A physician loves the adrenaline surge


Have you ever felt so cold? I mean bone-chilling cold. I don’t mean the same kind of cold that northern winters can leave you feeling. I am talking about working in a hospital that is climate-controlled, and you are undoubtedly shivering.

I still remember my first day on the job as a neonatology fellow. I was anxiously walking to the operating room to attend the delivery of a 25-week infant. As my teeth chattered, I assured my chief fellow that I was ready to lead the resident and nurse practitioner team.

Fortunately, I had completed an excellent residency program that included extra NICU time. I had been trained by physicians who had me ready to hit the ground running at the start of fellowship. I channeled the “icy cold feeling” to fuel my focus and delegate responsibilities to my team. It was a perfectly executed resuscitation, and the infant was stabilized in the unit within the hour.

As the year went on, it never failed me. I could predict the exact sequence of how my body would respond with a *911 beeper page. I soon became excited when the shivering began because I knew that physiologically my body was ready to handle the situation. My adrenaline was speaking to me.

Call me a junkie, but I began to love my adrenaline surges. I also loved to feel the adrenaline dissipate. This seemed to happen just seconds before the baby was born. When the baby was actually in my care, I felt calm and determined to provide the best outcome for my patient. This exact pattern has continued years later.

When I think back to my training days, my mind always takes me to the early 3 a.m. mornings in the NICU. Usually, I was at the bedside of a sick baby. I was always surrounded by a team that I felt so proud to be part of. I feel so incredibly grateful that I have been able to use my skills to help the smallest people.

I love caring for the parents of my tiny patients. I often wish they could hear my thoughts. If they could, I would hope to comfort them in my deep seeded passion to give the best care to their baby.

When I reflect on earlier years, I can also remember feeling cold at times during my college softball career. One particular time, I was a freshman and sitting on the bench. We were playing Villanova in a semifinal game- the winner would compete against Notre Dame in the Big East Championship.

The bases were loaded, and I heard my name being called to pinch hit. I grabbed my helmet and bat, and I can remember that I hesitated to take my warm-up jacket off because I was freezing. But I took it off and stepped up to the plate. At the plate, I remember feeling warm. I watched the first pitch come right down the middle — strike one. The next pitch looked exactly the same. But this time, I swung.

I can remember watching the ball soar over the centerfield fence. I hit a grand slam to place Seton Hall into the championship game. I rounded the bases at an extra slow pace to take it all in. I gazed down the first base line to see the first doctor I ever met, my father, cheering proudly from his usual spot along the fence.

As a child, my father always told me, “Kid, you’ve got ice in your veins.” As an internist working out of our home in the country, Bernard Remakus, MD, has devoted his career to house calls. He often accepts homemade pies as payment. He started it all for me. In times of crisis, I’ve seen him transform into a bone-chilling hero. I witnessed how the ice in his veins changed lives by doing heroic things with no equipment at times. He taught me to embrace the ice in my veins.

All too often, adrenaline surges carry negative connotations. How many times have you heard a colleague reflect on a challenging situation in which they reacted by “freezing”? Adrenaline is adrenaline, but our reaction is up to us.

During my medical training, I don’t recall spending time processing my feelings. Unknowingly, I had suppressed so many emotions for years. But why? What if we admitted that our body physiologically responds the same way as other humans? After all, there is no failure in admitting that we are not superhuman.

Today I challenge you. Embrace your emotions — all of them. Pay attention to what your feelings create in your life. Spend time reflecting and discover your trends. We all favor certain emotions. It took me almost 20 years to realize, but apparently feeling cold serves me well.

Alexandra Novitsky is a neonatologist.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com


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