'You Need Help But Not From Us': A Poem on Burnout

This is part of the Medical Humanities Series on Op-Med, which showcases creative work by our members. Do you have a poem, short story, creative nonfiction or visual art piece related to medicine that you’d like to share with the community? Send it to us here.

Teacher of the year, again
Research publications, galore.
Honors, accolades, committees
Leadership positions, ad nauseum
Excellence in clinical care
Best Lecture, best lecturer, best doctor, best teacher.
“Hey, I know you’re not on call, but can you…?”
“Hey, I know you’re off but could you ……?”
“Hey, I know you’re in clinic but …..?”
Can you? Will you? Could you, help me?

Three marathons lead to a bad hip.
Successful surgery complicated by a fall.
More surgery, then pus from the wound
MRSA (of course)
Aseptic meningitis, anemia, thrombocytopenia, superior venous thrombosis,
Surgery again, again, and again
“Hey, I know you’re sick but can you….?”
“I know you don’t feel good but will you….?”
“I know you’re recovering, but I need…….”
Can you? Will you? Could you, help me?

80 hours a week for residents,
Faculty just have to work harder.
“Step up to plate, man. What is wrong with you?”
“Hey, we’re short, everyone is working hard”
“Try harder, work harder, what is wrong with you?”
100, 120, 140 hours a week….
“We paged you for hours, where were you?”
“You were falling asleep writing notes”
“Your EBL was way off”
“One more mistake and you’re out”.
“You need help…but not from us”.

Depressed, defeated, desperate, humiliated, disgusted, drinking,
“Do something. See someone."
“Get help”
“You were late, you left early, you’re not trying”
“You were rude, your documentation is terrible, why aren’t you trying?”
“You’re OUT”
You
Are
OUT

BURNED
OUT

What inspired this piece?

This piece was inspired by my husband's work experience. He was a highly-respected surgeon and started having medical problems. Once they started interfering with his practice, he was essentially shunned by his peers. This lead to emotional problems like depression and burnout.

Why did you choose poetry as the form for this topic?

My children were working on a poetry unit at school and I came to like the form. I hope that I am able to convey and simulate the stress of my husband's situation by the short, anxiety-provoking lines in this poem.

How long have you been writing?

I have been writing for newsletters and op-ed pieces for years. This is my first poem.

Rita Agrawal is a passionate pediatric anesthesiologist, mother of three boys including twins, former program director, enthusiastic educator, patient advocate and wife of a now retired surgeon.

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