Call is a necessary evil in the world of medicine. Patients don’t stop delivering, problems don’t disappear, and consults don’t stop coming in just because it’s after 6pm or a weekend. In a hospital, someone has to be around to take care of patients 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Enter the concept of “call,” which is basically covering any duties beyond the Monday through Friday 7am-6pm normal work day. In my world of OB/GYN “call” is a bit of a misnomer – we aren’t hanging out at home “on call”, waiting to be called in. We are at the hospital when we take call, readily on hand in case a patient needs an emergent cesarean section or a trip to the OR for a ruptured ectopic. You may not always see us doctors, but someone is always there, haunting the halls, making sure everyone on the service is doing okay.
Usually we try to space out 24 hour calls, taking turns at the responsibility of living in the hospital, in order to ensure the maintenance of sanity. There is only so much sleep deprivation and stress a human body can handle. While some of our senior colleagues bemoan the advent of work hour restrictions and the more humane treatment of residents, I have to say these are good developments in medical training. As someone who has been awake for 36 hours straight, I can confirm there is a certain point of fatigue at which I become unsafe to practice medicine. Incorporating a degree of balance into medical training keeps patients safe and residents happy, decreasing errors and burnout alike.
Sometimes, however, you just gotta deal with a lot of call.
This is how I found myself on Saturday, post-call from a 24 hour shift on Friday, and pre-call before another 24 hour shift on Sunday. In these situations, I find it is important to make something fabulous happen to avoid spiraling into the depths of despair. If life becomes a dreary slog of work – sleep – work, it’s easy to feel unhealthy, unbalanced, and depressed.
Step 1 of my Saturday fabulousness was, indeed, sleep – you can’t feel fabulous when you are tired! I showered off the hospital, closed my black-out curtains, and kicked my husband out of the apartment for 5 hours of glorious, undisturbed rest. (Don’t worry – he went off to do “man tasks” and did not resent the temporary eviction).
Step 2 was to work out. Whenever I wake up from a nap post-call I feel pretty awful, my brain fuzzy and my body stiff. Some sort of physical activity to get my blood pumping and endorphins flowing always, without fail, makes me feel dramatically better. My local gym is closed on Saturdays, so I pulled up a 60 minute HIIT workout on Fitness Blender and got my body moving. By the end, I was sweating, sore, and alert. It felt wonderful!
Step 3 for battling the depression of call-overload: get pretty. Shower, put on real-people clothes, put on a touch of make up. Maybe go crazy and wear heels, even if you’re just in your own house. I want to feel like a normal person, even if it’s only for a few hours before I need to head back to bed for additional pre-call sleep. It’s hard not to feel good when you look good!
Step 4 – now that you feel fabulous again, do something fabulous! We could have gone out, and sometimes we do, but this Saturday it seemed like too much work. Instead, Brian and I decided to turn our apartment into a fine-dining establishment. We love to cook, and we really love to cook together. So we threw on some music, lit all of our numerous candles, and got to it.
As an appetizer, I created a cheeseboard for the two of us to nibble while we were cooking. Among other things, I was starving, having not eaten since breakfast and also having worked out – I needed food ASAP, and few things make me happier than good wine with good cheese! I usually try to serve at least 3 different cheeses on my cheeseboards, and I like to have yummy accompaniments, like fruit, nuts, and different crackers.
For this particular cheeseboard, I selected a sheep milk cheese (bottom left – Mitica Cordobes from Whole Foods), a Roth Kase Private Reserve cow milk cheese (top right, also from Whole foods), and a goat Chèvre from Trader Joe’s served with a blackberry-walnut jam (top left). I added some grapes, blackberries, and pistachios, as well as a wheat cracker and an olive-fig cracker. We opened a bottle of Merlot from Paso Robles to sip as we enjoyed our cheese and prepared the rest of our dinner.
I made a salad of arugula and spinach with tomatoes, cucumber, pistachios, dried currants, and crumbled goat cheese. I find the best way to do salads is to dress the greens and plate them first, then add the remainder of your ingredients. This makes sure your salad looks attractive, and keeps all the additional goodies from collecting at the bottom of your mixing bowl. For the dressing, I drizzled EVOO and aged balsamic from The Olive Press over the greens and tossed in some sea salt and fresh ground pepper. If you use high quality oil and vinegar, you really don’t need much more for a truly delicious salad dressing!
While I was preparing the cheese and the salad, Brian was working on our main entree. He prepared a soy-ginger glaze that he poured over some beautiful salmon filets, and took them out to grill on a cedar plank. I tossed some asparagus spears in olive oil, sprinkled them with sea salt and fresh ground pepper, and added some finely chopped shallots. The key to good asparagus is to turn off the heat before the asparagus is fully cooked; it will continue to cook in the hot pan while you are waiting to plate, and you end up with a flavorful, crisp asparagus as opposed to a soggy, mushy mess. When we were done, we had a restaurant quality meal that we had prepared ourselves.
We added some fresh bread warmed in the oven with more of the delicious Olive Press EVOO and balsamic for dipping, and poured more of our lovely Merlot. It was from a winery in Breckenridge, Colorado, though the grapes were sourced from Paso Robles. The wine was very fruit-forward with prominent notes of blackberry and black plum. It was soft on the palate and pleasant to drink, and it went well with our meal.
We sat down for our home-prepared meal and enjoyed each other’s company in the warm glow of candle light. We had a lovely evening, and I felt relaxed, loved, healthy, and happy. I felt as though balance had been restored to my life, and I felt ready to tackle another 24 hour call with grace and good will. When you work a lot, you have to make fabulous happen, whatever that looks like for you. The next time you are feeling downtrodden and overworked, take a moment to do whatever you need to do to feel normal again, and keep your inner spark sparkling!