Sunday, March 01, 2009

Up, Up and Away?


This is another one of my hypothetical questions.

So you're a health care professional (if you're not, pretend) and you're on vacation far, far away. But before you left, you arranged for someone to cover your practice and you gave the covering doc an emergency number. Why? Why not.

You're getting some much needed rest and relaxation-- you've left work behind and it feels so good not to worry about other people. But back home, something bad has happened to one of your patients-- if you're a primary care doc, perhaps someone had an unexpected and fatal heart attack. If you're a shrink, may be a patient committed suicide. Whatever it is, it's awful, and it's done: there's nothing you can do now that would change the outcome.

Do you want to know before you return home? And if you're the covering doc, Do you call? After all, you were given that Emergency Number.

I've never fully come to peace with this one: many years ago, I got a call on vacation that one of my patients had died in a car accident. It haunted me and there was nothing I could do-- I called the mom from my trip, but I had no relationship with the parent, my call seemed to offer no comfort. After that, I went for a time leaving my cell phone home and being inaccessible while away; this is what coverage is for. At some point, I started to realize that I'd return and get anxious as I turned the phone back on: what bad news would I hear? Might it be better to have the phone with me, to keep it mostly off, but to know that no news is good news?

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

I say, walk away. Unless there is something that you and only you can do, there is no point in ruining an otherwise enjoyable vacation. Isn't that what you would tell a client? Disconnect, detach, recharge etc.

talesofacrazypsychmajor said...

That's tough one. I think though I'd want to be called. otherwise I'd spend the whole vacation feeling anxious about what happened but I might not have heard yet.

Still Dreaming said...

i tend to check my local newspaper while i'm away looking for new about my homeless clients, just to make sure nothing crazy happened. I'd want my coworkers to let me know if one of our regulars died, i wouldn't want to come back to it...

Anonymous said...

If the client is dead, ruining your vacation is not going to do any good. Enjoy the vacation then call relatives and mourn when you return.

If you are the covering physician, this is a question to ask the physician you are covering for he/she leaves.

I leave pets with a petsitter during vacations so I leave detailed instructions about what situations require an immediate call to me. In case of severe illness or injury to one of my pets I would abort my vacation most of the time. In case of death, I likely would not.

Jennifer Riley said...

Emergency numbers are for contacting a person when assistance is needed. If the situation has already happened, there’s no need to call the contact person; there’s nothing you can do. I think I would prefer not to know in a situation like that. I would prefer not to deal with the stresses of work at all while on vacation. There may be a patient or two whom I would want to know about in a tragic event, but generally speaking, work is for the office, not the beach.

Catherine said...

I am the sort of person who does not like coming back to a bombshell so I would want to know. When dealing with a fatality I would also like to give my condolences like you said you did.

If I was the one who had the information, I would make the call. Even if there is nothing that could be done about it, I would still feel bound to let the person I was covering for know about it. What they decide to do with the information is up to them.

Anonymous said...

I would want to know. At least that would afford me the chance to get in touch with family members if it were appropriate. If not, and there truly isn't anything needed from me that couldn't wait until I returned, then I would continue my vacation knowing there's nothing more I could do. Of course it would effect me, and wouldn't be one of the highlights of my trip.. but I would try hard to not allow it to discount the other positive aspects of my vacation. For me, it would be difficult to come back to work, learn of the event, and then have to begin a session with a patient. I would prefer to have had some time to process things myself. Takes me a day or so to get back into the swing of things anyway after a vacation, and to have somthing like the death of a patient dropped on me on a monday morning..not a great way to start the week. But that's just me.

mysadalterego said...

I would say no. But even if you only find out when you come back, it's going to haunt your vacation forever.

But the reason you take the phone is for the ones you CAN intervene on.

I don't take the phone at all.

Mr Ian said...

If you're going away for a few days business and likely to return soon - I take my phone.

If I'm away for a vacation - I'm off duty and looking after myself.

If I'm away for an extended period of time I hand over the lot to someone else and leave it to them.


If you can't leave your phone at home then you're over doing it.

No one is that important that a caretaker manager cannot hold things together or make decisions in an interim period.

If you believe you are that important to the smooth running of the systems then you have a grander idea of yourself than others - or you're taking work too personal - or you've contrived things so that you are that important .... and bad on you.

If you don't trust them to make the best decisions - then:
1. you need to find someone else you do trust or
2. You need to hold yourself up to a mirror and heal thyself.

tracy said...

Like Catherine, i hate to come home to terrible news...i would want to know now, vacation or not.

Side note, as my friend and i always say, "It all goes back to childhood"...when i was young, we used to visit our ranch, which had no telephone and these were the days before cells...i always worried all the way home that maybe something awful had happened while we were gone...

Anonymous said...

one day you are going to leave the phone at home for good ,ya know that don't ya? probably no one really cares what you do.

Anonymous said...

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ELM said...

In college, I waited until my parents were back from an int'l trip to let them know I had (a slow-growing, low-risk) cancer.

They were pissed, but I think they enjoyed their vacation more.

I suppose I would want to be called if there was something I could do about it...like if the patient had gone through a major tragedy. If the patient was gone and I didn't know the family, then it seems like ruining a perfectly good vacation. (Though personally, I like to know everything important asap.)

Seems like you just need to decide for yourself and then outline under what circumstances you want to be contacted. (If that's an acceptable practice in your world.)

Anonymous said...

I just returned from a vacation and decided that I would prefer an e-mail from work (short and sweet) rather than the phone call. If I receive a phone call, then I might have to think and solve problems (not what a vacation is for). With an e-mail, I can open and read it on my own time (when I need a break from the sun) and I can choose to respond or not. As others mentioned, when I came home, I knew what I was facing and that was helpful.

Anonymous said...

That's a difficult one. I think I'd want to be notified.

I've always wondered if my OB/GYN knew or not about the following. A few years ago, my high-risk specialist went on vacation and didn't leave me in the care of anyone. In my 36th week of pregnancy, I developed severe preeclampsia and the OB/GYN on call took me on temporarily until my baby was born.

Midwife with a Knife said...

If someone asks, I would tell them I want to know, but I don't, not really. Let me have my vacation in peace.