Sign Out: What about MY workweek?!?

March 1, 2006

I'm worried about my quality of life. Don't get me wrong; I love what I do for a living. It's just that sometimes it gets a little scary.

I'm worried about my quality of life. Don't get me wrong; I love what I do for a living. It's just that sometimes it gets a little scary. Like when I get home at 11 pm and my husband and son both stare at me, slack-jawed, as I storm through the house pointing out that nobody cleaned the bird cage, nobody watered the plants, nobody changed the water in the flower vase (which is now growing a fuzzy white substance all around it and contains dead, brown, shedding flowers and leaves), nobody emptied the dishwasher, etc. And all before I say "Hello."

Being a twitchy, hyper, somewhat gonzo lunatic is what got me into ob/gyn to begin with! The endurance contest of residency gave me battle scars of which I am proud. Sure, it was abusive and outrageous, but that was part of "the life." My generation accepted it passively; it never occurred to us to try to change it. But now that the 80-hour resident workweek is a reality, I sort of feel like a chump.

The rational part of me fully understands that this is reality. But that doesn't make it any less weird for someone who came of age as an ob/gyn in the era of total immersion. I'll never forget the Sunday I set out on a jog with my soon-to-be-husband in Sheep Meadow Park. After about a mile, I was so tired that I told my fiancé I was going to lay down in the grass and go to sleep, and he could find me there when he finished his loop. And then a year later, we went apartment hunting in Boston and discovered a sleeping woman in the empty bedroom of one flat, dead to the world at high noon. What could put someone in such a stupor? A night on-call as a second-year ob/gyn resident. The realtor and my husband were astonished, but not me; I'd been there, many times.

Was there any advantage to the old-school, macho-derived attitude that a brutal amount of work and a numbing barrage of patients is the "best" way to learn our specialty? The question is moot. Current training programs will not allow it. The new regulations probably are the right way to go, even though I do feel that we need more flexibility to accommodate exceptional circumstances and exceptional people. What I really wonder about is the coming generation of trainees. Will their training have an impact on how they balance their work and personal lives? And sometimes, driving home on the Cross Bronx Expressway, knowing I am going to be coming back in the other direction in less than 6 hours, I wonder who's going to regulate MY workweek. I certainly never learned how.