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Back to Work

By Rod Moser, PA, PhD

Doctor

You would have thought that being in the business I would have had a better handle on the recovery process. I really thought that I would be back to work two weeks post-op. If someone had told me that it would be three MONTHS, I would have laughed. Maybe this is a man thing. I have a good friend who’s having a complete knee replacement and is planning on going back to work in three days!

I was going stir crazy at home. Granted, I had ample time to blog and frequently post on the Ear, Nose, and Throat Community, but my life was really at the clinic. I was able to keep up to date with the “pulse of the practice” by remote log in to my office files, but it was not the same. Many people are so tied to their careers that they get into a profound funk when they are not doing it.

New retirees experience this. For their entire lives, many of them have gotten up, taken a shower, dressed in work clothes, grabbed their briefcases, and headed off to work. Suddenly, every day becomes a weekend. If it wasn’t for the post-operative pain and limitations, being on temporary disability may seem like a long vacation. It is not.

My brother has been retired for a few years now and is spending a great deal of time on his sailboat. I envy his new life, but the transition wasn’t easy for him either. It took about a year to adjust to not working every day. Personally, I would like to work full-time for another five years. Not knowing how long I will need it, it would be nice to put away more money for retirement, pay down the house, replace my ten-year old vehicles, etc. Retirement takes planning. Being on disability is more sudden, but it is a taste of things to come.

I have colleagues in their 70’s who are still actively working. I once covered a practice for a pediatrician who wanted to go camping periodically. He was over 90 years old and still riding his bike to work! He really had no intention of giving up his practice willingly. Another doctor in my office had a stroke at his desk and eventually returned in an administrative role, but he was never as happy as he was when seeing patients. He missed them.

I missed them.

I never thought I would say that, since I have always enjoyed my time away. As a matter of fact, my earned vacation time has been drastically cut (I am a salaried employee, not an independent) since I used up most of it to augment my meager disability payments. You never know how bad your insurance is until you need it. As of last week, I was down to 19 hours left! I plan on going on vacation in July anyway, even if I have to buy the time.

I get more from my practice than just a living wage. I really like what I do. I love having patients recognize me and run up and give me a hug (I am talking about kids, of course). When I am told that I was missed, it makes me feel good.

I suspect that I share the same concerns as all pre-retirees. You want to have enough money saved so you can have a comfortable retirement, help the grandchildren, and travel. You also have a fear that you may live longer than your savings, or even a fear that you will not live long enough to enjoy the fruits of your lifelong, careful savings. We have all heard of situations where people have died less than a year after they retired and never get to complete their Bucket List.

Right now, I am more concerned with getting my clinic legs back. After a day of seeing patients last week, I was exhausted and my arm is killing me today. I don’t think I abused my shoulder in any way, but I did use it as much as my current limitations allowed. I know that my recovery is not complete, but I also want to get on with my clinical life again. We have to push ourselves, but we have to do so carefully.

I may not be able to lift boulders again and chop firewood all day; at least for about a year. I cannot emotionally afford to re-injury my shoulder. I can make the necessary accommodations at work, but I may need to find some burly dude to do the strenuous chores at home. I even had one of my patients – a cash-strapped 19-year-old college rugby player – volunteer for the job.  I think I will take him up on it.

We all need to make adjustments.

Photo: iStockphoto
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