Fun, Tedium, or Misery: Time Flies Regardless

Is it just me or does time keep passing faster and faster?  Chalk it up to a quarter-life crisis (that’s right, I’m assuming I’ll live to be 100), but I can’t help but feel that the epiphany I’d heard so many others articulate regarding the increasingly fleeting nature of time, is finally dawning on me.  I’m reticent to say it, but I think I’m getting old.  Okay, okay, let’s not go crazy, I’m getting older… that’s right, that wonderful little suffix makes everything a little bit more palatable.

Really though, I look back on events that don’t seem so long ago in my memory only to realize that high school was actually A LONG TIME AGO.  Then I look back on my years in undergrad and realize – all with increasing anxiety, mind you – that that too was A LONG TIME AGO.  In fact, if you asked me this very moment what the first two years of medical school were like, I’d have a hard time articulating it.  Why? Clearly it’s because my noggin’ isn’t quite the same with the ravages of age (maybe I’m being a little melodramatic here).  But when I sat down the other day and actually thought it out, I came to the realization that these days I find myself increasingly absorbed in what I’m doing.  In other words, I think just maybe this time warp is a natural part of the transition from school to career.

Granted, medical training is a unique hybrid between these two entities, with the particular stage I find myself in serving as little more that a glorified limbo between education proper and burgeoning clinical competency.  That said, I am very much still in school, and for all intents and purposes will be in perpetuity (the joke is that in medicine the light at the end of the tunnel is actually an oncoming train).  But what has come with this academic year, in particular, has been an introduction to the day-to-day life of a physician, full of less-than-ideal schedules (6 days on, 1 day off), exhaustion, and responsibilities unlike any I’ve had to take on before.  All in all, if I thought I was busy at any point prior in my life, I was sorely mistaken.  My life this year is defined by the rotation I’m on at any given point, with everything, my emotional state, sleep habits, and social life (this aspect has taken the biggest hit) following suit.  Now granted, at least part of this is attributable to the insular environment of a hospital itself—let’s be real, with regards to time, a hospital floor is just about as disorienting as a Las Vegas casino.  And when Saturday and Sunday become nothing more than potential workdays, the very structure of the 7-day week loses significance as well, making the weeks and months blend together seamlessly.

But beyond this is the fact that the work itself is enveloping, the way any day-to-day, goal-oriented work can be.  Seeing patients from admission, through their plan of care, all the way to discharge offers a never-ending list of tasks to be accomplished, which seems, above all else, to be the driving force behind this speeding of time.  There never seem to be enough hours in a day to get all the orders written, consults managed, and topics researched, just as there never seem to be enough days in the week when insurance companies are pushing to get a patient discharged and your treatment plan requires more time.  Constantly-moving deadlines like these keep time flying at such an astonishing pace.

But, being human, we get used to it in the same way we get used to pretty much everything.  What was initially overwhelming becomes the norm; we habituate.  And this habituation seems to be the reason for the confusion when we finally pause for second, take a step back, and wonder where the hell all the time went.

So what do I make of all this?  Well, to hearken back to the early days of Facebook (there’s an epiphany for you: it’s been around for over 7 years now) “it’s complicated.”  While there is absolutely something to be said for letting your work or other aspects of your life consume you – think of the physicians, artists, economists, etc  that have changed the world thanks to their dedication – I shudder to think that this is all there is to look forward to.  It may be easy to sink into the complacency of quotidian tasks such that time begins to fly by unnoticed, but if it means living a life unfulfilled, then what’s the point?  So my new goal is to take a step back more often, and consciously make an effort to separate myself from my education/work to appreciate other aspects of my life (people, experiences, etc) that have contributed to the person I am, such that I don’t lose them as time keeps accelerating.  Nothing will stop the years from coming, but when everything else seems to be a blur, I’m hoping that this will at least give me a few moments of clarity.

Picutre of author

About Justin Fiala, MD Candidate

Justin is currently in his third year of medical school at UIC's College of Medicine, and is hoping to pursue a career in internal medicine. He has a strong interest in addressing the health needs urban communities and is part of the College of Medicine's Urban Medicine program. Aside from academics, Justin enjoys cooking, listening to public radio, and perusing the New York Times website. He is also a trained pianist and self-professed lover of all kinds of music.

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