It took three flights, almost 24 hours, and a small meltdown in the Frankfurt airport, but my girlfriend and I are now comfortably settled in an apartment in the Heliopolis neighbourhood of Cairo. The two days since we arrived have been devoted to seeing as many people as possible (my girlfriend lived in Cairo for three years and, being an extrovert unlike me, left behind a long list of people who love and miss her), adjusting to the seven hour time difference, and challenging the defences of our gastrointestinal tracts with street foods. Shawarma...mmmm...
As we were waiting in the airport in our home city, we ran into our accountant, who was waiting to fly to his vacation home in Phoenix. The girlfriend and I were already in vacation mode, eating hot dogs and deciding which of the many ebooks we had downloaded to read first, while the accountant was surrounded by his computer and cell phone and stacks of papers. When he saw us, he quickly picked up his phone to call the Canada Revenue Agency about an issue with my tax return, and after speaking with someone, he called over to me to let me know that he had resolved the issue. His voice was eager, like a child seeking praise. "Look at me! I'm on vacation but I'm still working for you! Aren't I great?"
And then he chatted with us about where we were going and how long we were going to be away. When I told him that we were traveling for three weeks, and that I had left all of my work at the hospital, a momentary flash of disgust passed over his face. He recovered quickly, but he still made it clear that he didn't approve of my prolonged absence. "Three weeks? No doctor goes away for three weeks! That's crazy!"
Which it shouldn't be. When I am at work, I work very hard, often giving up lunches to finish paperwork and coming in early so that I can fit in another urgent patient. So why on Earth should I have to apologize to my accountant about wanting to take some time away for myself? Why does medicine (and North American society as a whole) fetishize work so much that people are viewed as weak or as failures if they choose to do anything other than work?
I refuse to apologize for not wanting to give my entire life to medicine. The further I get into my career, the more I realize I'm going to have to fight the dominant culture of medicine in order to take time for myself, but I'm prepared to do that. Life outside of medicine is too sweet to squander it all simply to meet other people's expectations of me.