When we are ill, doctors are there for us. Day after day they put in long hours taking care of us, solving our troubles and getting us out of misery. And yet, we bet you haven’t seen too many doctors looking cranky or tired?
Somehow, your doctor always appears sympathetic, confident and in control. This makes us forget that they too are humans and are as vulnerable to the vagaries of life as anyone else—personal problems, health issues, stress—doctors face it all.
Yet, they manage to carry on everyday with a spring in their steps and a smile on their faces.
Let’s steal a peek into their unwavering professional armour to get a glimpse of their human side…
How do you manage to find me-time?
Aanchal Agarwal, Psychotherapist, and special educator:I take a good 14 – 15 minute break between patients. I prefer taking small breaks throughout the day, rather than taking one big break.
During these breaks, I recharge myself with what interests me. Since I work from home, I sometimes spend time playing with my son, or just lie down for couple of minutes with my favourite comic.
Sachin Bhonsle, Orthopedic surgeon:I plan my day. Having worked in busy general hospitals in India and England, I have learnt to prioritise.
For me, emergencies and my planned activities come first. The day does keep getting longer, but I still try to squeeze in some free time for myself in the evenings.
Girish Nair, Neurologist:‘Me-time’ is an integral part of my daily routine. I spend about an hour daily, nurturing a part of my personality that is not challenged and groomed by professional demands.
I enjoy writing short stories, poetry and spend some time working on them every day. With some imagination, finding ‘me-time’ is part of time management; a lull between patient appointments can be easily converted to quality unwinding time.
Nilesh Gautam, Interventional cardiologist:I get up at 5.30 in the morning every day and spend some time on the terrace, watching the sunlight in peace and quietly summarising the day ahead. That’s my me-time.
How do you ensure that your hectic schedules don’t affect your health?
Aanchal Agrawal: I don’t follow a good exercise regime, I admit. But I make sure that I eat healthy. I have made a diet chart and I stick to it. When I notice a bulge in the belt line, I do stretching and yoga for a few days.
Sachin Bhonsle: I use the irregularity of my meal timings to my advantage by having smaller more frequent meals.
I start my day with a cup of tea and a breakfast of light cereals and end it with a light grilled dinner. These are the only two fixed meals. Every three hours or so; I have a small portion like a sandwich with green tea. In addition, I exercise on a regular basis, which also refreshes my mind.
Girish Nair: I commit to an hour of physical exercise irrespective of the weather, or time of day. Inevitably, I am one of the last persons to leave the gym; I do not allow the late hour to keep me from exercising.
As for the irregular meal times, small healthy snacks help me sustain my energy levels without jeopardising either my schedule or my health.
Nilesh Gautam: I take the stairs when in the hospital. I also go for a 30 – 45 minute brisk walk at least three times a week. On weekends, I swim for an hour and practise yoga and meditation.
You are surrounded by illness. How do you keep the negativity away?
Aanchal Agrawal: Since I give counselling for emotional, developmental and learning problems, it’s definitely not easy to keep the mutual effects of personal and work life at two distant poles.
But then that’s where the training comes into the picture. Our own long analysis during training days helps us differentiate our biases from a genuine response.
Sachin Bhonsle: There are several negatives in life. I try to smile despite them—it’s important. There is a lot of healing power in positive attitude and optimism. And I learnt this from some of my patients, not from books.
I feel privileged for the opportunity to do whatever little I can to improve the quality of life of my patients. And that gives me joy.
Girish Nair: I do not view illness and trauma as negative. To me, they represent an opportunity to help and heal. Illness is often an opportunity for a reality check on the choices you have made up until that time.
Having to visit a doctor gives you a prospect to identify those problems that have possibly begun to take root, and which could worsen in the future.
I am also a strongly spiritual person and that feeling of connection with the divine helps me create a positive space for myself amidst all the negativity.
Nilesh Gautam: I have an unwavering faith in God and believe that He has given me the power to heal and help the ailing.
So I am just an instrument in His hands and merely follow His orders. This thought helps me keep negative thoughts away. The joy and gratitude I experience, when a critically ill patient I have treated recovers, keeps me going in difficult times.
How do you keep your private life from affecting your professional decisions?
Aanchal Agrawal: Sometimes a deep grief of a parent due to the child’ssuffering does make me sad. Also, it’s more about what you allow to affect your life.
As a therapist, it’s a give-and-take relationship with a patient. You impart advice but you also learn from their mistakes. In that sense, there’s never a fully insulated capsule around you. You just have to cautiously choose to let only the ‘learning part’ infiltrate in your consciousness.
Sachin Bhonsle: I have learnt to compartmentalise personal issues from patient related-matters. This quality came with time, and I must admit that it wasn’t easy.
Girish Nair: It is important to avoid carrying baggage from one’s personal life into one’s professional life and that is the core of being professional.
When one is conditioned to empathise with a patient, personal problems fade away into insignificance and one is inspired to do the very best one can for the person who seeks help.
Nilesh Gautam: I always think about the job in hand and personal problems are best dealt with when at home, away from work. But the opposite is not always true as I am an interventional cardiologist and on-call to serve the patients 24×7.
How do you manage to give quality time to your close relationships?
Aanchal Agrawal: Fortunately, I work from home. So I am never under a lot of pressure.
Since my child is small, I have made it a rule to work only for a certain number of hours on weekdays and even less on weekends. Working full-time in a clinic is definitely more financially lucrative, but I don’t allow the temptation to affect my decision.
I don’t give any appointments at 1pm on weekdays—that’s when my child returns from school. For the one hour after that, I am just with him. Similarly, I strictly work till noon on weekends so that I can spend time with friends/close relatives or just go shopping.
Sachin Bhonsle: I tend to keep my evenings and second half of Sundays free. This allows me to spend quality time with my loved ones.
Unfortunately, it’s not always possible but my folks understand. And I am thankful to them for that. Their support has helped me reach where I am…and I value it a lot.
Girish Nair: Here again, it is all about time management. Quality time is no accident; there has to be a careful allotment of time for all things that are important for you in life—like spending time with family and friends.
Nilesh Gautam: I try to be with my family whenever I can. I am particular about taking a week-long vacation twice a year. And it is always away from home so I can spend all day with them—no distractions.
Remember the time when you weren’t feeling well…?
Aanchal Agrawal: Once I was down with dehydration due to severe vomiting and had to be hospitalised.
After coming home, I was still feeling weak. So I cancelled all child-therapy sessions—except for one. This child needed the sessions badly. So I gave him five. It drained me completely, but I managed.
Sachin Bhonsle: There have been occasions when I have not been feeling well and have taken time off.
I could have carried on, but I do not believe in giving second-best treatment to my patients. I want to perform to the best of my ability, always.
But there have also been times when I had no option but to perform surgeries. Not being well at such a time is the last thing anyone wants.
One such occasion was when an emergency patient with multiple injuries had to be managed with long surgeries. Even though I was not feeling well, I went in to operate.
But once in, I somehow got the strength to perform without feeling anything at all. Everything went absolutely smoothly. Though once it was sorted, I was overcome by fatigue like never before.
Girish Nair: There have been several such occasions. Once, a few years ago, I had fractured my shoulder in a nasty accident. For the first few days, the pain was terrible… and constant.
A day after the incident, I realised that staying put at home was actually causing me to focus on the pain and discomfort. I went back to work on the third day.
The pain got worse, but the involvement with patients was an anodyne that made me forget my personal discomfort. At the end of the day, I was tired enough to sleep without any sleeping pills or painkillers.
Nilesh Gautam: Once I had a severe backache. I wasn’t even able to getout of bed. Just then, the hospital called saying that a patient had a severe heart attack.
I immediately injected myself with painkillers and rushed to the hospital. The patient required immediate angioplasty. Wearing two support belts, I went ahead and performed the procedure.
For an entire week after that I was bed-ridden. But I was still happy…because my effort saved the patient, who was only 42 years old.
How do you prepare to face the pressures of your typical workday?
Aanchal Agrawal: I love my work. To me, it’s a passion, not a burden. And before I got married, I used to work 15 hours a day.
Never did I once feel the need to say a prayer to hold myself together. Even now, being married with a kid, my work continues to lend me a lot of positive energy.
I feel good when I see a progressive change in my patient. That’s a sufficient reward in itself. I think your attitude towards your work determines everything.
Sachin Bhonsle: I look at every day as a fresh start for lots of good things to come. It’s the positive attitude and the joy of being an orthopaedic surgeon that makes sure I am enthusiastic all the time. Pressures do get to me, but only temporarily.
Girish Nair: I do not like to view the hurdles and obstacles as ‘pressure’. I view them as opportunities to perform and excel.
Every crisis provides a learning opportunity and a chance to emerge wiser and stronger. At the beginning of the day, my question to myself is: ‘What am I going to learn today?’ and at the end of the day, I thank the Lord for the opportunities that came my way, the lessons I learnt and the wisdom I gathered.
Nilesh Gautam: I am spiritual and I thank God daily for making me capable of serving others. My day starts with a prayer to God to give me strength and wisdom to take the right decisions during difficult times and to grant me success in my endeavours.