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Jul 31 2002

Take time to relax with your family

 Categories:  Fondly, Carolyn Comments:   comments  Print Friendly Version  |   Share this item
Dear W:

I hope you and your family will be at this meeting I am about to attend. It is in your part of the country and in your mother's specialty, but I imagine you are probably so busy now with your own studies and activities that you don't accompany her anymore. Maybe your folks will be here, though, and I can get news of you. Your parents are two people who know how to relax in healthy, positive ways. You have had a good example. You know already how important it is for a physician to "Take Time to Relax with Your Family."

Because they wanted to return to their desert origins after residency, your parents concluded they would never again live close to water. So, long before they could afford to do any such thing, they bought a beautiful mahogany sailboat to explore the Chesapeake Bay. They learned all about sailing and taught their closest friends as well. We had great fun on that boat. They ultimately sold it for more than they had originally paid! As a toddler, you were a very good helper and seemed to enjoy the boat, too. I wonder if you remember.

Your brother, C, was too young then to fully enjoy the boat, but I hope your parents have relaxed with him, too. When residency ends and practice starts, it can become harder to find the time to relax. Many physicians go through a time when they relax very little and that hurts them and their families. To relax with your family means to let go of worries and to have fun, not just to do dutiful things. Relaxing requires a little more time, preparation, and rest than just showing up does, and that extra time is very difficult to find. Most physicians are driven, responsible people who go to as many of our children's arts performances and sporting events as possible, but, due to fatigue and stress, may end up looking like the woman in the Allegra® ad ("Low Interest or High Pollen?")! That is certainly better than not going at all, but I would heartily recommend setting aside time for yourself and your family when you are not on call or post-call -- time enough to relax and to genuinely enjoy each other. It doesn't have to be a lot of time, but it needs to be regular, reliable, and protected time. Treat yourself and your family as if, collectively, you are your favorite patient.

You might respond "Of course I will," but we all thought that when we were young and had not contended yet with the quicksand of a busy clinical day. Such a day can be fun, but it also can be mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausting, leaving you with no more words, attention, patience, or kind gestures for your own family. I recently read Tuesdays with Morrie, by Mitch Albom, a thoughtful little book about a successful media man who rediscovered life's beauty and his own priorities through visits with his dying mentor. I would say that you should read it, but better yet, wait and read it after a few years of practice.

Your family is your inner circle. Lately, my town, Huntersville, North Carolina, has been trying to define "a family" to determine who pays what membership fee for our new aquatic/sports center. This debate began in response to several same-sex couples who had adopted children, considered themselves families, and hoped to pay the family rate at the center. Also, there were divorcees whose children visit on weekends, common law couples, adult children still living with their parents, elderly parents living with their adult children, live-in nannies and exchange students, and so on. Huntersville's commissioners eventually wrote a reasonable definition of a family, involving domicile, length of relationship, sharing of expenses, etc. It was an intriguing philosophical exercise for our times.

Here in Mecklenburg County, the physicians are a varied group, and many have experienced personal tragedies, disappointments, and other challenges. Some have been widowed, and some have very ill spouses. Some are divorced; some have a sick or special-needs child. Many have aging parents, and some have nontraditional households. These situations add stress and may magnify the tendency of many physicians to become workaholics and to be vulnerable to substance abuse, burnout, depression, and divorce. It is therefore very important that we support each other's need to have "Time to Relax with Our Families."

W, I need to go now and register for this meeting. I can't wait to find out if you are here! If so, how about getting our families out by the pool for a little R&R?


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