In an instant, I knew I was unwell. It was 2000, and I was 37 with young children at home. I’d been an attending for five years, but I was working longer hours than I did as a resident. We scheduled one MICU attending for two to four-week blocks. There were no night attendings, so every night, throughout the night, we were called with new admissions. I attended half the year, so my sleep was persistently short and interrupted. I wasn’t exercising and I’d gained 20 pounds. One day, I decided to take an easy 3-mile run around the neighborhood, but after 3 blocks, I was hyperventilating and lightheaded and knew I had a problem.
We doctors have an impressive ability to neglect our well-being, and I was Exhibit A. But with that epiphany, I knew something had to change. I was working hard to be a good father and husband, good doctor, and good teacher, but I was neglecting my physical and mental health.
It was a transformative moment. I began exercising almost every day- running, biking, or hiking. I aimed for seven hours of sleep each night, which became possible when our MICU became one of the first in the country to hire night attendings. At dinner, I slowed down and (usually) stopped eating when I was full. I prioritized time with family and friends, traveling with Heide and the girls, visiting my parents, and going out with my pizza buddies.
The first principle of wellness is self-care. It’s for that reason, when I meet with trainees, I always ask about the pillars of self-care, if you’re eating, sleeping, exercising, and socializing. If you’re not, it’s time to start. No doubt many of you can add personal pillars, like yoga, meditation, and prayer. I need to keep my desk neat and start each day with a mug of dark roast and The New York Times. I need to end each day with a novel or history book. If I neglect any of these, I quickly grow tired, scattered, and irritable.
I’d never hold myself up as a paragon of wellness. When I have too much going on, I tend to slip into burgers and ice cream, missed bike rides, lost sleep, and hours alone in my office. But as Program Director, I have to set an example, and I invite you to hold me accountable. Thankfully, I know most of you take better care of yourselves than I did at your age.
So let’s resolve to care for ourselves- to eat, sleep, exercise, and socialize. Our bodies, minds, families, friends, and patients deserve no less. Next week, we’ll discuss what we can do as a program to help everyone stay well.
And now I’m headed out for a brisk bike ride,
PS- Last week, we lost a dear faculty member, Dr. Laura Whitman. Dr. Whitman was a Resident and Chief Resident in the Traditional Program, an Associate Program Director, and a Medical Director in the NHPCC. Above all, she was a beloved colleague and friend. Please hold Laura’s family in your hearts. I’ve attached a beautiful tribute to Dr. Whitman, written by Dr. Seonaid Hay, for those of you who haven’t seen it.
PPS- Recommended reading in honor of tomorrow’s Martin Luther King Day: The Kind of Revolution That Martin Luther King Jr. Envisioned