Put your thing down, flip it, and reverse it.

It’s been a long time once again since I’ve blogged, and it’s been longer still since I’ve had the time to really think about what I want to write.  The past five or so years, from day one of internship has been insane.  So many milestones crammed into such a short space of time, peppered with happiness and tragedy.  Now, finally, I’ve come screeching to a near-halt.  A slow drift.

I went part time.  We bought a house.  We moved into the house and now I find myself a regular Bunnings visitor.  I leave work on time because the daycare charges by the minute if I’m not there but more importantly, the guilt kills me.  I suppose that’s what the men at the top mean when they say things like ‘woman can’t focus on their work once they have children’.  What they mean is that ‘women can’t prioritise me 100% anymore”, but I digress.

When you’re used to insane hours, when you’re neck deep in the cult of public hospital medicine, you don’t see it for what it is.  You think there’s something wrong with the people who leave on time.  Something wrong with the people who pick the ‘softer’ specialties.  They don’t have what it takes, they have must have pissed someone off.  The whole idea of crafting your work around your life is nonsensical.  It can’t be done.

In August last year I had a phone call.  The person at the other end of the phone wanted to hire me.  They were interstate, and they wanted to hire me.  My bosses had given glowing references.  My resume was sharp, if noncommittal.  I was reserved on the phone.  I’d been burned by too many heads of departments droning on about competitive it was, how I should ‘throw my hat into the ring’ (a term you hear not infrequently, year after year), how I was competing with the best of the best, and oh my goodness, you want to, job share?!.  Then the usual backtracking over how they support job-sharing but they’ve never done it before and how would it work, how would I make it work, how would I do all the work for them.  I was tired.  I was more tired than I’d been in my life.  I couldn’t blaze any more paths.

The person at the end of the phone sensed my reticence.  They could tell I’d long lost interest in prestige, or dollars, or any of the other pots of gold that the medicine rainbow allegedly offered.  Sensing this, they said magical words I’d never heard uttered in medicine.  Their passion, they told me, was supporting parents with young children through training.  They rattled off a list of things they did and did not want horribly sleep deprived parents doing, and how they had medical workforce on board with this, and that they would arrange my shifts however I wanted.  I was shocked.  I’d never heard of this in medicine before.  Even GP training, that oasis of family-friendliness that calls us all, is suffering from corporate-owned interests impeding on that.  And there it was.  I told the person on the other end of the phone that if they were serious, then I was serious, and I’d be on a plane immediately if they wanted me to be.

Here I am.  Part time, with my roster well controlled and not overloaded.  Surrounded by supportive consultants.  In my own home that I own.  I planted daisies and pelargonium today.  My mother was horrified that I didn’t just get a cutting of the latter, that I’d paid actual money for it, but I pointed out I’d not seen that particular shade of rose-tinted fuchsia in anyones front yard, and that I could grow this one up and take cuttings of it anyway.  The daisies are my toddlers favourite.

The more I tread into that misty territory no one in medicine believes is real, the more I realise that the whole culture of medicine, the whole break-em-down-and-build-em up mentality, the whole, you-must-work-at-150%-all-of-the-time-and-families-have-to-work-around-us schtick, is nothing more than entrenched ideology at it’s finest.  At the same time, I was forged in those fires.  My references, the amazing feedback I’m getting, was built in that culture and I can’t help but respect it.  But at some point, something should give.  6 years out, I get to rest now.  Some people don’t, they push on through that fire, develop skills I could never dream to for so many reasons and they have my admiration.

And as I find my way in this new land, I find myself finally loving my work, my patients, and my colleagues.  As the burnout lifts, I emerge, finally myself in a field where your identity so often evaporates into the thousands of hours spent learning through fire.

In the words of my favourite blogger, we are through the looking glass people.

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9 comments

    1. Will do! I’m bad with the pics because getting them from my iphone to the computer to the web is annoyingly convoluted but have more time now.

      1. Btw, if you have a Mac you can use a thing called AirDrop (that I only recently discovered!) to get pics from your phone to your computer easily.

        I planted some snow pea seedlings earlier this week but they’re looking too sad for pictures 😦

  1. Wait. What? I struggle to believe this supportive, productive environment exists in medicine.

    A hospital senior executive recently told a room full of angry registrars who’ve not had any leave granted this year, that while “technically” they are obliged to allow for part time work arrangements to women returning to work from maternity leave, they would not promote this fact or actively support such an arrangement. What you’re describing is so far outside the realm of ‘normal’. How can this be?

    1. They’re on the wrong side of history and it’s a bad workplace. End of story. That’s the sort of environment where burnout is going to cause dangerous problems and I would get out if you can. What are you doing now?

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