Doctors experience the world a bit differently

I was recently in the break room at the hospital scarfing down a power bar between three-hour cases. The truth is, I was multi-tasking: eating, writing on a chart, and checking my email in my phone.

I had received an email from a businesswoman, whom I have known for a few years. She wanted to know if I wanted to join her for lunch next week.

I had to laugh out loud.

The rest of the staff, who were busy also grabbing a quick bite in between patient cases, looked up. I read the email out loud.

“Lunch!?” they all said.

Then, we all did the combo of laughing and shaking our heads.

Doctors don’t “do lunch.”

Even when I am in the office, taking a break and actually leaving the office for lunch is out of the question. On those super busy days, I bring something slightly more like real food to eat than my usual power bar. And I heat up hot water for some tea.

But always, as the water warms for my tea, I complete the morning’s charts, fill out paperwork for surgery the next day, and answer questions from my staff on patient concerns.

So, no. I wouldn’t exactly call this a true “lunch hour.”

The invitation to lunch got me thinking of all the things doctors — and most medical staff — do differently. Here’s a quick list I came up with in a few spare minutes between patients:

We don’t always sleep through the night. Our pagers or phones are at the ready, whether we want them to be or not, for urgent or not so urgent calls, 24/7.

We don’t try to see movies or eat nice dinners out when we are on call. Yes, it’s annoying for others when our phones ring during a movie. But, what’s more disrupting is having to leave the theater at the best part of the movie to meet someone in the emergency room.

We don’t make appointments to take care of our own health. I know I am not alone when I admit that the few times I reluctantly dragged myself to a doctor’s office, I was almost too sick to walk or drive there. I remember a time when my technician insisted I be seen “now!”, I literally asked if there was somewhere I could lie down as soon as I checked in at the front desk. It turned out that I had pneumonia.

Yes, doctors’ lives are different.

But, if you know me at all, you also know that I am going to find a silver lining to this story.

On the flip side of our difference are things doctors get to do that other people never experience.

We get to wear pajamas (some call them scrubs) and comfortable shoes to work. Not always, but most of the time. Sometimes, the soft cloth of the well-worn scrubs are the most comfy part of the day.

We get to hear people’s stories, their fears, their innermost concerns. Our patients trust us. They value us enough to go out on a limb with their own discomfort to seek help.

We get to relieve pain, reduce fear and reassure. Not always. But, arguably, more often than most people.

We are often the first to know. We are in the operating room when the pathologist calls in to report that the lesion thought to be cancer is benign.

We get to be the bearer of great news. We tell the patient and their family the good news of the pathology report.

We get to see the miracle of life when the baby is born. We witness the joy of the parents, and the incredible love-rush that surrounds the entire room, every time.

Yes, doctors experience the world a bit differently.

But, I think it’s a fair trade for eating power bars in the break room during our lunch hour.

Starla Fitch is an ophthalmologist who blogs at Love Medicine Again.

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