Tuesday, August 31, 2010


The ironic thing about working in the hospital is that you're not allowed to be sick. I don't think I've called in sick to work once since I started medical school, and that was more than ten years ago. I missed work on the two occasions that I gave birth, of course, and last year I took a "personal day" to be with Joe was hospitalized in the ICU with myocarditis, but in terms of actual sickness, for me myself--nope. One gets the general impression that it's not really allowed. It's one thing if you need surgery or something, and being hospitalized probably would preclude you from being on the job, but when it comes to normal people sick, well, people in medicine just don't do that.

Luckily (and I know I must be jinxing myself here, but just pretend you didn't hear me say this) I have the immune system of some sort of oxen species, which I attribute to several months working the the Peds ER in my twenties and, at present, living in a house with two kids who more often than not aim all coughs for my face. So I don't really get sick for the most part, and even when I do catch something, it's nothing major that would prevent me from being able to do my job safely. (Luckily, I work in the OR almost 100% of the time, so wearing a mask at work is sort of part and parcel of my everyday routine regardless.) Still, I find it somewhat ironic that, working in the healthcare profession, the general consensus levied towards people who call in sick is somewhere between disbelief and automatic assumption of some sort of weakness in morale. Or more often, doctors themselves will just completely deny that they are sick at all, pushing themselves until they are sweaty and shaking and having weird fever dreams while trembling in a corner somewhere. Sick? Who gets sick around here?

Anyway, I'm not sick. Just sometimes I think of these things. You know, ironic things.


  1. I mentioned to my mentor that I became like a drunk person after 24 hours awake. His response, "Well, then you're not going to be able to be a doctor."

    Mm. Ok.

    I guess the sickness issue extends to sleep. I have also learned that it extends to peeing and eating as well.

  2. Anonymous7:44 PM

    Wait didn't you like have a horrible appendicitis incident? Wouldn't that have necesitated some missed time?

    Not that I'm a stalker or anything...

  3. I'm knocking on wood now, on your behalf, hoping you haven't jinxed yourself! I may need to find someone with kids like yours to help boost my immune system before rotations start. It's never too early, right?

    I second your observation though-doctors are among the absolute worst at admitting illness and taking care of themselves.

  4. Anonymous8:04 PM

    As a brand-new anesthesiologist, I have not missed a day of school/work in 12 1/2 years. I let my appendicitis fester 5 days until the end of my medicine rotation before I went to the ER (luckily it hadn't ruptured) and during residency went into labor at 4:30AM but still went in to work until 4:30PM when I finally left to be admitted to L&D. But when I have a routine GI bug or URI, I just get a couple of liters of IV fluid plus some Zofran/Toradol and continue with my day. Calling in sick? Not an option. Such is the world in which we live.

  5. Anonymous8:06 PM

    Yeah I've worked with a fever of 39 degrees and huge tonsils.

    The irony was that I was working in ED and most of the patients I saw were not as sick as I was.


  6. Anonymous10:00 PM

    Yes, this continues to amaze me. I have, however, become more aware of this as I work in oncology. I had an attending actually tell me that if I was sick (which I have always taken to mean fever, but she meant just coughing), then I wasn't going to be seeing any of her patients. That surprised me, as it was the first time I'd ever encountered THAT attitude in medicine.

  7. I once developed pinkeye during an overnight shift in the peds ED. It was awesome (also, disgusting. And similar to rubbing glass shards into my eye). When I called my PCP the next morning begging for polytrim, they asked me how I KNEW it was pinkeye... fortunately, "BECAUSE I AM A PEDIATRICS RESIDENT" sufficed. Ha.

  8. Oh yeah, I forgot about my perfed appy the spring of my fourth year in medical school. However, luckily (?) I was in a "back to the classroom" rotation at the time so I didn't have to call out sick per se or drop the ball on any clinical responsibilities, I just missed class. THANK GOD, right?

  9. This is one of the most intimidating things about going into medicine for me. I'm so scared I'm going to get sick and drop the ball. I do not have a perfect immune system!

  10. Anonymous7:35 PM

    One of my attendings went apeshit on me a few weeks ago when I came in with a minor URI with a low-grade fever. She went on and on about how it's so irresponsible to the patients and how I was forbidden to come back until 24h afebrile. I went home in the middle of the day at her insistence.

  11. Anonymous8:30 PM

    Yes... my chief worked the whole day while in labor and finally consented to go to L&D for her epidural at 6cm (yes breathing through her contractions in the OR... perhaps not the best judgment ever) - and we're OB/GYN residents!
    And then of course there was the day coming home from an ED shift I put together how horrible I had felt all day with the 102 temp I measured on arrival home... And of course going back to work 2.5 weeks after a c-section is a good idea too, right?

  12. Anonymous8:56 AM

    Hahaha...sadly, it's all so true. I've never seen any physician, and nurses as well (don't forget them!), call off work for a minor illness. We all come in when we're on death's door.

    I worked through my nightfloat shift while in early labor, signed out, got my hospital bag, and then went to L+D. The only day I pulled jeopardy, I actually didn't call it myself. My fellow residents called for me because I vomited 3 times during signout and I was lying on the conference table trying to hear about a new patient from my intern. The only other day I missed I had flu symptoms and a fever during the swine flu era and the hospital made me leave until my PCR was negative.

    I've seen OB/GYN attendings on night coverage trying to work while they had gastroenteritis and hang on for 3 hours before having to call their partner in, Rheumatology attendings on bedrest at home doing work from their bedrooms...you name it.

    @Old MD Girl, you're right, it does apply to sleep and food, too.

  13. One of the OB/GYN residents on my rotation had swine flu, later documented by PCR, and kept seeing clinic patients. That's irony, as well as bad medicine. Grand Rounds later that week was on the increased susceptibility and mortality of pregnant women to H1N1.

  14. Anonymous10:14 AM

    my ex-boss was in labour in the delivery suite when her patient was admitted to the next room in labour. she hoped off the bed, delivered her patient, then went back to resume being a labouring patient!

  15. Laura Puopolo9:47 PM

    This is so true! I once admitted one of my attendings with a small bowel obstruction. He then proceeded to go round on his inpatients with his NG tube insitu.

  16. Anonymous11:07 AM

    Interestingly, mental health professionals seem to have similar attitudes towards seeking mental health services.

  17. Anonymous9:14 AM

    Agree with all the comments about the absurdity of the medical culture's intolerance for acute illnesses. But I think what gets less attention is doctors with chronic illnesses. Don't ask, don't tell. Once someone knows, there will be no place for you in medicine.

  18. Anonymous11:41 PM

    The only day of residency I missed was for pink eye, because the hospital's infection control sent me home. Never have figured out why everyone is so paranoid about pink eye, but not about anything else...

  19. Anonymous7:36 AM

    On being sick:
    Stay-at-home-mother-in-law says: "What are you going to do if you get sick? Call in help or something? I would never do that. What kind of good mother who loves their kid lets someone else care for them?"
    (I say: in my head not out loud because one should be willing to lose battles to win wars..."You didn't think it was so cool, when your husband got cellulitis and had to wait "forever" and the doctor explained he was late because his kid just got admitted to ER with asthma.")
    How do we get patients to understand that doctors are humans? Women please be supportive not judgemental of each other?... Why do women tell each other that equality is not possible because we should be mommy matyrs?

    Flip side:
    Heard from anaesthesiology senior resident: "My attending gave me a bad evaluation because I called in sick one day when my son was in ER for asthma requiring intubation --> ICU. Said I was not committed to career and would not be able to understand OR work pressures as would inconvenience colleagues to cover sick call..." This resident is now applying for jobs and still talked about "She is good but she was the one who called in sick that one time, remember. And she took mat leave. I don't thinks she's very committed to anaesthesiology or that we want her". This is just our culture in our program currently (and attendings really should NOT talk about another trainee's performance in front of other trainees please...professionalism?!!?) Attending was of course... staff with stay-at-home partner.