With the past episodes of “House: The One Year We Lived at Work”, I am certain most readers would wonder, so, how do these ones not lose it? How do they go through all these physical, emotional, definitely financial and psychological turmoil for years and still keep their heads on their necks?
How we get by
Today, I will try as much as I can, to highlight some of the things that we lean into or on in an attempt to scale through. The truth is, the efficacy of some of these things has not been proven or even scientifically looked into, and neither can all of them be vouched for to be safe, even from the medical perspective. While, many of them would be based on my personal experiences and some of my close friends, some of them are just what others use. So, kindly don’t look at me through the lens of today’s write up.
Another thing I’d like to put out before we go into the core issue is that, despite these support systems and defense mechanisms, the suicide rate among doctors is on the rise and it does not seem like it will come down anytime soon. The risk factors for depression, drug dependence and other mental disorders are abundant in the healthcare system. These doctors who are seemingly seen to continue working without even breaking a sweat are sometimes laden with lots of personal issues that they cannot share with anyone, even if they want to. Thing is, most do not even want to share because they do not want to be seen as weak. It is hard for many of them to even acknowledge physical illnesses, talk less of something mental. So, next time you notice a doctor friend or family member seems addicted to something, before you open your ‘advice filled’ mouth, be sure you have something better to offer.
See why I said even from the medical perspective, some of these things are not right but it is what it is. Chocolate bars, pastries, biscuits, you name it. If you see a doctor with a cross body bag or a packed bag maybe for call, it is almost certain that there would be something like that inside. Cooking is a luxury. Settling down to eat, as in, table and chair or comfortably reclining on your bed kind of eating, is a privilege. And you know that post-prandial sleep most people experience? We only have that after dinner and the truth is, even if we don’t eat, the sleep is as instant as post-prandial sleep. In fact, we snore!
This sure looks like the converse of number one. I’ve been told by colleagues that when they can, cooking is a genuine stress reliever and it gives you an avenue to work out your vexation at some situations and people. I mean, if you can picture someone’s face while chopping onions or washing plates without fear or trembling, maybe you would feel some relief that you’ve done your own back. Also, being hit with the different aromas can wipe off the sad memories either by triggering overwhelming positive emotions or make you cry out all the pent up tears without being laughed at. You’ll just say, “The onions are quite spicy, that’s all”.
I don’t think I can adequately capture this. So, I’ll just use the words from some of my friends;
” Have you heard of the magic called food????????? I don’t think I need to tell you how I am now a member of the chop life gang! EAT. EAT. And eat some more! To all the food names I can’t pronounce but I have pictures of. Food; I ate like a king on most calls. Food…Really, it works.”
“I felt so stressed everyday, so, I just used to look for a new place to hang out (food must be involved sha) whenever I am not on call. In the space of three months, I knew which place had the best shawarma, which spot had nice pepper soup or food, which one was unnecessarily expensive. In short, food was my solace. Once i eat one good food like this, it is sleep till the next morning review, percussion and tension. if i perish, i perish. And yes, more food. I learnt to eat Iya Bash.”
“I think my real coping mechanism is food though. I have eaten at nearly every restaurant in Lagos this year.”
Take a random group of ten medical practitioners and you are almost sure to get at least 50% of them addicted to soft drinks, especially coke and Pepsi.
The instant sugar rush, the euphoria, the zzzzz feeling that spreads round your buccal cavity before traveling smoothly down your throat and the coolness that spreads all through your body… nah, nothing beats that. So, in addition to junk food, we are bottle bearers.
“The first day I resumed to Endo, they said we have 50 patients to do rounds for and there is clinic by 12pm. Nobody begged me before I swallowed one bottle coke to prepare for the day and that became my routine every single morning till i left Endo. Coke saved my life baje because the kind of rounds we do in Endo are ‘world rounds“. And for those who don’t get the desired high from soft drinks… Hold one.
Yeah, these are not safe in the medical horizon either but they do provide this oblivion an individual can plunge into. So, for some doctors, they wait till they have free weekends and drown then drown themselves in all sorts of alcoholic drinks…either going solo or surrounded by friends. Meanwhile, some do not even wait for the weekend. You can almost always catch a whiff of alcohol when you walk past them. Most of them still function reasonably well even with their bloodstream half diluted with alcohol.
Yessss. We read a lot. And this really does not include medicine related books. I am forever grateful to Dr. Lamide Odetola who introduced me to the AnyBooks app. I have binged on so many books and gotten to know even more authors (although, I still do not keep tabs on authors). Seeing as we really cannot be carrying hard copies everywhere, such an app is of utmost importance. I have formed an interesting friendship with people based on reading books and comparing notes. Dr. Adewusi Ope is notorious for this.
It is weird how we get back to our places tired and fagged out, yet, we still attempt watching movies. You see. It is a very passive means of letting off steam. There is a high possibility that we would sleep off while watching the movies, but, we start them anyway. It may take days to finish just one episode but we can be very committed when we want to be. I mean, I started watching Suits this year and I am at season 8… finally. I know I still have season 9 to go but I will not quickly forget the days of dozing off on Mike and Rachel having one of their sweet moments.
Bless you Peaches, bless you Ibilola, bless you Augustina Imohiosen, bless you Ife Akinbande, bless you Ay Afolabi, bless you… I can’t even mention all. This is a special shout out to the few, rare, minute fraction of non-medical friends that actually understand or try to understand us and show their support in different ways. You guys are special. Then, to the medical guys that we get to share gist with, rant to, cry to, and have a very good laugh afterwards… you guys are AMAZING!!!
“Timi, Tope, Bisola- these ones took care of me as if i was their child. they made housejob so easy.”
These ones do the most random checkups, at least on my side. They can get busy with life as expected but they never forget you.
And it sometimes feel like they know just when you need that familiar voice, when your account is screaming in anguish or when you just need laughter in your life. And they always believe in you, giving you the accolades of a consultant while you are a still a bloody houseofficer. I’ll let Debby be the representative of family this time.
“My mum was literally counting down with me till the end of OnG and she will tell me, ma worry, that is how it was for me too during housejob. it will soon finish.”
When we plug in, we tune out. We are not aware of the noise that threatens to overwhelm us, or the doubts lurking in the shadows or the weakness that creeps upon the vulnerable. We are kings and queens in our realms, off key or not, we rule that world. And that is why when you are considering gifts for us, a good earpiece or headset is never wrong.
To be continued…part 2
2 thoughts on “Support systems and defense mechanisms in the medical profession”
Hi Dr. Eunice. I just thought to comment on your recent series. I’ll be starting House job in a few days and it’s needless to say how scared I am of the whole thing. I’ll also be doing it in one of the worst places to do it. However, your series on your own experiences gives me the hope that it will not/doesn’t have to be all-round terrible experience. Thank you for that.
heyyyyyy. first off, thank you for reaching out. the truth is it is a bed of roses: good flowers and all mixed in with thorns heere and there. the system will try to get you down and if it wheer i think it is, the toxicity will bring you low on some days. you may find yourself sapped of energy on many occasions but i am certain you will get rewards in the smiles and appreciations of your patients. some of them will offer you money, recharge cards, transport fare, food… or even force them on you. you will see previously bed ridden people walk out of the hospital alive and you’d be glad you were part of the team that made that possible. Chin up! shoulders high! one year will be over soon. much love.