Being a doctor takes a toll

It takes its toll on me, being a doctor.

I think as I wait in the Indian restaurant buffet. My son is curled on my lap. Uncharacteristically tired.  Later he will develop a fever and I will realize why he is so warn out.

It takes it toll on me. I wouldn’t say I am a stressed out person but I certainly live with stress. Most of it is self inflicted.

It’s just that I can’t help feeling responsible. For those few thousand people who have placed their lives in my hands. I know I am not God. I know that doctors can only do so much. But that doesn’t stop me from worrying.

It doesn’t stop my mind from racing at night as I pour over the problems of the day. And it doesn’t stop the guilt. Every time someone gets sicker then expected. Every time someone dies. And boy do they die. All the time.

I guess that’s what happens when you take care of people in their eighties … and nineties … and hundreds. And when you spend a lot of time in nursing homes.

I always ask myself what could I have done different. How could I have been better. Was I enough?

Mostly the answer is yes. Occasionally the answer is no. But I always ask the question.

It takes a toll on me — the stress. The sadness. And sometimes I wonder what this is doing to my mind. My body. Am I causing in myself that which I spend so much time fighting in others. Will the stress raise my blood pressure. Clog my coronaries. Herald in a major depressive episode or uncontrollable anxiety.

But how can I complain? My life has meaning. I struggle daily with the essence of life. And I get paid a comfortable salary to do so. I get to help people, at least when things are working at their best. I get to reach out to my fellow man.

And I get to do it on my own terms. I work when I want to work and rest when I want to rest. Sure, I spend my share of weekends and nights working. But I am usually home by 4pm and no later then 5.

I can count the number of times I have missed dinner with my children on one maybe two hands … ever. I am present. I put them to sleep at night. I see them on the weekends. They know me. They love me.

And maybe that’s worth it. The stress, the worry. The physical and emotional burdens of this lifestyle. Maybe its worth it because it has afforded the ability to be there. For my children. For my wife. Such that my son will walk over to me when he is hurting.

He will climb up on my lap. And place his head on my chest. And he will feel safe.

Because I am always here.

Of all the things this profession has allowed, it allowed me to be present in my family’s life.

Jordan Grumet is an internal medicine physician who blogs at In My Humble Opinion.

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