On being ill as a doctor

While full of medical knowledge, doctors are still human. We get illnesses, aches, and pains, just like everyone else. One of the worse feelings about getting ill, is that we are still subject to the same rules, medications, and limitations that medicine has—there is no magic pill that I hide in my back pocket for a rainy day.

Case in point: I am currently fighting through a severe bout of “pinkeye”, or viral conjunctivitis. This is the same highly contagious red eye disease that your five-year old gets.  I picked it up likely over the holidays or from a patient or coworker.

In the most severe form.

imagine that these are your eyes except that they are also swollen shut

In ophthalmic terms, this means pre auricular nodes, chemosis, bilaterally, eyelid edema, 4+ injection…the works. My right eye has been swollen shut, and I’m currently in day 8 of this debilitating condition with no end in sight. I’ve been forced to take off the past five days from work, and nearly reaching short-term disability status (how embarrassing!). These conditions can last a whole month.

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Boy has it been miserable. I’ve been in pain and blurry most of the week, and taking the usual concoction of medications that are given—all of these are simply treatments to help reduce severity of the disease, but does not shorten the clinical course.  Add to the ocular symptoms the usual set of symptoms we experience from a head cold: headache, nasal congestion, fatigue—you’ve got one miserable camper. What this means is that I will have to let this evil virus run its course.

Talk about disrupting productivity.

Then your mind plays tricks on you. Certain uncommon, but possible sequela of getting pinkeye can permanently disrupt one’s vision. How will I end up? Will I have to invoke the disability insurance that I hoped I’d never have to use? Will I have to downgrade my lifestyle (fortunately for being on a mission to reach FIRE, I have been tweaking my financial self).

But hey, on the bright side, I get to stay at home, with a hot coffee in my hands, a box of tissues on one side, and a furry feline friend on the other: 

Mandated time off isn’t bad at all!


(Stock photo above courtesy of Flickr)

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4 thoughts on “On being ill as a doctor

  1. Get well! It’s tough to reconcile how we trained and our work ethic with what’s actually best for patients. Sometimes that means actually calling in sick — which was unthinkable as a resident.


    1. Thanks! When your income depends on your labor, it’s really easy to count the dollars going down the drain for every patient you don’t take care of!

      I once knew a resident who actually was hooked to an IV pole while he was recovering from a GI illness. Not fun, but he didn’t really have the option of taking time off.

      1. Holy Schnikes! I came in post-call in really rough shape after a GI bug emptied me out from both ends. Fortunately, the crew didn’t need me, but I didn’t go home until I had three liters of NS infused.

        It’s the only time I’ve done that, but I know people that take Zofran and IV fluids for hangovers. When your drinking habit necessitates venipuncture, it’s time to reassess your drinking.


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