April 23, 2008

Because I Can't Treat Myself

So I've been pretty sick this week. I attribute this to a conversation I had on Sunday about how it was remarkable I had escaped the winter unscathed by any illness, the karma gods hearing my brash comments, and proceeding to strike me down with an acute upper respiratory tract infection.

Now being sick sucks, but being sick in medicine seems to step beyond that... it's almost taboo. Part of it makes sense, I guess - akin to a Banana Republic employee showing up to work in 10 year old sweats or an interior designer having an apartment that looks like it's a bachelor pad from the mid 70's (though I guess retro is in these days, or so my cosmo tells me). There seems to be a perception, even subconsciously held by health care practitioners, that since we deal all day with studying and treating sickness, we should be able to avoid the black magic we conjure. There does seem to be some truth to this. As a gross generalization, people in medicine seem to be much more vigilant about taking the vitamins, washing the hands, and living healthy than the general public. Maybe its a self-imposed responsibility. Maybe its hospital protocol. Maybe its expectations that in medicine we have too much to do, too much work to afford the time to give our bodies time to heal.

But being sick still sucks, and really is unavoidable in the grand scheme of life. Trying to focus your mental energy on learning the clotting cascade simply does not seem to mesh when your body is focused on fighting an infection. And my preceptor seemed almost offended that I would not be able to report to clinic because I was under the weather. Who cares if I was going to be around immunosuppressed children and could at any moment break into a coughing fit that would deposit my right lung onto said child's face? How dare you be sick. I've heard grand stories of physicians battling through their illnesses. Residents taking call with a nasty case of gastroenteritis - running to the bathroom in between patients. Surgeons operating days after having an MI. It's admirable, and I'll probably be guilty of similar shenanigans in my lifetime, but also strikes me as kind of stupid. What if that resident makes a stupid mistake because the acidic taste in their mouth haywired their brain function? What if that surgeon goes down in the OR with a recurrent MI from pushing too hard when their heart is too weak?

I guess it comes down to the age old debate of where one's responsibility to their patients clashes with one's responsibility to their self. Most would argue your allegiances lie primarily with the patient. Most would also argue that you can't adequately serve the patient if you cannot first serve yourself. Still, I wonder what a patient's reaction would be if they got a call from their doctor's office saying their appointment was canceled because the doctor called in sick?

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