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Keeping Physician Work-Life Balance in Stormy Weather


Hurricanes and blizzards cause us to remember our humanity, to focus on necessary aspects of our overstuffed lives.

As I write this, we are safe in the middle of the country away from Sandy’s wrath. However, in the Midwest we battle with blizzards and tornadoes. During the winter, as I listen to the news for information on the weather, much like those living on the Eastern seaboard are doing now, I try to plot the best course. Will my husband be able to get up early enough to clear our driveway of snow before I have to get to work? Will it be slick on the roads or will I get to follow in a giant snowplow’s wake?  What if one of my patients goes into labor in the middle of the blizzard? 

Weather blows into our lives in unexpected ways and can wreak havoc.  It’s always stressful to figure out whether the kids will be in school or not, whether the clinic will be closed or not, and whether activities will be cancelled. If they are, will we be stuck scheduling a make-up time in an already packed schedule? 

A few years ago, the tornado watch/warning was severe enough that we had to bring our patients in the clinic down to the basement to wait out the threat. As I sat down there with our nurses and a dozen or so patients, I felt frustrated that I was getting further and further behind and bemoaned that our electronic health record wasn’t working because of the weather. One of our patients that day was a weatherman. He paced the room anxiously, wanting to be out in the weather that he spent so much time reporting on.  

Storms, whether literal or figurative, can disrupt our careful plans and organized schedules. I remember one weekend that was so cold that it wasn’t safe to leave the house. It was a packed weekend and everything was canceled. It was great! I never get the gift of a whole weekend with nothing to do.  However, my response to the storms of life is usually not so positive. Like the weatherman pacing in the basement of the clinic, I don’t handle those types of disruptions so well. 

However, storms can also bring things into startling clarity. It’s like loading your car as you evacuate your coastal town. What goes in the car? Probably not the knickknacks and books and extra clothes. Definitely your kids and your spouse and your dog. When people go to the store to stock up, they aren’t picking out garlic-stuffed olives and debating over the frozen yogurt or soy ice cream.  Instead they get the necessities - bread, milk, and toilet paper.  

Storms usually aren’t fun except possibly for the weathermen, but they can have a value. They most certainly disrupt work and life and the balance we hope to achieve between the two. But they also sometimes give us an enforced break from busy and hectic lives. They usually cause us to remember our humanity and that we’re all in this together. They help us to focus on the necessary and important aspects of our filled-to-the-brim overstuffed lives. And that’s not such a bad thing after all. 

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