Tag Archives: Cancer

What School Doesn’t Teach You

2 Mar


Going to PA school is a full-time job. There are hours and hours of lectures that cover every body system and every possible thing that could go wrong. At times you start to believe that you have that rare genetic disorder that consists of frequent leg twitching and abnormal knuckle hair. Or maybe the lecturer covered abnormal moles and suddenly all of your “beauty marks” look like melanoma. At some point during the didactic year, you have to just ignore all the bad things that you might develop in your life or else you might become paralyzed. Just continue to drink from the fire hose and make it out alive to start practicing medicine. One thing that PA school did not prepare me for was family illness. There was not a single lecture entitled “How to Stand By a Loved One Who Gets Sick”, or “How to Walk Gracefully Along Side a Parent Who is Diagnosed With Cancer”.

Want to read more?  I guest posted today on Stories and Mischief.  Please click the link to read the rest of my story.


How to Go to Work When You Are Sad

5 Nov

Sadness Comes, Even When You Have to Work

Working with sick people is hard. You see young people stricken with illness, fathers and mothers take their last breath, depressed people try to end their own lives. I was made for this stuff. For some reason, God wired me in such a way that I can help people with just the right amount of protection so that I don’t come home a sloppy, tearful mess every day. That was, until my dad was diagnosed with cancer.

Fall of 2013. Doing my thing, taking care of my kids, going to work, staying the course. Suddenly I find myself down at Mayo to visit my dad because they found he had a showering of PEs (blood clots) in his lungs. And a mass.

Soon I found myself back at work. At first I kept the fact that my father had cancer to myself. The fact that he suffered two strokes because the cancer liked to make clots and fire them off to critical parts of his brain was my tightly held secret.

The ER has a perceived grit. A toughness. We go to work unless we physically can not. Maybe this is my own misconception, but I was scared to tell my coworkers and supervisor that my dad was getting sicker. I didn’t want to be viewed as the weak link, when in fact, maybe I was. I couldn’t keep it a secret anymore.

Here is what I observed in my own life that maybe will help you if you ever (God forbid) find yourself in my situation. I was distracted at work. I couldn’t concentrate. Decision fatigue would creep its way early into my shift. The worst, WORST, part of going to work while trying to deal with cancer? The fact that I could no longer separate myself emotionally from my patients. When my dad was diagnosed with cancer, suddenly every one of my patients also had the same affliction. Or at least it felt that way. I would be sitting with my patients and their families and listen not only to the reason they came into the ER, but the entire back story of why they decided to stop chemo, or how sad the family was when they learned of the diagnosis. There were stories of hope and loss. Taking their history suddenly went from a 15 minute, straight forward event, to an hour of shared stories and tears. This is not how an efficient ER is run.

I finally broke down and told my coworkers and my supervisor in December. It was a good decision and it gave me a little more room to breath. My attending doctors often times would encourage me to see a decreased patient load, to take a break if I needed, that if I wanted to take less complicated patients that would be okay.

Soon, my dad’s cancer became my new normal. The shock wore off and I was able to put my head down and work. At least I was able to make it through a shift without crying. I created a list that may help those that are struggling with a similar situation. It isn’t a happy list, but maybe you won’t make the same mistakes I did.

1) Talk to a supervisor early. Maybe they can temporarily decrease your workload, or adjust your position until you are back on your feet.

2) Don’t be afraid of talking to a professional. There are many of us who work in the healthcare field that see this as a sign of weakness. I call it survival.

That’s it. That’s my list. When it comes down to it, there is no good way to deal with tragedy. It will change you and it will change your practice style. I know that I am a more compassionate provider because of all my family went through last year. And I have less ability to put up with bull shit. Jury’s still out about if that one will propel or hinder me in my career. The thing is that when someone you love is hurting, it hurts you too. There is no easy way, short cut, or fast track to dealing with it. The sadness becomes a part of you and sits uncomfortably on your shoulder. I got used to it, for better or for worse.

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