The Insidiousness of Burnout

Yeah I know, it’s been a while since my last post. To be honest, other than switching from my NICU rotation to my current general pediatrics/nephrology/endocrinology inpatient rotation, not much has changed in the time between my last post and now.

We are all still practicing a whole lot of physical distancing in the midst of a pandemic caused by a wicked disease that continues to infect and take the lives of many people across the world. As more time passes by though, more and more people are deciding that they have had enough of self-isolation and are deciding to try and live their lives as if we aren’t in the middle of a global crisis. States are beginning to reopen as COVID cases continue to rise. State Supreme Courts are starting to overturn stay-at-home orders instituted by governors (*cough* WISCONSIN *cough*). Protesters across the nation are demanding state governments to reopen their respective states. All of this is causing a sharp divide between the people who are trying to continue practicing the safe precautions that have been advocated by health officials/professionals and the people who are deciding to take more aggressive measures to return to their normal lives even in the face of the cold, hard facts and the rising death toll.

In the middle of all this are the healthcare workers on the front lines who are still working day in and day out to help care for the patients who are infected with the virus as well as the patients who are in the hospital needing care for a variety of afflictions that have nothing to do with the virus. In addition, we also have the responsibility of trying to comfort the families of all the patients we care for during this stressful time while at the same time trying not to become ill ourselves. Granted, while there have been numerous COVID (+) pediatric cases in North Carolina, I have not yet had to interact with a patient afflicted with the virus one-on-one. However, there are a number of positive cases on the adult side in the hospital who are being cared for by multiple providers and my heart goes out to them as well as the many providers and healthcare workers across the world dealing directly with the virus. My heart also goes out to the patients who have been afflicted with the virus and their families. We are all living in some really tough times.

Over the course of these past few weeks, there were times where I was starting to feel mentally and physically exhausted. Between long stretches of work, the stress and mayhem that the pandemic has been causing, the uncertainty of the future, the ever-rising increase in the number of cases and deaths, and the toll that social distancing measures are taking on the population as a whole, I was starting to feel like I was burning out a bit. I just felt tired, numb, more agitated than usual, and it took more of an effort to put on a smile because my baseline mood had slowly become more cynical. I didn’t want to believe that I was burning out, mainly because I knew that there were providers out there who were dealing with situations more stressful than I was dealing with. Plus, I had a great support network and I was just on vacation two months prior so it wasn’t like I had been grinding nonstop for six months straight with no days off.

At the same time though, I had to force myself to remember that while I’ve acclimated to the lifestyle of a resident, it’s still not a normal lifestyle and was never meant to be a sustainable one either. I had to remind myself that fifteen days of working 10-12+ hour shifts with only one day off in between was not normal. I had to remind myself that witnessing intubated babies on ventilators, caring for babies with ostomy bags, devastated brains, and heart problems requiring open heart surgery was not normal. I had to remind myself that watching very premature babies die in front of me and actively dealing with cases suspicious for child abuse was not normal. I had to remind myself that trying to care for and reason with acutely psychotic children was not normal. I had to remind myself that participating in the complicated care for children with kidney rejection and placing central venous lines in infants who need ongoing IV antibiotics for a bloodstream infection was not normal.

I had to remind myself that doing what I do every single day is not normal.

ESPECIALLY IN THE MIDDLE OF A PANDEMIC.

Thankfully, I had people who I could talk to and I’m glad that I was able to eventually name my emotions so that I could try to effectively deal with them. I also have a senior resident who is all about promoting wellness and gave myself and my co-resident an extra day off, which really did wonders for my mood. It really is amazing how much of a difference taking one day off in the middle of an eight-day stretch of work can make on your well-being. I’m mentally and physically in a better place than I was in a couple of weeks ago, and am now ready to finish out this rotation on a high note. This wasn’t the first time I’ve felt hints of burnout, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. I just really hope that I’m aware of the signs and symptoms the next time the wave hits and that I’m able to express my feelings to someone as opposed to trying to either consciously or subconsciously suppress them.

Dang, I’m ending on a bit of a somber note again today. I definitely don’t want to make this a new habit…..okay how about this: shoutout to Carolyn Maloney for introducing a bill to forgive student loans for frontline healthcare workers! This would be SOOO HUGE and would definitely be a very concrete way to help out people in the field of healthcare as we continue to deal with this pandemic! 🙏🏿

I hope that you all continue to stay safe, sane and healthy though these tough times!

“If you listen to your body when it whispers, you won’t have to hear it scream.” – Unknown

– Black Man, M.D.

P.S. – May the souls of Ahmaud Arbery, Sean Reed, and Breonna Taylor rest in eternal peace. And may their killers be brought to true justice. Racism is clearly still alive. We need to continue doing all we can to combat this systemic scourge that is deeply infiltrated within our society. #DeathToIgnorance

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