Burnout

The ocean sprawls out to infinity, palm trees swaying, white caps rolling. I sit on the king-sized bed, laptop in front of me. It’s quiet. In the adjoining room, my two babies sleep soundly on separate beds, their bodies framed with pillows packed tightly around them. Their ‘nests’. Adam and Amy’s baby kicks sharply under my right ribs – her favourite place to stretch out. I mindlessly rub the spot reflexively. 

Ocean views.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had the space to sit in silence. So busy are the days. Mornings rushed, cramming the to-do list that was created in my 3am sleepless brain into the space of an hour. Get up, shower, get the kids up, hustle them through breakfast, wrangle them into clothes, get Henry out the door with Blake to the bus on time, ready myself for work, get Alice and I out the door, drop Alice off at daycare, rush to work. The pattern repeats every morning. A race fuelled by pleas, bribes and yelling. I hate it. 

At work, the prenatal clinic is always packed. Women wait for hours, lining up for their ultrasounds, blood work and nursing assessments. By the time they see me, 4 hours later, I bear the brunt of their anger. I nod empathetically – they’re tired and hungry, their toddler needs a nap. I too haven’t eaten nor had a moment alone in the bathroom since I started the day. But I never say that. I do my best to optimize their obstetrical risks – IV drug use, cocaine, a growth-restricted baby, a congenital anomaly. I hear their stories of violence, not having enough food to go around, the grief of missing their three year-old’s birthday while ‘confined’ in Sioux Lookout, waiting and waiting for their baby to be born. ‘Confined’ – an awful word, but so readily captures the sentiment that women often feel. Away from their babies at home. My heart breaks, but there isn’t time right now for that. That’s for 3am. I consult our social worker and cram a handful of almonds into my mouth between dictations and calling the maternal fetal medicine specialist in Winnipeg. ‘I’m just a family doc’, I say. 

By 3pm, I finally get a bathroom break. I notice that my make-up is smudged. I wonder how long long it’s been like that. I look tired. Lines etched so deeply into my face. 

Our clinic staff works until the very last patient is seen. We aren’t like other medical clinics – if someone doesn’t show up to their appointment, we work diligently until we track them down and bring them in. Another woman is scheduled at 10am but straggles in at 4pm. We see her as thoroughly as we would have if she had presented on time. With addictions, a heavy social burden and many medical issues to work through – we care deeply about our patients and their unborn babes, not why they didn’t show up on time. It makes for long days though. 

At 4pm, I hustle to the parking lot, hoping to be able to pick up Alice. My cell phone rings as I climb into our beat up Honda Element. Fetal distress on the monitor, another woman is now 8cm. I call Blake – ‘Can you pick up Alice?’, and head back inside through ER doors. 

By 6pm, I’m home. The kids are in their jammies, their hair wet from the bath. At the door, they are both talking to me at once as Ada butts her nose in for attention. I dump my bag, shed my jacket to the bench and am instantly reading their bedtime stories, savouring the precious 45 minutes before bed. Despite my growling tummy, dinner will wait until their last goodnight song has been sang. I pray for my phone to remain silent. As in the morning, the time spent with their chubby cheeks and bright eyes is condensed into an hour that flashes by. 

Am I doing this right? This parenting doctor thing? I feel impossibly stretched and the tears flow too easily. My temper gets shorter with each night of broken sleep. Do they know that I love them so much it hurts even when I drop pieces of Lego on to the floor and run out the door without explanation? Or when their small pleas of, ‘Mom, do you want to come play with me please?’ need to go ignored. I can only hope. In the same way that I cling to the fact that I have perhaps made one small positive change in seemingly endless stream of sadness at work. 

Then, finally, the ocean. The palm trees. The music that wafts up to our balcony. Unhurried days. Uninterrupted conversations with Blake. Eight continuous hours of sleep. Snowsuits traded for bathing suits. Recharge, before I’m drained again. 

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