It’s been a year since I retired from almost 40 years as a pediatrician (most of that time as a pediatric hospitalist). What have I learned? What surprised me?
1. I have finally caught up on my sleep. I have been convinced that I still had a cumulative sleep deficit dating back to med school. After one solid year of sleeping 8-9 hours a night and waking up without an alarm (bliss), I have finally caught up. I’ll attest that there is nothing better than awakening naturally, watching the sunlight stream into the bedroom, lying there just a little while longer, and finally easing out of bed without rushing.
2. I enjoy my husband’s company. We have long discussions. We laugh. Our time together is no longer limited to hurriedly figuring out logistics. (“You get the laundry and the groceries. I’ll do pick-up at the soccer field. Yes, that bill has been paid.”)
We get the best of each other now, not just the time when we are rushed, tired or ready to fall in bed before the next workday. It’s a daily treat. He is, after all, the person I chose to spend my life with.
3. I have finally quit checking my old work email and now only use my personal email address. Before retirement, I switched everything I cared about to my personal one and unsubscribed to everything I didn’t care about. For the first few months, I religiously checked my work email. Sure, I was missing important information. I finally weaned myself like a reluctant nursing baby.
On the rare occasions I check my work email, it has spam, irrelevant ads, missives from my previous employer about meetings or new incentive plans I care nothing about.
In contrast, my personal email has lunch invitations from friends and interesting articles from Smithsonian, National Geographic, Atlas Obscura, and NY Times.
Don’t get me wrong. I still read the frequent emails from the pediatric hospitalist listserv, a very busy means of communication for the nation’s pediatric hospitalists. It helps me stay up to date on new therapies and new issues in pediatrics. But most of my emails now evoke pleasure, not duty.
4. I’ve found my natural circadian rhythm. I can now stay up till 1 a.m. and get up in the morning at 9. This pleasure never existed outside of vacation, no matter what job I had during my career.
5. My book reading rate has doubled. As a lifelong avid reader, I find deep peace and contentment in reading a good book unhurriedly. I still feel a little guilty, stretching out to pleasure read during the day. Funny how the length of my “to be read” list continues to grow unabated.
6. I’m discovering what happens in the world outside the hospital during the day. There is a natural ebb and flow to my neighborhood. Who knew? I know not to try to run errands at 3:30 p.m. when the local school carpool lines clog the streets. Likewise, there really is a 4 to 6 p.m. rush hour (I was just never a part of that). I know how the sun hits different rooms of my house as the day passes. I was never home to see that before. I never knew my dog migrated through the house, following sunny patches for warm snoozes.
7. I miss the people at work, but not the work itself. This is a revelation to me. I have always loved diagnosing and treating, solving mysterious illnesses, and watching healthy children leave the hospital.
I knew I would miss the intellectual challenge. I loved spending my day with children and their parents. I loved teaching. I loved learning.
After those first few weeks of lurking on the EMR, seeing how “my” patients were doing, I remembered what I already knew; my partners are smart doctors, and the patients are getting great care without me. I have turned my attention to other things, like art, history, travel, and friends.
8. Speaking of friends, they are still there for me. Despite years of tight schedules and being barely available, despite COVID, despite time and distance, my great friends are ready and waiting. Ready for lunch, trips to the beach, long phone calls, time together. What a joy!
9. Fitness is hard when you’re my age. The best money I am spending in retirement is on my personal trainer. She is slowly but surely whipping me into shape, reversing the cumulative damages from four joint replacements and a spinal fusion. The improvement consists of tiny increments, visible only to my trainer and me, but they are real.
I’m sure they’re going to add up, and I’ll be better able to go on all those adventurous vacations we’re planning.
10. It’s scary/exciting to spend retirement money. Like that college fund, it was untouchable for so many years. Sacrosanct. I remember the peanut butter sandwich years when we were paying a mortgage, school loans, and new baby expenses.
We were tempted not to save but always did. I also remember so many long call nights. I was bone-tired, grainy-eyed, on my way to the ER for yet another middle-of-the-night admission. I would grimly think to myself, “This money I am earning tonight. This money goes for something wonderful during retirement.”
Likewise, while watching elephants on safari in South Africa this year, I thought, “I’m spending that money, and it’s totally wonderful!.” I’m so glad we saved ferociously our whole working lives. I sure am enjoying spending it now.
11. A dear friend once told me, “It’s OK not to be productive every day.” Crazy talk! I used to hit the ground running in the morning. But I get it now. It’s OK to not have a schedule every day, to have blank time on the calendar, to drift along sometimes. I have a feeling it is good for my soul. I believe I will learn important things about myself.
12. There’s more to do than I’m going to get done before I die. I hope I’ll live another 15 years — that’s my predicted life expectancy. The list of things I want to do, see, experience, learn, read, taste, and be surprised and amazed by is much longer than 15 years. Better get cracking!
Ann F. Beach is a pediatric hospitalist.
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