Compartments: A daily task while wearing the white coat.
While Dr. McDonald has been spending her free time catching up on the latest season of Insecure, I have been indulging in another show. Being Mary Jane. Although I like the show for many reasons (minority representation, women in powerful male dominated roles, the fashion (obvs)) one scene really resonated with me today. Gabrielle Union’s character, MJ, has a particularly taxing day at work. She is navigating through a new job, dealing with interpersonal relationships in the work place, struggling with competition and jealousy, all while looking for a promotion. Then she gets home, throws on a swim suit, and pops down to the hotel pool with her boyfriend and his kids, just laa dee da breezy and light. As a viewer, I felt a bit jilted. We had this intense work experience with Mary Jane and all of a sudden the energy is completely shifted. As a physician though, I completely understood it. The biggest challenge sometimes in our job is compartmentalizing. Going from room to room, starting anew, and then being able to leave the day at work and come home to our families and friends and be ourselves.
Let me explain. On any given day, in an hour’s time in the office, I have had to start the clinic with a routine pregnancy visit. Normal, happy, talking about the baby moving. Then I go to the next room where I have a routine Gyn visit with a woman who then unloads her familial problems because she has found a compassionate ear. Next is a newly pregnant patient who comes in full of excitement and hope, and I have to tell her she is having a miscarriage. Anyway, you get the point. It’s all about resetting the emotional clock in 20 minute increments. Not to mention everything else going on in our day. Check out my previous post, Why Is My Doctor’s Handwriting So Messy? A Day In The Life.
Another situation when compartmentalizing can be challenging is when there is a conflict with a patient. Sometimes I think that patients confuse our white coat with a shield of emotional armor. Being a doctor doesn’t mean that we aren’t people too that sometimes are just trying to get through the day. I’ve had people ask me why I look so tired (I was up all night in a hostage negotiation with a stubborn baby), why I don’t have kids (from your mouth to God’s ears), why I’m not married (gotta find one that can keep up #amirite), or if I’ve ever had an STD. True story, a woman once asked me if I’d ever had an STD, as if to say that if not, then I can’t possibly tell her she has been diagnosed with one. I’m sorry ma’am, I don’t know what you should tell your husband. Just last week, I had a woman tell me that I was not an understanding
physician, and I was not helping her get through the Pap smear with enough compassion. She neglected to mention that she had an extremely complicated gyn history of pain and muscle trauma which made the exam significantly more challenging for her than the normal gyn population until AFTER she chastised me for my less than exemplary empathy. Anyone who knows me can attest that I take extreme pride in my work, and comments like that definitely stick for a while, making the compartmentalizing a little more difficult for the afternoon.
But, as Jay Z says, “on to the next.” The patient in room 12 “Ms. Smith? I’m Dr. Agarwal. It’s nice to meet you. How can I help you today?……”