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Tuesday Dec 23, 2014

'Tis the Season: For Us, Holidays Mix Sacrifice, Blessings

It's holiday time, which means it's time to set the "out of the office" email auto-response, close the laptop and turn off the office lights for two weeks. Except … that's not how our lives really work, is it?

We are family physicians, and although our practice environments differ, this fact unites us. As we take some time off to celebrate with our family and friends, we know that we don't ever entirely turn off as a physician, especially one who has chosen family medicine as a specialty.

DMW Photography

I plan to spend as much time as I can with my husband and daughter during the holidays. But I also will be doing some clinic work, and I have several maternity patients who are due soon.

It can be difficult at times to juggle all of the responsibilities in our lives: our spouses, children, extended family, friends, church, community and -- of course -- our patients. This becomes apparent to many of us during the holidays when others around us who work in different professions take their leave and turn their minds and attention more fully to the festivities.

For me, I have several maternity patients due this holiday season. I don't know if they will deliver on Dec. 24, 26 or 31, but I do know one thing: Whenever it happens, I'll be there.

This may mean that I miss Christmas Eve dinner with my family, or that we have to reschedule a planned gift exchange with relatives. It may mean spending New Year's Day bringing a new life into the world, which I did two years ago.

It has, in years past, meant needing the understanding of parents, siblings and grandparents when I was absent for part of our planned time together because I had to be there for a laboring patient or one who was admitted for a serious illness.

Sometimes it means stepping away from the table when the hospital calls regarding a patient and having the laptop out at times to check lab reports and answer messages via our patient portal.

I will be at work during the day while I have guests visiting this holiday season because my clinic will be open two days each week during that time, and I have notified my guests in advance.

I'm not going to lie; there are times when I resent the constant connection to my phone, but the hospital and my nurse have to be able to reach me. I have sighed -- heavily -- as I hugged my 2-year-old and put on my shoes to go back in to the hospital, even though I was on call the night before and hadn't seen her for more than an hour in two days. And we both cried because she didn't want me to leave.

I have reluctantly told friends we cannot meet them for a weekend away because I am covering maternity call, and my partners are out of town.

We sacrifice a lot of ourselves, of our lives and our family's lives to serve our patients. This can be an overwhelming and exhausting responsibility, but as those of us who have the privilege of our patients' trust know, it is also the greatest gift. Although I will be working during the holidays, I will also be taking time off to refresh and enjoy my family. I will have several days out of the office and away from the daily grind, but I will always have my phone nearby. I will have meals with my family interspersed with meals at the hospital and midnight snacks from the nutrition room while waiting on a baby.

And when I feel like sighing, I will remind myself that I am one of the most fortunate people I know. I have the chance to serve a community, to help bring new life into the world, to comfort my patients and to experience one of the best jobs there is. This is our gift not only this holiday season, but every day, and with this we are so incredibly blessed.

Beth Loney Oller, M.D., practices full-scope family medicine in Stockton, Kan.

Posted at 11:46AM Dec 23, 2014 by Beth Oller, M.D.

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