A physician’s New Year’s resolutions

2019 is here.

I started my year by doing an urgent care shift on New Year’s day.  It was not quite as busy as I expected; most of the shifts I’ve done around the holidays were high-volume, with lots of flu, other respiratory infections, and lacerations sustained while cooking holiday meals.  New Year’s day was a little slower on the illnesses, but the acuity of the injuries was high.  That’s what happens when alcohol is a big part of celebrating a holiday: injuries from falls, black-outs, alcohol-fueled fights … Also, staffing was tight because of the holidays, and the overall stress level was elevated.  The good news is that this should all calm down now that the holiday season is over.

There were also a number of sad events that occurred over the holidays.  Two of my close friends lost parents right around Christmas.  The deaths were not unexpected.  My friends’ parents were elderly and ill.  But it does seem that the holidays are the time when these things happen.  My mother died 28 years ago on Christmas Eve.  The cold and dark make it harder for me to trudge through the grief, and I’m sure my friends felt that, too.   The beginning of January, with each day becoming longer, even if it is almost imperceptible, is a relief for me.

While I had one day of urgent care to start the year, the real start of my year is happening now, at the winter residency for my MFA.  It’s cold up here in Cambridge, MA, but my fires are lit: the workshops, seminars, and readings that fill my eight days here are filling my head with new ideas, feeding my soul with the beauty of art and language, and inspiring me to fill the pages of my notebook.

Today in a seminar, the professor asked each of us to say our names, what genre we write in, and to give a fun fact about ourselves that she could use to help remember us.  My fun fact is that I am a “recovering physician.”  I didn’t mean that I was recovering from being a physician, really.  I meant that I am a physician moving back from the dark side of our profession into the light: remembering that I am not just a physician, but a human being, and a writer, and a wife and a mother and a whole lot of other things.  I’m feeling alive again, believing that I can be a healer and a caretaker and also an inhabitant of planet earth who has needs and feelings of my own.

A year ago, I truly felt despairing of ever being in this position again.  I’d had a good run, but I felt I’d come to the end of it.   What a difference six months has made!  I’ve reinvented, renewed, recommitted.

I can’t do what I was doing before, but I still have something to offer as a doctor, an educator, and an artist.

My New Year’s resolutions?

1. Keep the balance.  Take my own well-being into consideration.  Put my own oxygen mask on first.  I want to heal others, but only if I can do it from a place of health.  If something starts to feel wrong, I will speak up for myself and try to make it right as fast as possible.

2. Help other healers who are struggling to find that place of equanimity.  I will continue to advocate for and counsel others to find what is right for them, and then help figure out how to make it work.

3. Be mindful.  I am working to stay in each moment as it comes.  This week I am doing creative writing.  I will let go of worrying about my medical charts and medical writing.

When I am at work in urgent care, I will be fully present there, putting my manuscripts and clinical overviews aside.  When I am teaching, I will be with my students, and when I am with my family, I will make every effort to just be with my family.  Multitasking is a wonderful skill, but each of my endeavors deserves my full attention.  I’m going to make it a priority to be where I am each moment of each day.

4. Have self-compassion.  I am not perfect.  Surprise!  I make mistakes. Fortunately,  most of them are small and inconsequential.  I will not hold myself to standards I wouldn’t hold someone else to.  This will be my biggest challenge, I think.  I still, underneath it all, want to be all things to all people, want to make everyone — my patients, my employer, my family, my professors — happy.  Nobody can carry off making everyone else happy without destroying themselves.

I hope that those of you who are healers will see yourselves as human, and take care of the human beings that you are.

“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Rosalind Kaplan is an internal medicine physician who blogs at her self-titled site, Dr. Rosalind Kaplan

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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