. It was wonderful.
Now maybe some of you have your work-life balance down pat. But for me I tend to fill my time with all sorts of generally work-related activity and if I’ve nothing to do I actually don’t know what to do with myself. Psychotherapists tell us some of us need to train ourselves to relax. And that is definitely true of me. So this was big. And in fairness if the teacher hadn’t have been a friend, who insisted I go and who signed me up for it himself, I might never have made it there. But I loved it. It was like being a child. No responsibilities. No right or wrong way to do it. No protocols or guidelines to adhere to. I spent the day happily drawing nude statues – and when I came home – even I could notice the difference in me.
Me-time is like an investment in yourself. And when you have more in you – you have more to give. So I’m going to make that my mission I think; to relax more and to work less. If not for 2016 then definitely for 2017 – sure you wouldn’t want to rush this.