My house is full of 7th graders; it’s a big party to say goodbye to my son’s friend who is moving away. As I begin to fall asleep over my computer in the home office, I think about the chaotic nature of my job.
Earlier that day I was awoken at 1 am with the news that an obstetrics patient was ruptured, and the resident was going to start Pitocin. Great, I thought, now I won’t have to worry about her anymore and stress out about the planned induction for next week that I probably was not going to be able to go to because of clinic and after-school activities.
I couldn’t sleep after that call, so I went to the hospital at 5 am and worked in the call room until I had to come home to prepare for the 19 children coming to my house after school—all before my patient delivered.
My head was spinning from all I was thinking of: managing a dysfunctional labor, worrying about the well-being of the baby, and buying 24 pumpkin cookies at Costco. I felt like I was on a roller coaster. It’s chaos.
Some days I wonder how I can be an effective physician with all of these thoughts and to-dos. My patients’ well-being is reliant on my ability to be present and pay attention to detail. No wonder so many of us are up at night panicked that we have forgotten something.
The most peaceful times in my life are when I can only do one thing at a time. Seeing patients is fabulous and is all that I am thinking about. Writing a paper is a wonderful, all-absorbing feeling of accomplishment and intellectual stimulation. Being home after school with my kids is always an adventure and controlled chaos.
The goal every day is to be present and focused on one thing at a time. This is how I can be an effective physician and parent. I stay present and focused by changing my hats. It’s just as we learn to compartmentalize during training—putting work in one box, life in the other.
I remember when my children were young and I would visualize changing hats during the drive home from work. I mentally put away the doctor hat, saved for a time later in the evening when I would finish my charting, and put on my mom hat. This visualization helped me transition between being a doctor and being a mom.
However, the smooth transition between roles can be interrupted by many external factors—lack of sleep, an illness in the family, or a crisis at work. Today, I am tired and will try to get through the night and go to bed early. My aim is to be easy on myself and set reachable goals on these recovery days. Simply making it through the day or night is often an accomplishment in itself.
How do you handle the chaos of work-life balance? Do you compartmentalize or change hats? Share your story in the comments below.