“Hey hey! How are you?” someone calls out as I walk into the fluorescently lit emergency department I call home. “Living the dream,” is my habitual answer, and it’s only half facetious.
I’m almost an ex-intern, three months and some days away from being done intern year. My residency program tries to be as humane as possible, but despite their efforts, I’m really living the dream — I am in a half sleep as I walk into work, shaking myself awake with a brisk walk, and chugging large doses of caffeine.
Sarcasm aside, I am living the dream. I’m finally earning a salary. I’m learning by working as the type of physician I want to be. On most days, I even get to help people in a truly meaningful way. I work in an amazing environment where despite being always stressed, the people I work with are humane, empathetic and almost universally incredibly capable in the face of indescribable odds and misery.
Having suffered through the initial growing pains, I’ve begun to feel like less of an impostor. Send a patient in borderline sepsis or septic shock my way, and I can central line, arterial line, fluid resuscitate and antibiose with the best of them. Where in the beginning of intern year I was a trembling young buck, falling more often than standing, fresh out of the womb of medical school, I’m now an adolescent, running brashly, thinking myself invincible.
This development has come at a cost. The last eight months were littered with birthdays forgotten, anniversaries not called for, family and friends ignored for the next task that is to come. The days are often groundhog days, as I immerse myself in the same cycle — awaken, work, home, clean/cook/socialize, and asleep again. My significant other, though we live together, sees me three or four times a week when we are lucky — to take a quick walk with the dog to the park and fall asleep together on the couch. Much of the last few months as I look back on it has been operated in a mildly sleep-deprived haze.
I wouldn’t change what I do, or my journey here, for the world. Yet the cost is real and terrifying. What use is it becoming a good physician if I’ve lost all human connection by the end of it? Something within me fights that fight every day — each time I write a letter to my grandfather, each conversation with my parents or social event with my friends. My inner voice of humanity fights the nagging fear that I need to work harder, learn more — because I’m terrified that what I don’t know someday will cost someone their life.
I suppose this is what the world calls a work-life balance. Balancing is hard, but so is life, and the last eight months have shown me that I can do some rather difficult things.
So in that vein, I have a letter to finish.