When I was my first year of residency, I did my 8-week neurosurgery rotation. I have all the respect in the world for neurosurgeons (I mean, apart from the blatant overuse of the “This isn’t brain surgery…” joke), but neurosurgery is not for me. Everyone thinks ICU is the most intense, but it’s not–at least, not for me. I remember being so tired and so busy and dealing with so many sick patients that about 3 weeks in, I started having what I’ve described to my friends as, “elevator escape fantasies” where I fantasized getting onto one of the hospital elevators and getting trapped inside, unable to answer my pager and just being able to curl into a little ball on the floor to get some sleep. That’s right. Some people’s terror-filled nightmare was my escape fantasy. I would take the elevator all of the time (except for real emergencies) on the off chance that I would get stuck. It never happened. And eventually, the rotation came to an end, and I lived to tell the tale.
When I think back on those really tough weeks, there was a lot that I couldn’t control. I can tell you what I couldn’t control: I couldn’t control when to work out. I couldn’t control when to study. I couldn’t control when to go home, or when to wake up (4:30am, if you must know). I couldn’t control when to eat. On call, I wasn’t even in control of my sleep. To a certain degree, nothing has really changed since those neurosurgery days. I have a little more control, but just last week, we were up until 4:30am re-attaching a thumb. But even in that chaos, there were things that I could control: I could control WHAT I ate. I could decide to work out on days that I wasn’t on call (on the days I was DOG tired, I could decide to just walk INTO the gym and let the workout fall as it would). And I could control my decision to take the stairs or the elevator (The elevator, always the elevator, because you really can’t get stuck in a stairwell–AND people are more likely to notice an elevator not working and therefore, find you, whereas getting stuck in a stairwell most likely means something bad has happened to you…See how thoroughly my fantasies are thought out?)
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