Just One More Episode: Lessons Learned from Pandemic Binge Watching

This year has been a learning experience on so many levels, and that is me trying to put a positive slant on the beginning of the last quarter of 2020. The year that keeps on giving.

One of the biggest differences I noted in people (obviously politics aside) was their approach to the lockdown. To all those people who used that time to deep clean their homes, learn a new language, get into shape, and get to the bottom of their to-do list, I say congratulations. What an inspiring way to spend all those hours isolated from friends and family. I applaud you and your responsible decision making.

I, however, went in a slightly different direction. There was no deep cleaning or new language learning. And, the only part of my body that got a consistent work-out was my liver. But, I did make a substantial dent in my list of “must-see when I have the time” TV shows. And reflecting on it, I seem to have learned a thing or two.

  1. From Ted Lasso: “The happiest animal on earth is the goldfish. They have a 10 second memory.” I could definitely learn a thing or two from the goldfish.
  2. From Hamilton: “Everything is legal in New Jersey.” Enough said.
  3. From The Umbrella Academy: Family is not defined by blood. No matter the circumstances…whether you are brought together by an eccentric bajillionaire or you are lucky enough to cross paths with the people who leave that precious, indelible mark on your life, friends are the family you choose. And also…Life deserves a great soundtrack. Whether it’s The Kinks or Tiffany, music is a key part of every chapter of our lives. You can’t tell me that you don’t have at least one song that immediately takes you back to another time. Sometimes happy, sometimes sad, but always meaningful.
  4. From Space Force: “Someone needs to lead and someone needs to follow but they are both equally on the same team.” More and more I am convinced that life is a team sport. We all have unique abilities that every team needs. Everyone should be comfortable leading, following, delegating, questioning, and trusting. No single part of the team is more important than another, and success depends on remembering that.
  5. From Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich: Money can’t buy happiness. It can buy mansions and islands and private planes, but maybe some of that money should have been earmarked for a therapist.
  6. From The Tiger King: OK. You got me. Nothing learned. Absolutely nothing gained. And I have no idea why I watched it. Twice.
  7. From Schitt’s Creek: Unconditional love. John and Moira not blaming each other when their lives were the most challenging, and instead leaning on the other for strength and support. David and Patrick navigating an unconventional relationship, not perfectly but with mutual respect and unending patience. Alexis and Ted overcoming the obstacles to reunite, only to unselfishly part…not because they didn’t love each other but because they knew it was the best thing for the other person. I aspire to bring even a little of their passion, their dedication, and their unconditional love to the relationships in my life.
  8. From 13 Reasons Why: “You don’t know what goes on in anyone’s life but your own.” “No one knows for certain how much impact they have on the lives of other people.” Working in a pediatric emergency department, I will admit that my first interest in the show was more of a morbid curiosity, wanting to learn more about this series that was rumored to glorify suicide. It is a show that makes you feel uncomfortable because it shines a bright spotlight on issues of mental health that have long been stigmatized or brushed under the carpet. And it didn’t glorify suicide. It showed how one person’s unimaginable pain indelibly impacts so many lives forever. I watched all four seasons and while there are so many great take-aways in relation to bullying, mental health, drug abuse and sexual assault (just to name a few), the point that stuck with me was that you have absolutely no idea what is going on in anyone else’s lives, and there is no place for assumptions or judgment. And every gesture, every word, every text – no matter how seemingly small or insignificant – can have a profound effect on someone. So my goal is to try and make that be a profound positive effect. Be the reason someone smiles. Make someone feel like part of the team. Be better.
  9. From AfterLife: “Hope is everything.” I love the humor of Ricky Gervais. I would be happy if he hosted the Golden Globes forever. Edgy? Yes. Sometimes cringeworthy? Yes. Funny? Always. His dark comedy that follows his character’s journey after losing his wife to cancer shows him at his lowest points and is absolutely heartbreaking at times, but there is an underlying thread of hope that carries you through. Someone once said that laughter through tears is the best emotion (thank you Clairee, Ouiser, and Truvey), and remembering the hope while wiping the tears makes it even better.
  10. From Hamilton: “If you stand for nothing, Burr, what will you fall for?” I’m not proud of the number of times I watched Hamilton after it was released on Disney+, but I loved every minute. And while I could do 10 lessons just from Hamilton, I limited it to just two. I should also confess here that I chose not to watch either of the first two debates. And, in no way is this a political blog (definitely out of my wheelhouse), but if Hamilton taught me anything it is that there is no place for apathy in our country, especially right now. No matter what your views or beliefs are, please vote.

So, while I could have taken this time to learn Italian or take a toothbrush to my shower grout, I don’t regret (all of) my choices over the past months. I do feel like I have earned my professional binge-watching badge (don’t feel bad if you’re still amateur status…practice makes perfect), and I feel like I gained some new insight I can use moving forward.

Now, if you will excuse me, I am going to go put up the Christmas tree. Hoping it will make 2021 come quicker. Stay well.

Don’t Forget to Be Kind to Yourself

I was reading this article in the New York Times about Dr. Lorna Breen (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/11/nyregion/lorna-breen-suicide-coronavirus.html), and it literally took my breath away. This awful pandemic has claimed so many lives, in so many different ways.

Sadly, it made me think of a medical school classmate of mine who took his own life a few years ago. He arranged for this to post to Facebook the next morning:

I didn’t know Dr. Breen, but I did know Brandon (not his real name). And from what I’ve read and from what I know, it seems they were both forces to be reckoned with. And my thoughts keep going to that final dark moment, when there didn’t seem to be any other option. And it haunts me.

At the time, our ED was struggling with all the usual things…albeit, not pandemics, but all the other things that affect our jobs, and in many ways our lives, on a daily basis. I wrote the following email to my co-workers:

As I have struggled through this week in the ED with difficult patients, challenging consultants, and near record numbers, I think about Brandon and what he must have been going through, the pain he must have felt especially at the time he wrote this post, knowing what he was about to do. And one simple thought came to mind:

I get it.

It doesn’t matter if you have been doing this 2 years or 2 decades…we have stressful jobs. I don’t think people can truly appreciate what we do and how we feel. I don’t think people…even some other physicians…understand that we don’t punch a clock and leave these patients behind when we go home. I am willing to bet that every last one of us has woken up in the middle of the night at least once thinking about “that kid you saw”, wondering if you had done the right thing. Any of you who have been on the receiving end of “hey – remember that kid you saw?” as I have, know that feeling in the pit of your stomach, and are familiar with the cold sweat that breaks out, even in a few seconds. And, any of you who have been involved in a bad outcome as I have, knows that those cases…those families…those children…stay with you forever.

So, as I have gone through my shifts this week, I have dealt with disgruntled families with unrealistic expectations (often times, the result of advice from another physician); I have physically restrained 2 nine year olds and physically pulled the mother off one of them as she was hitting him with her shoe; I have felt belittled by consultants, my approach and management plan questioned; I have given families news they didn’t want to hear, and I have had to repeatedly say “I don’t know”; all with the backdrop of 20-30 patients in the waiting room seemingly at all times, in the back of my mind wondering which of those triage level 4/5 are getting sicker.  I was fortunate that I was not involved in any of the 4 codes that resulted in deaths we had in the department this week. My heart goes out to those of you who were…each one more heartbreaking than the last.

This is my plea to you. We have tough, tough jobs. Few can truly understand our professional lives. But we do.

We have all taken varied roads to get here, but now we are together. We are a large, sometimes dysfunctional family, and everyone has their individual struggles and frustrations. I am the first one to say that I have let those struggles and frustrations get in my way at times. We don’t always get along or see eye to eye, but I know that if I were at the point that Brandon was last week, this group would drag me out of the dark place I was in and make sure I was safe and knew I was supported. I know that because it has happened to me.

We don’t have to love each other…we don’t even have to like each other. But, we do have to support each other. No matter what. There are plenty of people out there that are willing to Monday morning quarterback what we do, and if we don’t have each other’s backs, I truly worry about our longevity, our happiness, and our well-being.

I apologize for the length, and for the gravity of this email. Again, do with it what you will…take it to heart, delete it, whatever. But one thing I have learned after being here for 20 years is that if we don’t stand together, we will slowly fall apart.

So, as I read about Dr. Breen, saddened by the fact that we have been robbed of yet another young, promising, motivated physician, I am reminded that as bad as this pandemic is…and truly believe it is awful…when it gets better (and I have to believe that it will), we can’t forget. Because all the other things that have always been there but got shoved to the back burner by COVID will be there again. And no matter what kind of medicine you practice, there will be unique (and some not-so-unique) stressors.

We are always expected to be kind to our patients. But my plea to you is to be kind to each other and, more importantly, yourself. You’re worth it. And I promise there is someone out there who understands what you are going through.

Sometimes you just have to ask.

Subject Line: Sad News

No matter what kind of day you are having, when you open up your email and see that subject line, it takes your breath away. While it could be a notice that Jeni’s is out of salted caramel ice cream, you know that’s not likely the topic. So, you take a deep breath and you open it…

Ten days ago, I woke up with a fever, sore throat and couldn’t smell anything. I knew deep down what was going on, but there’s always that little voice saying, “It could just be strep…or some other virus, NOS.” So, when I filled out my daily symptoms update with the new developments, it was impressive how quickly I got a call from employee health…seriously within ten minutes of submitting, and I had my testing appointment for the next day.

I had heard the agony that was associated with getting the actual test…one friend told me they thought they had a CSF leak afterward. So, when the nice woman in the UAB drive through testing site told me that I “could not grab her hand or the swab”, I felt it best for me to sit on my hands. Just in case.

The test was actually quite tolerable, but I’m not sure it could have been as bad as I had made it out to be in my head. I rolled my window back up and drove home and waited for the news I knew was inevitable. The call came from the sweet employee health nurse the next morning, and I passed the info along to everyone who needed to know and prepared to hunker down for the ten day quarantine. So thankful for ibuprofen, Hamilton, and friends who left me an endless supply of magazines, cheez-its, ice cream and fudge stripes on my front porch. Oh and DoorDash…can’t forget DoorDash. And Shipt.

Fast forward ten days. I am fever free for three days, tired but no breathing problems, still can’t really smell anything (but that may not be a bad thing after being stuck inside for ten days). Every day I have been blessed by so many people texting and checking on me, making sure I’m ok. I’ve always known I work with the best people in the world, and seeing them volunteer to cover my shifts has given me one less thing to worry about and one more thing to make my heart warm.

Before I start to watch the next episode of Sherlock Holmes (I’ve already watched Hamilton once today), I check my email and see a subject line that reads: sad news. It’s an “Official Message from UAB” and it tells of the heartbreaking death of UAB Police Sergeant Parnell Guyton. I had followed his story as he was diagnosed with COVID-19 several months ago and spent weeks in the ICU. He was recently released and able to go home, only to require readmission to the ICU yesterday. His death was confirmed this evening.

I didn’t know Sergeant Guyton personally, but I almost feel like I did. His son went to school and was friends with the son of one of my closest friends. From all descriptions, he sounds like a gentle giant, with a heart to match. He trick-or-treated, he protected his family just as he protected UAB. And somehow he contracted this elusive and confusing disease. And bravely he fought for weeks and months. And sadly he lost his battle today.

My friend, who is one of the best human beings I know, was trying to explain to her son what had happened and she felt like she was struggling and not doing a good job. In the midst of all this, this amazing human stopped and asked me how I was doing. How I was feeling. How I was managing.

My only response was that I was feeling extremely fortunate. I have read more about this disease that I have wanted. I have thought more about this virus than I have wanted. And I am tired of thinking about it and worrying about it and being scared of it. But I cannot even imagine what Sergeant Guyton’s family, as well as so many others who have experienced the loss caused by this awful pandemic, are going through and will now have to face the uncertainty of the future missing an adored member of their family. I don’t know what they had planned for 2020, but I know this wasn’t it.

I don’t claim to know the right answers or the absolute right thing to do. But I know that I have had COVID and it sucks. And mine was mild. As we move forward, please think not just of ourselves but of others and their families. It’s up to us to protect ourselves and our loved ones. It’s up to us to do what we can to make it so other mother’s and father’s don’t have to teach their eight and ten year olds about life without their protectors…their heroes. About death that may have been able to be prevented.

Please. If you won’t do it for yourself or for the guy next door or because of the conspiracy theorist down the street, do it for the children whose lives are forever altered, and for the parents who are left to rebuild a future they never deserved to experience.

Those Who Stand for Nothing Fall for Everything

Fireworks over Robin Lake, Callaway Gardens; July 4, 2020

On June 26th, Thomas Blanton died in prison at age 82 of natural causes. While his name didn’t mean anything to me, the headline caught my eye. He was the last remaining living klansman convicted in the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church. The brutal attack that took the lives of four young girls, and left a fifth with scars she carries every day.

I have lived in Birmingham for over two decades, and it’s one of only two places I have called home. I am very proud of my city and of the growth and progress I’ve witnessed especially over recent years. Every city…community…person…has things from their past that contain painful memories. And, ideally, you take these life events and learn from them. And, to borrow a phrase used for other acts that have altered the world we live in every day, never forget.

To say that Thomas Blanton’s death closes a chapter in Birmingham’s history wouldn’t be fair. That chapter will never close for the people that were involved. Sure, there won’t need to be any more parole hearings or other proceedings and maybe that will help in some small way. But it does mark a point on the timeline. And that typically comes with an opportunity to reflect…was this occurrence used as an opportunity for growth? On a personal level? On a community level? On a national level?

So, as I was reading this article, I thought about what we could tell those four young girls. Could we tell them that although it took 37 years to hold the parties responsible for this merciless action, we have traveled an incredible societal distance since 1963? Could we tell them that this vicious act that cut their lives far too short had been used as an example of how not to act for people in 2020? Does Sarah Collins Rudolph, the “fifth little girl”, feel that this senseless attack and the tremendous loss and disability that accompanied it, has helped make people realize that the color of a person’s skin is not an indicator of their worth?

And that is when the myriad of emotions I had been experiencing bubbled to the surface. First and foremost, overwhelming sadness. All the names that had been filling all of our newsfeeds over the past several weeks…Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd…and those were just the ones that made the news. Lives cut short. Victims…not of a church bombing, but of acts seemingly fueled by the same ignorance and refusal to accept the basic tenet that all men are created equal. Sadness coupled with hopelessness, that if the pointless deaths of four young girls can’t be the example that changes our actions, what will?

Intermingled with the sadness came shame. Or possibly guilt. Probably a combination of the two. I am a middle-aged, divorced, professional white female. While the Catholic upbringing may explain the guilt, I was still left with the question…could I have done more? And where do I go from here? But, I have plenty of African-American friends! Isn’t that what I am supposed to say to make myself feel better? But what do I say to my friends who go out every day and have to know that their mere appearance has already caused some people to make an assumption about what kind of person they are? How do I address the fear that has become a permanent part of their daily routine, for themselves or for their family members? What do I do about the shame I feel because of the color of my skin?

This weekend, we celebrated our country’s independence. And, like many many others, I took advantage of the opportunity to watch Hamilton. I had heard the music, read the reviews, but never had the chance to see it. And I was absolutely blown away, for so many reasons. Here was an extremely talented group of racially diverse people telling me the story of my beloved country, the best country in the world. And it seems so obvious…our founding fathers came together to create a new democracy. States that would be united, a more perfect union to be exact. There is no illusion that these men agreed with each other about everything, but they came together to make something better…more perfect. Not perfect. And while I know that those rooms were filled with white haired Caucasian men, the story I was told through Hamilton seemed…right.

I’ve been told in the past that perfect is the enemy of good. And while I have always applied that to my career, I think it fits well in all facets of life. Our country isn’t perfect. Americans aren’t perfect. And we never will be. But, maybe we should just try being good. Especially to each other.

It is Favorable to liberty. Freedom can exist only in the society of knowledge. Without learning, men are incapable of knowing their rights, and where learning is confined to a few people, liberty can be neither equal nor universal.

Benjamin Rush, Founding Father; 1786

Daddy’s Girl

My dad died 11 years ago today. I remember it like it was yesterday. I hadn’t been gone from the hospital long, my brothers were with him. I have absolutely no doubt that he waited until my mom, my sister and I left to let go. He protected me until the very end.

I also vividly remember, as I was on my way back to the hospital early that morning, realizing that my dad died on tax day. And that there had to be a joke in there…somewhere. Death and taxes. The only guarantees in life. And once again, he made me smile.

My dad wasn’t a big man…5’8″ is probably generous. But he had an infectious laugh, a booming voice, and his “just wait until I get you home” look could stop you in your tracks. He remains one of the hardest working people I have ever met. A pipefitter by trade, he was fiercely loyal to his family, his friends, his church and his beliefs. I was raised with a healthy fear of touching the thermostat and crossing picket lines and being taught that hard work is paramount.

He had terrible dad jokes (for example: What did the fish say when he swam into the wall? Dam. *groans*), but also had a string of sayings that I refer to as Frank-isms. A few of my favorites include:

  • It’s easier to keep up than to catch up. (So so true…hoping to figure out how to do that very soon.)
  • If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything. (Truer words were never spoken.)
  • Nothing good happens after midnight. (Again…truer words…)
  • If you leave hungry, it’s your own fault. (A holiday favorite)

There are so many more, but I’ll save those for another time.

I have been a daddy’s girl for as long as I can remember. My parents did not plan to have a 4th child. To be honest, I’m pretty sure I was the result of a weekend trip to Vegas and the rhythm method. I remember going to the grocery store with him every Saturday morning and the people at the store would ask him, “Is that your granddaughter, Frank?” And he would always reply, “Nope, just a little girl I picked up on the side of the road.” And everyone would laugh (although I’m not sure how that would go over these days…). He retired when I was still in grade school and had his first heart attack in his late 50’s. The day after his hospitalization, he gave all the unhealthy stuff up cold turkey. He watched his diet like a hawk (sometimes annoyingly so), never smoked again (not even the occasional cigar that he used to enjoy), did everything the doctor told him to do to the letter, exercised religiously. At the time I didn’t truly appreciate it, but having been in medicine for awhile now, I realize that it was his discipline and sacrifices that gave me all those extra years with him.

I said goodbye to my dad when I was 38 and he was 88, eleven years ago today. He was not a perfect man, but he gave me some perfect examples of how to live my life. Do I agree with everything he did or said? Do I even understand why he did some of his decisions? No, but I have learned to appreciate why he did and said the things he did. And that was one of the biggest gifts he gave me. I am proud of the woman I have become (most days), and thankful that he always encouraged me to be the best I could be. Through that, he taught me to be an independent thinker and in charge of my own life. Sometimes right, sometimes wrong, but hopefully always true to myself.

And while I still have never crossed a picket line, I love having control of the thermostat.

One of my most favorite pictures of me and Dad…and yes, those are footie pajamas and plastic slipcovers. #growingupItalianinthe70’s

Dealing with feedback

I’m no stranger to negative feedback and rejection. I’ve dealt with it all my life, in all different formats. I’ve received it in all forms, ranging from not seeing my name on the list of players that made the team to being told no over the phone when I asked someone to prom (don’t judge too much…I went to an all girls’ school so we had to do the asking) to getting my rejection letter from Stanford (dream school) in the mail. Remember when we had to fill out all those paper applications with a typewriter??

In the age of cell phones and social media, the possibilities of where the feedback and/or rejection may come from exploded, and I am proud to say that I have been rejected on the best of dating apps. I’m not proud…calling them “growing opportunities”. Or something. Anyhoooo…

I have been known to possibly, completely unintentionally of course, over-, under-, or just flat out mis-interpret an email or text. I find I have a hard time trying to “hear” the tone intended. I don’t think I’m the only one suffering from this affliction…in fact, I’m pretty sure there is an ICD-10 code assigned to it: ABC.90210…abdominal pain caused by overthinking a received text or email, initial encounter. Luckily, over the years I have developed a bit of a thicker skin, so that helps while trying to sort things out.

Having said that, I’m having a bit of a hard time interpreting a recent email rejection I recently received and would love to get some feedback. With my thicker skin has come a likely ill-advised enthusiasm for exploring my previously well-hid love of writing. Which has led to my sharing some of my pieces with people outside of my comfort zone. Which leads to emails such as the following:

Thanks for the submissions, but I’m going to politely decline the pieces.

Reasons may include any of the following:

  • There are too many typos, formatting or grammatical mistakes.
  • The topic has already been discussed.
  • The article promotes a commercial entity by name.
  • The topic is not of interest.
  • I have too many articles in the editorial queue.

Having spent the majority of my adult life in an educational role, I am a firm believer in constructive feedback. If it happens to be positive as well, that helps, but I know that just isn’t realistic. But, I just really am not sure what to do with that response. Of course, I want to believe it’s just because there are too many other things to review. But, what if it really not interesting. Or just plain sucks?

I know it is a bit unfair to be critical, especially when these people have put together such a successful endeavor that people are (possibly) lining up to be included. But, my question to you is what should I do?

Should I:

  • Put it on the shelf and forget about it?
  • Resubmit exactly the same pieces?
  • Edit and resubmit?

In all seriousness, I am using this as a good reminder to myself about the importance of useful and constructive feedback and criticism. These are stressful times for all of us and these times could be game changers, especially for younger physicians. I was working in the ED the other day, and one of the residents who I greatly admire and the fact that he and people like him are in pediatrics gives me absolute hope for the future of the specialty I love, stated basically that if he thought he was putting his family at risk for doing this job, he would drop it in a heartbeat. Those words were very eye opening, a bit sobering and, honestly, more than a little scary. It reminded me that we need to be there to support our trainees and young physicians through common crises, pandemics and life in general. The wrinkles and gray hair I try so hard to hide are, in many ways, scars of battles we have all fought. Some I have won, some I have lost, but all have taught me something, whether I wanted to learn it or not.

So, to my colleagues and trainees…when we get through this (and we will get through this), and we can hang out in public together again, remind me to tell you my stories of when I cried, when I couldn’t get out of bed, and when I almost quit. We’ve all been there, and will probably be there again. I promise to try and do better than “great job” and “read more”. And I promise to listen.

First round is on me.

Every Paper Has A Home…

In these unprecedented times, there have been several calls for research proposals. Those of you who know me know that I am a highly motivated, not to mentioned talented, researcher. So I am just throwing some ideas out there…

1. Provider performance at the beginning of a shift compared to the end as it relates to serum ETOH (increased use of hand sanitizer) and CO2 (never taking your mask off) levels.

2. A descriptive analysis of stupid things kids do when they are quarantined.

3. Will finishing the academic year at home have an impact on parents perceptions on corporal punishment in schools?

4. What percentage of children diagnosed with walking pneumonia are ambulatory? (I know this isn’t really COVID related but still think it needs to be looked at).

5. A descriptive analysis of stupid things kids do when they are quarantined, part 2. Yes, I feel quite strongly that there will be enough data for at least 2 papers…and that’s just from our single institution.

6. With the pending chloroquine shortage, could daily consumption of gin and tonics be the secret COVID-19 cure? (Corollary study: does adding lime have any effect?)

7. Important e-mailed missed because your inbox was full of messages from Bed Bath and Beyond, Petsmart, and Ann Taylor (just a sample of a few) and THEIR response to COVID: a descriptive analysis.

8. NICUs census expected spike in the next 25-30 weeks: a predictive analysis. (Additional outcome evaluated is most common names in 2020 and 2021).

9. Novel ways to survive limited supplies of PPE, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, and tolerance for people who think the rules don’t apply to them.

10. The rise in voyeurism since the arrival of COVID: Does provider removing their clothes before entering the house after a shift cause an increase in binocular sales?

Happy to co-author or help with IRB. Just let me know!

Just In Case…

To all my loyal followers, I apologize for my extended absence after my debut post. 7 years does seem a bit excessive for writer’s block, but more on that later…

I’m sitting here on the couch, it’s the somethingth of March (I think it’s still March) and I’m, like I’m sure many of you are, trying to make sense of what is happening in the world right now. Unprecedented is the word I keep seeing…seems pretty accurate.

What also may be unprecedented is the way we are all feeling about it, coping with it, trying to find our “new normal”…something we tend to do when life altering events occur. Except now we have the additional challenge of doing it with social distancing and curfews. So, I thought I would share some of my recent thoughts to see if they rang true with anyone else, just in case.

  • Netflix. Need I say more?
  • OK…maybe just a little more…I want to personally thank Jim Gaffigan, Tom Segura, Jimmy Carr, Joe Exotic, Marty Byrde and the cast of Love is Blind (in no particular order) for helping me shelter in place.
  • I keep getting thrown when I look out the window because typically when we are in this situation we are incapacitated with 1/8 inch of snow.
  • I now have no doubt that I could survive on sandwiches and frozen pizzas.
  • It’s probably a really good thing that we can’t get alcohol delivery in Birmingham.
  • Remember when that Sandra Bullock movie The Net came out in 1995? And I thought how ridiculous it was to think you get through life without having physical contact with anyone? I’m feeling a bit Angela Bennett-ish.
  • The news is not a great thing to have on in the background these days, especially when you can tend to get anxious at baseline.
  • I have always had the upmost respect for the people I work with, but watching what my colleagues across the nation and the world are doing right now is downright inspiring. And I’m not talking about the physicians.
  • This is scary. I’m afraid. I have cancelled going for a walk with my best friends 3 times in the past 2 weeks because I am afraid to leave my house to do anything but go to work. I am afraid of unknowingly passing the virus to someone…I’m worried about my 92 year old mother…I’m afraid of getting sick myself because, as I have been reminded, I’m too old for ECMO. I am afraid and anxious at some point every day.
  • Somedays I struggle to remain hopeful. I have always known that I have a healthy fear of the unknown and this is no different, but I especially miss seeing that light at the end of the tunnel. Hearing all the conflicting “facts” and seeing the lack of joining together and fighting this as a team at the highest levels can only be described as disheartening. I feel hopeless at some point every day.
  • Despite the fear and hopelessness that seems to come in waves, I feel very fortunate. Fortunate to have a job I love and fortunate to be surrounded at work by people I love and respect and owe my sanity (and my life) to. The team of co-workers in the emergency department at Children’s of Alabama are like no other and I wouldn’t want to face what we see every day (pandemic or otherwise) with anyone else. Every single day you continue to amaze me with your strength, your compassion, and your humor. Thank you for being my front line every day. Despite everything, I feel fortunate at some point every single day.

One of my favorite signs from a previous time in my life I think works well now:

Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, she became a butterfly.

I have it in a place where I can see it when I first wake up in the morning. I use this to remind me to stay hopeful. Hopeful that my sweet boyfriend will stop trying to “cheer my up” by watching Monty Python. Hopeful that my amazing friends from medical school and I can reschedule our much needed annual trip. Hopeful that my tribe knows I am here if they need me. And hopeful that my friends don’t give up on me when I let the fear get the best of me. I do know we will get through this, and I know we will only get through this together. And, for the first time today, that gives me hope.

Thank you for taking the time to read this…I just wanted to share some of my thoughts, because some of you might have some of the same.

Just in case…

My First Six Months

It’s hard to believe that I have been the Assistant Dean for Students for almost six months now. Time really does fly…especially the older I get. As I reflect, I realize that I haven’t been on a learning curve this steep since my intern year. So, for my first blog attempt, I am going to share with you the top ten things I’ve learned.

(Disclaimer Alert: I guess I should also mention that the opinions expressed in the following paragraphs are just that…my opinions. And in no way do they even attempt to represent the views of Medical Student Services, the Associate Deans Office, or the UASOM.)

10.  Medical school has changed vastly since I graduated…but also not at all.

Anatomy, physiology, pathology…not too much has changed over the last several decades. And, the things that I worried about when I was a student are still the same concerns people come to talk with me about: Am I ever going to be able to pay back these student loans? What do I want to be when I grow up? What if I don’t match? Some things don’t change.

But one thing has changed, and that’s who is sitting in the seats, who is doing the clerkships, and who is going through the match. You’ve heard it before…learners are different now. And, that has made the experience of medical school immeasurably different. As I was sitting in the LCME meeting last week and heard one of the fourth year students say that they really don’t spend the night in the hospital anymore, it really hit home. Of course the age of the 36 hour call has gone by the wayside in residency as well, so maybe it’s a natural transition. Is it better this way? I’m not sure I can say. And I think my generational gap might get in the way a little. I can say that it is different. The rest, in my opinion, remains to be seen.

9.  The steps to Volker Hall are really steep. And slippery.

No joke. Be careful.

8.  No one is responsible for opening or closing the umbrellas on the plaza.

Just an observation…not volunteering. I’m too short to do it anyway.

7.  Open communication is vital to success.

No matter what career path you choose, the way you communicate can make or break you. And, I don’t just mean the words you choose.

I can’t imagine that I am the only person who has ever opened an e-mail…read it…cried…read it again…stormed off in anger…came back and read it again…drafted fifteen response e-mails (all of which got deleted)…read it again…turned off the computer in anger and went and had a handful of thin mints. OK, so maybe you haven’t done that exact sequence (maybe samoas are more your speed), but attempting to interpret tone in a written statement can be a very dangerous thing. So, perhaps the lesson should be to pick up the phone if there is even a question. It will save you a lot of time (and tears…or, cookies) in the long run.

6.  The seats in lecture room B are really uncomfortable.

Seriously.

5.  Balance is important.

All work and no play makes Annalise a dull girl. But, all play and no work makes Annalise a horrible assistant dean and physician. Balance is imperative. Working weekends is part of the role of the emergency physician…and part of the role of the assistant dean as well. It’s very easy for the hours to get away from you and all of a sudden you look back and realize you haven’t been to the gym in six months (even though it’s less than 100 yards from your office). Don’t feel too sorry for me…I manage to make time for other (guiltier) pleasures such as Blazer basketball, The Following, and Impractical Jokers. But sometimes, I wish I had learned the art of balance much earlier in my career. Vacations are important. Sleeping in every once in a while is nice. And, working holidays is not the end of the world. It’s life. Welcome to it.

4.  Even when you are an assistant dean, your mom still gets mad when you don’t call regularly enough.

Especially when she is Italian and Catholic.

3.  It’s important to have people in your corner that you can count on.

And you need to be able to be counted on. It’s a two way street. But, it’s narrow, and there is no room for alternate agendas, empty promises, or unkind words that serve no purpose.

I grew up on teams…mostly sports, but other types as well. The essence of teamwork is that no one person is more important than the whole. I am very fortunate, because currently I am a part of two very high functioning teams…Pediatric Emergency Medicine and Medical Student Services. And, not surprisingly, there is an amazing amount of overlap between the two. Both teams put tremendous effort toward helping others succeed without a hidden agenda. Both teams make me want to work harder and be better because they believe I can. And, both teams do what they think is in the best interest of the people they serve, whether it be the child, the parent, or the student.

Probably most importantly, I know they have my back. And, I have theirs.

2.  I don’t like reality T.V. much.

This doesn’t have anything to do with the new job…just a temporally related realization on my part.

1.  Hands down, the students are the absolute best part of this job.

Even though it’s only been six months, one thing has emerged as the most rewarding part of this job, and that is getting to work with the students. Some make me laugh. A few make me cry. Some make me lose sleep. Some drive me to eat lots of thin mints. But, I have loved (almost) every single moment. I can’t wait to watch my first match day, to participate in my first UASOM commencement, and to watch this class of 2013 go out into the world armed with the resources that we have given them to be physicians, leaders, and pioneers.

Yes, it’s only been six months. But I have already developed loyalty for my team, pride in my students, and hope for the future. I think we’re in good hands.