During this initial diagnosis period, I hadn’t taken any time off. I was lucky that my Rheumatologist had evening office hours. But now the time came to tell my supervisors and colleagues. I expected to be met with sympathy and support, but instead I received a jumble of mixed emotions.
During residency training, you work so closely with the other residents. You spend countless hours in the day with the same people- working as a team, eating most of your meals together, and sleeping in the same call room. Even when you’re not working, you’re spending time together, because after alienating all your other friends with your crazy work schedule, these people are the only friends you have. You go through weddings, births, divorces, deaths in the family, licensing board failures, career change considerations, and suicide contemplations together. It’s being a part of a family.
But some of my family let me down. At the end of the year, I had considered becoming co-chiefs with another resident for the third year. It’s a lot of responsibility with planning schedules and arranging lectures, but it meant no on-call and it looked awesome on resumes. When I realized I would not be able to handle the added stress, I stepped away from the idea. The new chief, who had been one of my best friends in the residency, turned against me. She went to the Director of Medical Education, and stated that I should to take a medical leave of absence because I would become a liability. She explained that I was not capable of running, and climbing stairs fast enough to make it to the codes. Apparently, you need to be an athlete to practice medicine. Also, what if I had an emergency, or needed to leave for an appointment or test? Who would cover me? This coming from the woman I drove to work and covered for multiple times when she left early. I suppose her points were somewhat valid, but she lacked any empathy.
Luckily, the director was far more kind. He allowed me to continue working so I wouldn’t fall behind in my training. He had me placed on an easier rotation in the clinic instead of the hospital floors since I had already met my medical wards requirements. There was only one month left in second year, and he asked my fellow second year residents if they each would volunteer to cover one overnight call for me. They all obliged with the exception of the soon-to-be chief. Since chiefs don’t take call, I’d never be able to repay her. So, I only had one more overnight call in the second year, and after that I’d only have one call a month.
Although, this was a trying experience, it taught me a valuable lesson on trust and being too open. I have learned to keep my disease a secret from my employers to avoid discrimination. I hope one day that can change.