Be selfish...so that you can be selfless



I was absolutely, mind numbingly exhausted. It was 4 am. Close to the 24 hour call shift coming to an end.

It felt like I had no feelings, emotions and was completely drained. I didn't even have the energy to cry or feel sad.

I. Was. Done.

Burnt to a crisp.

I had not slept in more than 36 hours, we had gotten pounded by endless admissions, code Blue calls, irate patients....

I had grabbed a quick bite from the cafeteria....for lunch. Couldn't remember if I had eaten anything after that, when I had a glass of water or gone to the bathroom.

I had only 2 hours to catch up on sleep...if I was lucky... before waking up, brushing my teeth hurriedly and starting morning rounds.

Even though this happened more than 20 years ago during my residency training (pre work hour limitations or EMR's or PACS systems), I remember the feeling clear as can be.

And I remember thinking...this is unbelievably crazy!!!!!

Who in their right minds think this is the best way to train doctors????

Fast forward to post burnout and I see variations of this pattern persisting to this day amongst physicians.

Lack of sleep, irregular and unhealthy eating habits, stress through the roof....and waiting for "the system" (aka the FALSE knight-in-shining-armor) to do something.

I was there. I kept thinking, we have hit rock bottom. The healthcare system is broken. Something will change. It has to. And then I will be happy!! HA. Ridiculous thought.

It slowly dawned on me.

No one is coming to rescue me.

It has to be ME.

Taking care of Moi.

I wanted to be happy. I wanted to be around for my husband, my sons, my sisters, my Mom.

I deserved better. I am a good person.

I did not want to be that patient in the bed. Hugely successful on paper but dying with regrets of how his life turned out.

I had to be....(gasp!!!!)... SELFISH.

Whaaattttttt?????

Oh believe me, I resisted this for a long long time!

What will people think of me?

What if I become "lazy"?

What if it makes me a slacker...

And on and on and on...

So I started.. with baby steps.. taking care of myself. Exercise. Eating healthier by planning my meals and taking left overs for lunch. Meditating. Catching up on sleep whenever possible instead of zoning out in front of the TV. Getting therapy to help me deal with burnout. Getting regular massages. Listening to uplifting podcasts, YouTube or music even throughout the day working as a hospitalist. Sure there's no time, but I sneaked them into the day....like contraband chocolate. I became SELFISH.

Wore my oxygen mask first.

Filled my cup first.

Made ME and my basic human needs a non negotiable priority.

Decreased my FTE even if it meant a smaller paycheck.

Learned to set boundaries and say No nicely.

And a magical thing happened.

I felt better. I was able to have better interactions with those "difficult patients".

I began to enjoy the practice of medicine.

I was more present for my family.

Life started looking like a rainbow instead of an old black and white movie with no end in sight except for the heroine going off the edge of the cliff.

When I quit medicine, it was with a heart full of joy and meaning, not angry and bitterness.

I was walking away empowered. On my terms.

If any of this resonates with you, know that you are not alone. Know that it's okay to reach out for help.

Know that if I could make my life a colorful rainbow you can too!!!!