\”I need you to do me a favor,\” my nurse asked me at the end of our day on Friday.

\”Sure,\” I answered, \”what do you want?\”

\”Please have a better week next week,\” she said with a pained expression. \”I don\’t think I can handle another one like this week.\”

It was a bad week.  There was cancer, there was anxiety, there were family fights, there were very sick children.  It\’s not that it\’s unusual to we see tough things (I am a doctor), but the grouping of them had all of us trudging home drained of energy.  Spent.

I think that this is one of the toughest thing about being a doctor (and nurse, by my nurse\’s question): the spending of emotional reserves.  I am not physically active at work, yet I come home tired.  I don\’t have to be busy to feel drained.  It\’s not the patients\’ fault that I feel tired.  They are coming to me to get the service I offer to them, and I think I do that job well.  The real problem is in me.  The real problem is that I care.

I find myself wishing I didn\’t care so much.  I wish I could just do my job and then go home.  I talk to teachers I take care of, and they feel the same way.  Wouldn\’t it be nice to have a job that was \”just a job?\”  Wouldn\’t it be good to be able to go home and get things done?

This is certainly also true for counselors, social workers, and other professions that \”take care of people.\”  It sucks the life out of you.

The catch is, of course, that those of us who spend our emotions at work are not the kind to view our work as \”just a job.\”   Most of the people choose these professions because they want to help people.  The option to suddenly not care about the people you \”take care of\” is not an option at all.  The minute you stop caring is the minute you want to quit for good.

It does help to get pats on the back.  It helps when people show appreciation.  We doctors have it lucky, because people are not stingy with their thanks.  It\’s not that thanks makes hard days easier, it just makes it easier to get up for work the next day.

This drain on our emotions adds potency to the other things that give stress.  This is part of the equation when I gripe about insurance companies, drug prices, and all of the other friction I face on a daily basis.  My nurses probably add \”having a stressed out doctor\” to that list.

So, I say to all of you out there who feel spent at the end of the day: thank you.  Thank you for caring.  Thank you for not being satisfied with \”just doing the job.\” Thank you for the emotion you spend on me, my kids, my problems.

I\’d buy you a brewski if I could.

13 thoughts on “Spent”

  1. Great Post. Even though I am NOT your patient, thanks for being one of those Dr.s out there that cares. I am sure it can be emotionally draining dealing with problems of other people all week, and like you said – because you care. My husband is a police officer and he has those same kind of days. As he always says, “Usually we are seeing people on one of the worst days of their life!” He also comes home drained after a work week from being hypervigilant. It’s exhausting. Exhausting are the weeks when he has to knock on the door of a house whose loved one took their life or was killed.
    Thank you for your blog and timely post. I needed to read that today. And yes, here is hoping that next week is less draining for you. All the best…

  2. It is always nice to find doctors and nurses who actually care and patients can tell who does and who just does his job. I would give anything to find a job that does not seem like a job because it is amazing how you can do things an excel without actually exhausting yourself. And yet, you are right. Sometimes and on some bad days, you would give anything for just a job not one that drains you emotionally. But just a job.
    But hey, we don’t want just a job. We want a job we like so we could pass it (the love and genuine care) on. Thank you too for caring. We all do our best but the best is when we really care.

  3. Rob
    Thanks very much for this post. Well said.
    A recent death in our family, work demands, the pressure of the holidays and everything else have forced me to decrease my social media presence for a while. I must change my blogging habits as well. I understand very well the push and pul of our lives as healers, trying to juggle it all. It is extremely difficult, sometimes more than others.
    Thanks again and happy holidays!


  4. I think of police officers and EMT’s and the way they have to see what’s on the front lines of life. You wall it off as well as you can, but the emotional energy required to build and keep that wall is very large. So far this week is MUCH better.

  5. Juggling is one of the hardest things to learn. I use my blog as a resource during hard times, not a drain. It is an outlet, not an added responsibility. That’s why giving posts like this are important for me: they let me open up, and sharing that struggle with people who know exactly how I feel is a big help. Perhaps over Christmas break we can finally get together. Crazy we haven’t already.

  6. I enjoyed this post tremendously; as someone who’s known several physicians over the course of my life, I have seen this firsthand on occasion. The most memorable moment in my experience that demonstrated your comments about how you can care “too much” was a time when I was still working in retail and one day I saw a familiar face come through my checkout line. It took both of us a moment to realize our former connection, but once we did, this former doctor of mine–who I hadn’t known as a patient for over a decade–asked a whole slew of questions about the condition I saw him for, in effect expressing his interest in my ongoing health. After I got over being almost floored, I was quite touched by this peculiar moment when I realized that no matter how much time passes, the caring and concern doesn’t go away. You write as though you’re the same sort of physician, which is a wonderful thing for your patients. I’m sure there are times when the stress levels are in the aerials, but know that those who’ve been a patient of a physician with your sort of investment are usually overwhelmingly appreciative. I know I am.

  7. I can relate, I am a CT Tech and an educator, neither of which I can leave in an an in-box when I go home. Thank goodness my husband is a good listener, and this week brought me flowers “just because”. I was having a rough week between my two jobs, the holidays, and my horse that keeps throwing me.

  8. I remember going back to college after a summer working in the ER in my home town, a large resort area, and the feeling of numbness that seemed to last for several months. Maybe it was coming down off of the rush. Sickness and injuries that upset others didn’t bother me. I had seen people with limbs ripped off and babies die. I loved my job and missed it but came to the realization that people in the medical field detach themselves and can become callus as a way to survive. It is important to take breaks and let yourself feel again. Remember that it may not seem like a critical thing to us but it does to that patient. Now I teach and love that as well. To relax and destress I play things on line that take little to no brain cells like farmville.

  9. Thanks for the great post. I really admire people whose work requires a great amount of emotional involvement. Those are the kind of doctors/police officers/teachers/etc. that I want in my city.

  10. I really enjoyed this post… I’ve been thinking about a career change and pursuing medicine. This issue is one that brings concern. The problem with my current job is it feels like just a job, not really much of a contribution to society. You’ve made very clear what goes along with having a career that is not just a job. I will continue to be careful what I wish for.

  11. Rob, I find that strenuous exercise, even walking, riding a bike for 30 minutes makes my day no matter what. I do it in the AM before anything else (after my morning devotions). Try it. Next week will be better, time to start life over each day.

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