We are coming up for air after a year that defies description. Life as we know it has shifted forever for our generation. As a physician and orthopaedic surgeon, there are things that are ironically easy for me right now. Things like handling crises and emergencies, broken bones and torn tissues feel purposeful. On the other hand, there is a whole other bucket of things that I tolerated pre covid that I am struggling to find ok now. And I hear myself becoming a complainer.

Surgeons are trained to be tough as nails. Our skin is thick. We can stay up all night and keep operating and conquering the world. But in 2021 I have found the weak spot in my armor. I can no longer react gracefully to requests of my time and energy that lack distinct purpose. Professionally, this includes asks that detract from my time and energy that should be focused on problems and tasks that require the expertise that took 10 years of training to develop after college.

People are getting back into the world physically and emotionally. We have forgotten how to act and how to move our bodies in contact sports and recreational activities Accidents and injuries abound, because we are all out doing things that our bodies can’t quite keep up with after a year in our houses. And in my experience, the level of anxiety surrounding injuries has skyrocketed. My patients in 2021 need their physicians to be whole and present. And my community of physicians need an incredible amount of support from other clinicians and staff. We are all exhausted. Thus the complaining. And I am not alone.

Physicians and clinicians have caught ourselves in our cries for help. We have been asked to take care of ourselves and our teams. We know the dangers of moral injury. Physician and nurse suicide continues to rear its head all around us. It is underreported for a variety of reasons. When it happens close to us, we often cannot heal properly, because we are asked to keep confidentiality. And when we take time to take care of ourselves, the guilt is tremendous. Keeping healthy boundaries has never been so difficult for me. Delaying an answer to a text or an email or a phone call even when I am on vacation takes more energy and generates more stress than being available. Last week I found myself crying in my office between patients. You see, I lost someone and cannot share who or how. I came to my senses and asked to cancel an afternoon clinic. I was not a good version of myself. I immediately received multiple phone calls from multiple people asking me to stay to see patients that needed me. I caved. I stayed. And I was in distress. I put on a brave face, and my patients were none the wiser. The staff was sweet and appreciative and brought me food to soothe me. I went home and had nothing left for my children, my husband, or even myself. And this was when I caught myself doing something that nauseates me… I was acting like a martyr.

What do I mean by martyr? There are at least 2 definitions of the word martyr.
”Historically, a martyr is someone who chooses to sacrifice their life or face pain and suffering instead of giving up something they hold sacred.
Sadly, this does not describe my current state of affairs. Rather, definition number 2 is more accurate to me:
“Today, the term is sometimes used to describe someone who seems to always be suffering in one way or another.” https://www.healthline.com/health/martyr-complex
I am the less dramatic and non heroic kind of martyr, better known as a whiner.
Step one for me is recognizing the space in which I sit, between a rock and a hard place. I know that I am suffering. And I know that my boundaries are inconsistent. People reach out to me for help because of the expectations that I have set over the last 20 years of my career. When people call, I answer. When people text, I answer. And when people email and message, I answer. It is up to me to sail out from this spot I have inhabited between scylla and charybdis. I am writing this to hold myself accountable, because I do not want to complain, I do not want to wine, and I do not want to suffer. I want to use my professional expertise to help my patients, and my people. But to do this with health and kindness I must establish the support and boundaries to keep me recharged, to save something for my family and for myself. My family also deserves a good version of me. So I invite you to stay tuned as I update you on my journey out of grief, and out of martyrdom.

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