Assuming the Sick Role

Let’s face it, physicians are not supermen or superwomen as much as people think we are; We do get bogged down by the physiological needs that every other human does. We do need to eat at the proper time, we do need to sleep to regain our energy and train of thought, and we do get sick.

I for one got a bug right now and it has debilitated me for the better part of the entire week. This caused me to miss my clinic duties. It is tough because I chose this career to in order to treat people who are ailing or at least do my best to increase their quality of life as it goes, but having the tables turned on me and now assuming the sick role hinders me from doing so.

I am a workaholic and I don’t like to be seen or labeled as someone that can’t be relied on, so being sick and having to miss my clinic duties is tough on my ego; All I can think about is letting my colleagues down, and most importantly, I feel I am letting my patients down.

But we were also taught in medicine that one physician has to take care of him or herself and stay healthy enough in order to treat other people.

With that said, there are still patients who don’t know what we are going through just to treat them; all those sleepless nights, all those sermons from our bosses, all the doubts that can cloud our judgment, and a multitude more of intangibles, add in the fact we are still human and are, like I mentioned above, still bogged down by physiological needs, the mere fact we try to take a short nap (10min nap is already heaven for us, by the way), have a quick snack since we are already hypoglycemic and suddenly have blurring of vision. or having to go to the bathroom real quick because the peristaltic rush is a bitch. It is the latter, tangible, aspects of being human that patients hate about us doctors. They expect us to be exempted from all that in order to be of service to them.

God forbid the physician gets sick.

Being away from work to recover my health and I am sure once I get back on the horse, I will make a run for it and be better than I was before I got ill and serve the patients the way we physicians aim to do. But there is a voice lingering, a thorn in my side, reminding me that I am failing my patients. With that mentality, let it be known that, each time we take a quick nap, we are thinking of our patients as we are counting sheep and how we can better treat that patient in the ER, also in taking a quick nap, makes us rest our weary minds and reset it to think more of the treatment; each time we take a snack, we tend to forget to chew, and in doing so, whet the mouths of our clerks/interns at the possibility of them carrying out the Heimlich Maneuver on us, just to finish the meal quickly enough to attend to the patient again immediately; and having to dispose a few pounds into the toilet rapidly and not realizing that the toilet paper ran out and hoping the same clerks/interns are not devilish enough to not give you a new roll when you ask them (I can always give them a demerit anyway).

Assuming the sick role reminded me how human I am as a physician and how vulnerable we are to being human. Let it be known that every waking hour, every minute passing, every second ticking, we are bound to our patients and we are as angry at ourselves for being human as the patients are. We just need someone out there to understand us… as humans.

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