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When a Patient Throws a Physician’s Work-Life Balance Out of Whack


When my patient went into labor the day I planned to take my family to a ball game, my whole schedule went topsy turvy.

Yesterday was yet another struggle in my own work-life balance battle. Some days I seem to float seamlessly from work to home with nary a problem but other days are like yesterday - my mind constantly flip-flopping between professional and personal obligations. I am heading out of the country on a combination business-pleasure trip for 10 days, sans kids or hubby. A couple of months ago, my husband and I decided that it would be a good idea to get tickets to a baseball game for last night so I could spend some time with the older kids before my trip.  

By yesterday morning, I was 95 percent of the way packed, and I felt confident I could get home on time and even have my charts completed, so that we could get to the game on time. The plan was working great until one of my patients showed up at the hospital in labor. This one event threw the rest of the day’s schedule topsy-turvy. I raced back and forth between the hospital and my office several times to break her water or check on her progress, while trying to stay on time with my scheduled patients. It was my medical assistant’s last day with me and she had hired a singing gorilla as a surprise for me. When she found out I may have to leave to deliver a baby, she had her own moment of crisis wondering if I’d be around for the surprise. Fortunately, the gorilla was able to come early, making us both happy - she was happy her surprise worked out and I was happy that it was a gorilla and not a stripper.

I consulted with my husband, myself, and my partner who was on call multiple times about what would happen if my patient didn’t deliver before the game. I felt guilty for staying at the hospital to deliver and disappointing my kids. I felt equally guilty for abandoning my patient in labor to a new doctor so that I could go to a baseball game. I allowed the stress of this event to distract me from the patients I saw in clinic and to diminish the joy that always accompanies a beautiful delivery by a patient I’ve come to know well. 

In the end, everything worked out fine. My patient delivered between the end of my clinic day and the beginning of the game. We made it to the game just a little bit late and thoroughly enjoyed watching the home team win, eating nachos, hot dogs, and funnel cakes, even staying to watch the post-game fireworks.

As I sat in the bleachers enjoying a perfect moment in my life, I realized that once again, despite my worry and frantic attempts at controlling all the details, things worked out just fine.  

Find out more about Jennifer Frank, MD, and our other Practice Notes bloggers.

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