At the end of my intern year, as my classmates headed off to vacation on tropical islands, I found myself taking my board exam and having a colonoscopy. It was not quite the reward that completion of internship deserved, but I took advantage of my limited free time to schedule these necessities and having that sort of freedom was a bit of a luxury in itself.
Balancing my personal life and residency left me feeling like I dashed from one activity to another with little time to decompress. My thirty-minute bus ride to and from the hospital was the closest I came to me-time and watching reality TV before falling asleep on my couch was my weekly mini-vacation. So after a year of 80-hour work weeks, having a week off to do as I pleased minus one day of colonoscopy prep still felt luxurious.
Nothing about a colonoscopy is fun, but it ended up being more spa-like than I imagined. After the short procedure, the nurses informed me that I would wake up in a recovery room and at that time my husband could take me home. The entire thing from start-to-finish was supposed to be an hour or two at most. Once I started to drift back into consciousness, feeling the crinkling of the stretcher’s plastic covering beneath me and the nurses chatter at their nearby station, I inquired about what time it was. Even on vacation, I felt compelled by a drive for efficiency and my mind started to jump to what I next needed to accomplish before my body was even ready to move. My nurse came over and with a hand on my shoulder said, “Oh sweetie, you have been sleeping for four hours. We knew how exhausted you must be so we just let you sleep.” Four hours! I was so embarrassed that this open stretcher in an anesthesia recovery room surrounded by dinging monitors and doctor banter had been one of the best naps I had in a year. I imagined the nurses walking passed me for hours, probably shaking their heads in pity at the poor resident sleeping in the colonoscopy suite. How had I let myself get to this point?
A few years and two kids later, I sometimes still feel this way. I have found respite in activities that others would deem unpleasant, like the dentist, or circling for a parking spot. These chores, when done alone, force me to disconnect from work, media, and childcare responsibilities. I cannot rush them, have no interruptions, and unlike my typical day where I take care of others, I am able to sit alone with my thoughts and reflect on what I need.
While I’m not rushing to schedule another colonoscopy or additional dentist visits, these experiences have reminded me the importance of scheduling time to take care of myself, unplug, and decompress. When life gets hectic or I feel myself getting run down, I take an hour or so to treat myself to some pampering or simply take a nap. I hope that regular attention to my own well-being will mean that I no longer need anesthesia to help me slow down and relax.