The concept of burnout isn't new; the pre-game is brownout, and it feels like it sounds. There's no crack, no explosion, no drama. Just a slow fade. The exams of patients get a bit shorter, the reliance on data higher because it's emotionally easier to look at a scan or a lab. The morning is harder.

Empathy starts to slip and is replaced by pity and sarcasm. Families aren't comforted or updated as often. It's not terminal. Your work doesn't slip to poor, just from excellent to good, or good enough.

Time to leave the ICU. Time to leave the one long hallway lined with an ever-changing but remarkably similar parade of random victims, the drug dealer next to the teenage model UN attendee struck by the drunk driver. Time to leave the purring ventilators and whispering pumps and step into the sunlight. Three days. Thirty-six hours, give or take. Not that I'm counting.

I am not who I was.


  1. Please don't let chronic sleep deprivation and overwork (in the potentially soul-crushing ICU, no less) trick you into forgetting that rest, sunshine, nourishing food, & time with your family have the power to restore your underlying good nature.

    No, you're not who you were. And thank goodness for all you've gained during your training. The fact that you grieve your empathy & excellent work tells me you're going to be just fine -- maybe even great -- once you're allowed a more humane life.

  2. It'll get better.

    And then worse.

    And then better again.

    After 5 years I"m wondering how long I can keep it up. But...if we don't do it, who will?