I took time off from work last week – the first week I have had off since January 2020. It was not a complete holiday since I had gone away to write, but it was a complete break from my usual work. Internet was lousy and cell phone coverage was even worse. I disconnected from my usual worries and slept with a quiet mind for the first time in months.
I needed the break and I had one. The only time I thought about work, it was not related to me. It was related to other doctors, still working without a break since the pandemic began.
Are we really doing what we must to address the stress that doctors are feeling because of the pandemic?
How are doctors managing and what happens when they cannot manage any longer? Shifts away now and then, or a week off here and there is not enough to recover from the months of worry doctors have had.
When I was away, I lived in a woodstove-heated cabin in Northern Ontario. It was a simple existence compared to my normal caffeine-fuelled, stress-filled days. I could see moose on my morning walks. A seven-foot tall moose about a hundred yards in front of you focusses the mind. Problems related to antidepressant doses and paperwork dissolve. One is reminded of more elemental concerns. Rather than wondering about viruses mutating, I tried to remember lichen, which lived on the rocks of the Canadian Shield that surrounded me. Lichens live in symbiosis: a fungus with an alga. How like a lichen I am most of the time! I too live in symbiosis, but in my case, the living organism that that I live with is a hospital, the health care system.
For seven months, I have been living in symbiosis with a hospital, the worries of the health system and the hospital becoming my worries. Whether the system and the hospital can manage somehow determining whether I will manage. It is insidious how doctors’ lives can be linked to their practices. It is only by detaching that we realize that this symbiosis is not real. The system and our institutions depend on doctors’ flexibility and creativity and our willingness to care, no matter the personal cost. With all the demands on a doctors’ day, demands that often extend past normal working hours, we seem to become dependent on this relationship. When the system rewards us, the relationship can seem to be mutually beneficial. But is it?
The fungus and the alga that compose the lichen live together, each benefitting the other, we are told.
But is that true? Does each benefit to the same degree? Do they like it? Does it really work, or does one of the elements need the other more? Does one of the elements like the other more?
I want my symbiosis with the hospital and the health care system to be more like lichen.
Lichens have a slow relationship, unchanging. Lichen lives in the sunshine and the moonlight. I want more slow in my very fast world. I want more light. I want rocks and cold and moose turned toward me. I want reminders that my own life is real too.