Non-sequitors, tangents, Jimmy Fallon, and deep play

I guess it’s becoming a habit: me writing post-call. Just finished number six out of seven calls this month. More and more hallucinogenic each time.

Here is a complete list of all the things I ate while on call: 6am yogurt with peanut butter en route (lucky breakfast). 9am (EnDLeSS ROUNdsssss are killlaaaah!) a single pack of graham crackers with single-serving peanut butter. 11:45am: free resident lunch. it’s either boneless, surprisingly tender chicken (kosher) or pork (verboten). I don’t ask too many questions. 3:15pm: a single packet of saltines and a nonfat milk (aka: restraint!). 5:00pm: sushi. 9pmish: peanut butter cracker four-pack (transitioning to the hard stuff). 11:15pm: a 100calorie packet of goldfish crackers and a single serving vanilla ice cream from the not-so-secret cardiac post-op recovery freezer (culinary highlight). 3:55am: The last serving of french fries from the cafeteria grill station 5 minutes before closing. Cold. Four packets of ketchup. 6:55am: Cheese eggs, a biscuit, hot tea (thanks, A!). 7:15AM: A slice of chocolate cake (Thanks again, A!). EnDDDLessss Rououounddsss, round t-t-t-t-t-wo. Too focused on avoiding failure to eat. 11:30AM: Second slice of chocolate cake (Thanks thrice and finally, A!) Made it downstairs in time to partake of free lunch number 2 of the endless day but my heart’s just not in it. Free food can’t keep this engine running anymore.

I am seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and it’s all blue skies and palm trees and Audrey Hepburn or is it Lucille Ball? It’s me on my staycation in 6 days from now. One call, two day shifts and one overnight moonlighting shift from now I’ll have 13.5 days off in a row.  Last time I had a vacation, I went to the dentist, organized my mail, did dishes and POOF! it was over. I am determined to make this one count.

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Had a nice conversation with one of the NPs last night about the anxieties of leaving your child with a babysitter in the evenings. And mothers and mothers in law. And being a mother. If I’m honest with myself it was one of the most friend-like interactions I’ve had in a while. The sharing of oneself with someone else. Ye olde “Oh, me too!” and “I know, I feel the same way.” Both parenting and residency are so isolating. Sometimes I talk to myself silently in the bathroom mirror while I’m brushing my teeth in the dark before dawn. I say things like “What did you dream about?” and “Hmmmm, interesting.” I look at my reflection and try to read the passage of time on my face and body. This weekend my best friend in all the world called while I was asleep during E’s nap and I was so happy to hear her voice, like diving into a cool pool of water which used to be my favorite sensation before sleep became my favorite sensation. Just as I had finished the “what’s going on with me” part of the conversation and my friend started to talk about what’s going with her, E woke up and started crying out for Mommy. My heart sped up because I was excited to see her after her two hour nap (parenthood is such a miracle of self-sustaining energy, like the eight crazy nights of Hannukah oil for the rest of your life) but it was friendus interruptus yet again. I put my friend on speaker phone and E said a few words. I have to hope that the people who love me are ok with this form of conversation. Maybe I’ll call my friend back later instead of sleeping after I write this instead of sleeping.

Just to be clear a lot of laughing and camaraderie goes on in hospital work rooms. The days of the month are long and every combination of people each month develops its own culture, it’s own jokes that no one else can understand, it’s own rhythms of dividing and conquering the work at hand. As a result there are a cadre of people that I care a lot for, my co-residents, my interns, my fellows, NPs and nurses and pharmacists: we’ve shared some things. And yet, it’s a different kind of friendship. What shape would it take outside the hospital? Sometimes joking around in the work room I imagine a dinner party with whomever is doing a spot-on interpretation of the uptight mean consult attending. How would it go, me and them and my partner and whoever is their partner? Contextual collision! Whenever I get the chance to spend time with folks outside of work it’s awesome and bittersweet because I know what has to be important right now and that’s my time with little E. It’s like that line from Moonstruck when Olympia Dukakis is walking home with her impromptu dinner partner and he asks her to invite him in and she says “I can’t invite you in because I’m married and I know who I am.” It’s the strange emotion of confidence mixed with nostalgia mixed with sadness mixed with pride. I can’t go out for happy hour because I’m a mama and I know who I am. All of which is to say to my co-residents: You guys are awesome and I wish we had more time to get to know each other.

*          *          *          *          *

OK, this might seem like a non-sequitor but when I’m post-call I squander at least an hour when I should be sleeping getting caught in the internet’s stickiest spider webs. It’s a huffingtonpost-buzzfeed-top-10-lists-how-to-keep-your-romance-alive-celebrity-childhood-photos psychosis. When it’s 12:09 I say I’ll do it until 12:15pm but then it’s 12:17 so I keep going until 12:20 and so on. Today I stumbled upon a you tube video of Billy Joel singing “In the jungle” with Jimmy Fallon:


Which led to a video of Jimmy Fallon singing with the Roots and Miley Cyrus:


Which led to a video of Jimmy Fallon in a lip-syncing contest:


Which led to a video of Jimmy Fallon singing with someone named Robin Thicke and once again the Roots, which was my favorite:

You may or may not believe me when I tell you that I am so far removed from popular culture that prior to this internet tangent I had only a vague sense of who Jimmy Fallon and Miley Cyrus were and no idea who Robin Thicke is. Ditto Stephen Merchant. Had to google them all. But what I liked about these videos were that the people involved seemed to be having some fun doing a thing that they are good at. I have always been taken by watching performers inhabit the moment, inhabit themselves, take risks and share their talents. It’s sexy and brave and energizing and inspiring. I know all of these things are staged and half the people are probably unbearable prima donnas, but they look like they’re having a good time together and it’s fun to watch. There’s the concept of deep play coined by Diane Ackerman, the state of ecstatic flow and sensory immersion associated with intense play at every age — whether its music, sports, theater, sex, hiking, rowing, writing, painting or just tumbling with your two year old on the couch. Watching these videos I suddenly remembered the feeling of deep play.

There’s a poem I love by Yehuda Amichai called “Forgetting someome:”

Forgetting someone is like
forgetting to turn off the light in the back yard
so it stays lit all the next day.

But then it’s the light
that makes you remember.

That’s how is was in that moment with deep play: I remembered it thus realized I had forgotten it thus remembered it. And I missed it.  A lot.

Also, I have to admit that I have a sudden crush on Jimmy Fallon for the past hour or so. He can really wear a tie. And I’ve always been a sucker for falsetto. I’m so tired right now that I can’t feel my feet. I didn’t get to lie down at all last night. I haven’t slept in 33.5 hours and I had to use my fingers to calculate that just now.

I’m trying to figure out how much of my upcoming staycation to protect from the tentacles of work. There’s a research project I’m woefully behind on. There are several project in my residency program that I want to get cracking on. There is oil to be changed and the house to get cleaned. But maybe I need to just clear my schedule for some Jimmy-Fallon-with-the-preschool-toys-music-making-time. For some adventuring, or as much adventuring as can be accomplished between daycare drop-off and pick-up, or the kind of adventuring that only a curious toddler can make possible. Maybe it’s playtime. Is that even allowed? But why should only beautiful people and rich people and people without student loans get to play? Don’t we all deserve to play?

Meanwhile it’s 2:47pm and I have 45 minutes to sleep before going to pick up my little joy machine. It’s going to be sweet, all of it. Playtime.

5 thoughts on “Non-sequitors, tangents, Jimmy Fallon, and deep play

  1. I found your blog through MiM. You are a truly talented writer. If you publish a book (you may have already for all I know) I would read it and gift it to every woman, mother, doctor I know. Your posts about being on call are so rich and full of the details that are universal and true for all housestaff…from the ubiquitous graham crackers and single-serving peanut butter to the camaraderie of the call team; the compulsion to stay awake post-call to do something else (besides work or sleep) despite the sheer exhaustion, the thrill of seeing your little joy machine…I can so relate. I recently finished my IM residency and had my husband read your last post about being on call so he could get a feel for what “on call” is like. Just stopping by to say I love your words and your style of writing. It reads as if you wrote it effortlessly. You are so very talented.

    • Thanks so much for reading and for your kind words! I’m glad my writing resonates with you! Congratulations on finishing residency — is there a pot of gold (either literal or figurative) on the other side??!! (If there’s not, don’t tell me yet :-). As far as a book goes, it’s my dream to be able to devote enough time to writing to produce one. Maybe when residency is over, if I can still remember things after all the sleep deprivation.

      Thanks again and all my best!

  2. I have to echo what Liz above said, having found you in the same way and been quietly reading for some time. It feels strange to say this, but I feel as if I’ve found a kindred spirit in so much of what you say. I’m a medical student, and your on call post I read during night float and cried, because I felt so much of those things so intensely that it felt like too much to bear, sometimes. Sometimes we make ourselves do the hardest things, because we know they will grow us the most and they are what the world needs the most (like medicine, or leaving our children, or seeing the 8 Spanish-only speaking patients in a row when it takes you twice as long and is twice as hard). And sometimes we only get through the hardest things because of poetry, and faith, and people that love us (which I suppose are both kinds of poetry in themselves).

    Anyway, this is a lot of run-on, sleep-deprived sentences to say that, as a poet, I love reading that poetry in your beautiful reflections of your life. And I hope to be the kind of resident that you are, and someday after that, the kind of physician we will both be. And I think that if we knew each other, we would be friends. So, know that there are others like you out here, trying to keep their eyes open to the richness and depth and beauty around them even in the moments that are the hardest. And I would totally buy that book, and put it on a shelf next to Kitchen Table Wisdom, who also reminds me of these things. 🙂

    • Hi Emily,
      Sorry it has taken me a while to reply to your beautiful comment. I am so glad that you have enjoyed the blog. I’m glad to meet a fellow poet in medicine. Yes, we make ourselves do the hardest things, and these change us in mostly good ways and we do it all for and through the grace of the love of loved ones. Looking forward to sharing this profession with you! Keep your eyes and your heart open!

  3. No pot of gold yet 🙂 I’m wrapping up my chief year and then on to an academic hospitalist job a thousand miles away! I hope to find the metaphorical gold there (though wouldn’t mind some literal gold, what with my student debt burden). It has been a delicious year, though, of weekends off with my 15 month old daughter, no more overnight call, working 8 to 5 – and it still took me a few months to catch up on my sleep debt. Now I only work nights or weekends when I moonlight for very good money…it is so lovely!

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