How to Push the Reset Button
February 2008 Issue
I am on the way to part three of my residency story. I wish I could say this has been a fairy tale so far...but then I am a realist and don't believe in such stories. I could recount the time that I have spent at work since my last column, but instead I will communicate how I put the pen down for a moment, closed the book of my residency, and had a margarita.
Just before thanksgiving I went home to California and then to the wedding of two close friends who were getting married in Mexico. It was an exhilarating time, and even if I could remember, I don't think I should tell that story. However, since I took the trip, the word "vacation" has never had such a profound meaning to me.
The "daily grind" has a far deeper significance for the O&P profession, and like any other job it can wear you down to the bone. I cannot say that at the time of my vacation my knuckles had been torn so many times that they would not heal. I am young, and they were just forming a healthy callus. On the other hand, my skin was cracking from the constant modifications I was performing.
Understanding the ways of the working world can be stressful. Sometimes it does not matter whether you are competent or industrious. There are periods when it is simply a matter of how you get along with everyone around you and the general state of the business. This adds another element to the job description that is hard to control because it does not rely only on you. The best thing that you can do is ride the wave and try not to get sucked into the undertow. However, even the most avid swimmer gets exhausted at some point. That is when this Californian suggests heading for the security of familiar lands that bring you peace. Luckily for me, exhaustion came just before a pre-planned trip to go home.
Being in Los Angeles was a deliberately quiet time spent with family. Simply being with those who are close to you and with whom you are accustomed can really bring down the stress levels. It is a place of security. Even some quiet time spent by myself doing things I enjoy, in a place that I know intimately, was relaxing. When you work in a profession like ours or any profession in which you interact with people on a daily basis, you rarely get to be entirely yourself; some part of you is always blocked. I think this is especially true when you are starting out. Whether it is for the sake of professionalism with a patient or a co-worker or simply a lack of time to do exactly what you want at the moment, when you are at work your worker hat is on. I think it takes some time, if ever, to show the full spectrum of self in such a setting. So spending time with people and places that you know can be liberating.
My trip to Mexico was such a radical change in condition that it gave me a fresh perspective-even without the tequila. I had the perfect trifecta: a different culture, conversation with friends, and fun. Between seeing the world through the eyes of a Mexican and seeing myself by reflecting with my friends, I understood what has really mattered these past few months in my residency and in life. The fun and resulting laughter just lightened my soul...
For those who have ever struggled with a malfunctioning computer, sometimes the best remedy is to cross your fingers and push reset. If it is simply a system glitch, this usually is enough to solve the problem. To anyone who has the blue screen of death in front of his or her eyes, I suggest stepping away from the problem. It does not need to be far, but sometimes just changing your environment can give you an understanding and an appreciation for the book you feel bound to.
When I came back from my time away from work, it felt as though someone had pushed that button, and as a result things started running smoothly again. I was able to return to happily helping others alleviate their aliments so they too can have a well-deserved vacation.
Ronald A. Roiz is a resident at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC), Illinois. He is a graduate of the MSPO Program at the School of Applied Physiology at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia, and will be sharing his experiences as he completes his residency.