Saturday, January 4, 2020

Four Days into 2020 - Getting My Ass Handed to Me By Call

When I wrote my post about resolutions for 2020, I was very intentional in talking about "experimenting".  I knew that I wasn't going to be able to change everything the moment the clock struck midnight (I am not a magician), so I wanted to give myself permission to do things gradually and to falter along the way.


This was a good thing.

I went back to work on Thursday, and I am starting the year with four days on call.  And what a call it has been.  I've had multiple really sick people spread all over the province, and my pager has been going off seemingly constantly.  Whereas I thought I'd be staying late to keep up with paperwork, I've had to stay late just to get the bare minimum done.

It's honestly a little demoralizing.  I'm only three days into the work year, and I already have new letters that need to be dictated and old letters that need to be edited.  And I've had one night of insomnia, followed by a sleep deprivation-induced migraine.  (Awesome combo)'s a process.  And I know that call is the hardest part of my job, particularly when it's busy call.  So I'm breathing.  And focusing on what I can learn from this experience, rather than on all the things that don't seem to be working.

When I reflect on the past few days, the biggest thing that I'm reminded of is how much I dislike the uncertainty of call.  This isn't really shocking, as I'm a person who hates surprises and likes to have everything planned.  Carrying around a tiny piece of plastic that can scream at me and derail my day without warning is really not my favourite thing.

Fortunately, there are things that I can do to make this easier to cope with.  The biggest one, and one that I've been leaning towards but not quite willing to commit to until now, is not making plans with other people while I'm on call.  In theory, the best thing about home call is the fact that I can continue to live a normal life while I'm call, but in reality, everything is made worse by the pager hanging over me.  I hate planning to meet someone and then having to cancel (or getting called away in the middle of doing something).  It happened on Thursday night when I was planning to meet a BFF for my favourite yoga class, and then it happened again on Friday night when I was supposed to go to a party for people from my residency.  And it sucked.

Not to say that I will never make plans (I would still try to make it to the Friday night party, for example, as the date was fixed), but that I'm going to try to keep my call days as flexible as possible.  Some of this is more mental than anything - trying to not get attached to any idea of how the day will look, but rather take things as they come*.  If the day is busy and I have to work until late, I'm mentally prepared for that.  If it's not and I have time for non-work things, then it's a bonus and I can use the opportunity to go to yoga or wash dishes or sit on the couch with the cats playing Stone Age online with The 76K Project.  (Mostly the latter).

I'm trying to approach my current weekend this way, and so far it seems to be helping (?).  When I got up this morning, instead of trying to map out the weekend, I made myself a list of things from highest to lowest priority.  Providing good patient care was #1, with prepping for my upcoming lectures (which I technically should've had done by yesterday) #2.  While I was responding to pages this morning, I spent a few hours getting the lectures done, thus getting the most important (as well as the most stress-inducing) task out of the way.  And then the pager was kind to me, and I was able to go to an hour of the worst suffering I would ever willingly subject myself to yoga.  I've also managed to get a few other important items knocked off my to-do list, and if I ever stop playing online games I will even do my dishes.

The change in approach and mindset has already made me a little less emotionally reactive when the pager has gone off.  It has still been annoying, and I'm not looking forward to starting my day at the hospital tomorrow, but it's better.  Will it help in the long term?  I guess I'll see...

*I feel like call gives me some sense of what it would be like to be a parent.  Everything is going well, then *BAM*, one kid spills a 2 L of milk on the floor and the other is running around naked drawing on themself with permanent marker.


  1. I can't imagine the stress of this, but I can relate to having to change my mindset. Work has been stressful and difficult. But I also know that I won't and can't walk away from it. So I realize that there are many things I can't change...but I can change my approach to them. It's not perfect, but it has helped a bit. Hoping your plan works, too! <3

    1. Thanks! I think we're both kind of in the same boat. I certainly won't be walking away from work anytime soon, and probably not even once I hit FIRE, so I need to keep working on the strategies to make it better.

  2. "Carrying around a tiny piece of plastic that can scream at me and derail my day without warning is really not my favourite thing." That reminds me so much of my soon-to-be-ex-wife's effect on me.
    I truly feel bad for you, but the only thing that comes to mind(I am a "fixer"- I can't help it) is that dermatology or podiatry would probably be less stressful.
    You have some good coping tools, but there are obviously times when they won't be enough. Have you asked any others how they cope? How they get through high stress times?
    Whatever happens, know that there are some of us that care a lot even if it is from a distance.

  3. HAH it is actually a good comparator to parenting in some ways. I do call JB an agent of chaos for a reason XD

    I'm glad that changing your mindset has helped alleviate the feeling of reactivity to the pager going off, I hope that eases much of the removable stressors involved in taking call.

  4. When I'm going through a sh*tty time, I try to remind myself that I WILL feel better, and probably sooner than I think. Call will end, things will be ok. I feel nauseated and start to catastrophize whenever my phone rings and I'm on home call. I don't think that will ever end.

    1. Oh! I was also going to say that I totally avoid making any and all plans when I have to carry the pager outside the hospital. If possible I will do admin during that time since I'm not really unable to unplug because of the pager. That way I get something done regardless of whether it goes off, and don't just sit there and dread it. I have noticed if I try to plan anything (exercise, work) the pager goes off more... and I end up being unable to complete anything. But that may just be a coincidence. Solidarity, Solitary. In house call sucks too, but psychologically it's much easier than home call for me. And at least I remind myself that once I get my OR case going, things tend to go pretty quickly, and usually I feel pretty satisfied and feel like I helped someone.

    2. In-house call is its own beast! I actually used to prefer those nights when things were busy (steady busy, not crazy busy) as the momentum of the work would somehow carry me through it. The nights when I though I might get to rest but kept getting interrupted were my least favourite, and even the rare night when I got to sleep through was always stressful because of waiting for the pager.

      I would generally pick home over in-house, but it's still a mental battle. No call is my favourite!

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