Saturday, January 16, 2010

Anesthesia Rage

Despite all my rage I am still just a rat in a cage.
Smashing Pumpkins

Pardon me if I sound surly today. I'm currently doing the third night in a string of every other night calls and just the tiniest annoyances can push my buttons. Being on call is probably the worst part of being an anesthesiologist. Sure patients have to be treated at any time of day but that doesn't make that 3:00 AM phone call to come in for that stab wound to the chest any easier to take.

Being on call is the one thing in my professional life I feel like I have no control over. You can't do anything normal during that 24 hour period. You can't go out to dinner without worrying about getting called in during the middle of appetizers. You can't attend your children's school events without having to take two cars, in case you get paged and have to drive back, leaving your family behind. All I can do is sit around the house, just waiting. I can barely sleep at night on call. The thought of that damn pager buzzing me awake keeps my brain from completely letting go of consciousness and at best I toss and turn until dawn. The on call insomnia is actually getting worse the older I get. I thought I would get used to it but I never do.

Not only is the thought of the call beeper going off stressful, it's the "what the hell will I be facing when I answer this page?" thought that keeps me awake. On call, you don't get to have a nice little schedule printed out ahead of time so you can look up the patient's history and plan the anesthetic. Will the next page be a quick ten minute D+C? Or a full blown multiple GSW victim requiring placement of multiple lines, running two Level 1 blood transfusers while wading through a lake of blood on the OR floor? Psychologically the anticipation of these things just don't get any easier despite having more experience.

The grumbling about call schedules is worse among the younger members of our group. But you will get no sympathy when this issue is brought up at group meetings. The older members go into their condescending mode and start saying "When I was working here at your age, we had calls q 3 nights while trudging into the hospital through ten foot high snow drifts and dodging gangbanger crossfire on our bicycles."

Yes I love my job as an anesthesiologist. But taking calls will be the thing that finally induces me to retire. The stress burden makes me inappropriately cross with other hospital staff, patients, and sometimes my own family. God I hate taking calls.

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