Physician burnout. Physician suicide awareness. Buzzwords. Words that get tossed around. People in leadership seem to be concerned about. Institutions say they care. “Solutions” get created.
Solutions that look great on paper. Sometimes under the guise of the employee assistance program. The brochure says we care about your mental and emotional health. We get that life is hard. So we’re here to help. We’ll set you up with a counselor for five sessions. It’s easy. Just fill out this form, and we’ll send you the info. Sounds great, right? What could go wrong?
It took me over six months to find the courage and mental fortitude and ask for help. To reach out. It took another month to schedule an appointment. For a month out.
The appointment was refreshing. An hour-long intro. Where I shared stories. Finally thought maybe it is OK to ask for help. Someone will be there. Listen. Not judge. Support. Maybe there is space for me and my story.
I scheduled an appointment for three weeks out. In the evening. Because I work 70 to 80 hours a week. In the ICU. During these three weeks, a pandemic arises. COVID-19. The mental stress and anxiety of preparing for this. Taking care of the patients. Of this community. While isolating myself from my family and friends. For the greater good.
The knowledge of there being a time. For me. Knowing that there is a time and space that I can process this provides light.
Until that light gets taken away. She calls, and says I have to reschedule. No how’s it going? How are things? No empathy or compassion. She offers 1 to 5 p.m. I express that I am an ICU physician. In the middle of a rising pandemic. 1 to 5 p.m. doesn’t work. It can’t work.
Her counter offer. Reschedule for a month later. Or start over with another provider. No understanding that I can’t plan for what my work life will look like in three days, much less a month. That’s it. Those are the choices.
No empathy. No thanks for what you’re doing. No understanding of how much this appointment meant. No expression of connection. I wasn’t looking for special treatment. Just some understanding and a human connection.
Please world. Do better. Show up.
The author is an anonymous critical care physician.
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