I’m in the midst of a run of shifts in the emergency department. I’m doing locums away from home. Last night, I left work at about 3:30 a.m. (My shift was 6 p.m. to 2 a.m.) It was busy — not “crazy busy,” just “normal busy.” I finished my last note, wrapped up the information about the one patient I was leaving behind with the valiant night doctor and headed out.
Sometimes it feels as if all of the decision making, dispositions and discussions leave me overwhelmed. I’m sure I’m not alone here. We query, examine, order, report, consult, discuss, cajole, argue, consult, conclude, admit, discharge and all the rest over our eight to 12 hours of patient care. That’s a lot of interaction.
Thus, walking out of the double doors into the warm June night was delightful. It was a relief. And best of all — it was quiet. I crossed the parking lot to my car and drove a short distance to the hotel where I was staying. I played the radio because I was fatigued. But when I stepped out of the car, even in the confines of the city, I was met by a cool breeze. Oh, delight!
I took my things to my room down the quiet hall. I couldn’t resist! I walked back outside and sat on a bench. There was still a cool breeze, precious in the Southern summer. I looked at the crescent of the moon over the city and listened to the cars on the nearby highway.
Nobody asked me to look at an EKG, enter an order, plan a discharge, write a prescription, close a wound or make any sort of decision at all. It was simply quiet.
It’s a rarity in the world of medicine. No, it’s a rarity in the modern world. We are never farther away from the press of mankind than the phone in our pockets. Arguments, news (good and bad), discussions, work, duties and forms are all waiting for our addicted eyes to look from the moon to the web. And how often, electronics aside, do we separate ourselves from our fellow men and women and simply enjoy solitude?
It is for this reason that, on certain night shifts that are slower, I have been known to wander the halls of hospitals. My footfall in empty hallways, the closed doors and darkened offices are a reassurance that — at some point — rest and sleep are out there. Even if I’m not sleeping, someone is.
It reminds me of this quote:
“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
Certainly, much of man’s unhappiness stems from never being able, being allowed, to sit quietly in a room alone.
I slept. Tonight I work again, 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. Whatever. I only hope that I can carry the moon, the breeze and the quiet with me.
And that they will be there for me again tonight — hopefully at 2 a.m. rather than 3 a.m. But, I’ll take what I can get.
May you have times of precious solitude as well.
Edwin Leap is an emergency physician who blogs at edwinleap.com and is the author of the Practice Test and Life in Emergistan.
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