It’s Been a Year And What Have I Learned?

It’s been a year, and what have I learned? This being 2021, and since Covid-19 has pretty much put a kibosh on the last 365+ days, one would think “all things Covid” is what has been rumbling around in my brain, causing all of these mental gymnastics. Well, no, actually, my “what have I learned?” is more on the lines of:  It’s been a year since I retired, and what have I learned?

I’ve learned that my wake-up time has changed. Having spent the last 30+ years rolling out of bed pretty much exactly at 6:50am every morning without the aid of an alarm clock (even on weekends and vacation/not-at-work days, with the use of my trusty internal alarm clock.)  “Eager” to start the day with seeing patients, doing paperwork, learning the new computer system at the hospital (that changed a hospital consult for me that used to take me about 20 minutes to do—see the patient review the chart, and hand write the necessary consult paperwork –-to a 1+ hour endeavor of navigating a computer system that feels as if it was designed and written by a programmer who had no concept of the mental or physical algorithmic workflow that physicians have been doing for millenniums. After patient hours were done, paying bills, making phone calls it was then off to home to the array of “things that needed done.” All on a regular, tightly orchestrated schedule that ofttimes was not a written schedule, but just a routine that had been followed for so many years that it “just happened.”

I expected that now I could ditch my internal alarm clock and sleep in, well past my 6:50am “time to get up” time that had been so efficiently etched into my inner psyche.  Oh, contraire, mon ami.  Now I get up at 4:30, 5:15, 5:30 (that’s ‘am’ unless one is assuming ‘pm’ as with an afternoon nap that can become, on occasional, an accepted addition to “some” retirees’ schedule) and if I’m really lucky, or if I’m coming down with a cold, maybe as late as, oh happy days, 6:05am.  (The initial writing of this article was started at 3:50am.)  What have I learned?  I’ve learned that being a type-A type person, my brain has not received the appropriate instructions that I’m retired and it’s okay to sleep-in.  No more chart reviews, patient issues, office politics. These were replaced with projects in the shop, lawn issues, and what am I going to do today thoughts that seem to rear their collective ugly heads at, oh, about 4am and then swirl around in the inner corridors of my brain, not relenting until I get up and get to it. What have I learned?  Don’t fight it, be happy that you can still “do stuff!”

What have I learned?  I’ve learned that if you don’t have other “things” to do after you retire, you are going to be hard pressed to fill the day.  I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy many “other things” so that my transition has been relatively easy.  What with tinkering in the shop, painting, yard projects, golf (when the weather is cooperative) I seem to have something to do most of the time. What have I learned?  I’ve learned, however, that doing nothing is quite okay, and that’s something a type-A will not often admit to or even allow.  Down-time with a crossword puzzle or two, a couple of chapters of my current “read,” or just sitting with a cup of coffee on the deck is acceptable, but totally foreign to the “always need to be doing something” mind set. 

What have I learned?  I’ve learned that I really didn’t need all that stuff I brought home from the office. Wall decorations, photographs, file cabinets, medical equipment, medical supplies; they all seemed like a good (I’m gonna “need these,” so I’ll take them home when the office closed) idea.  Well, I’ve learned that most of them are still where I dropped them when I first brought them home. Yes, I’ve filled several file cabinets with “old” office files, cme files, licensure paperwork, and, oh yes, old journal articles that I was sure I would need and refer to and reread, so I tore them out of the journal and filed for future use…..there is no future use for them, get rid of them. As far as all the other stuff is concerned, I should have offered many/most/all of my photographs that had adorned my office hallways and exam rooms to my staff and/or patients. I’m not going to need and or use many/most/all of them. Now what do I do with 30-40 20”x30” photographs?  Bringing home unused, but still-good medical supplies sure did seem like a good idea at the time, but I’ve used very few of them.  Sure, I’ve cut myself a couple of times but really how many 3x3 gauze (some) and old suture (none) have I needed?  I’ve learned that some “stuff” was worth the trip from office to home, but I didn’t need it all.  I’ve learned I don’t/didn’t need much of the stuff I brought home, I should have distributed it before I closed up the office….someone certainly could use it/them better than I.

What have I learned?  I’ve learned that although I had all intentions to continue reading every journal and dermatology article that came by, I have found that I am much more selective in what “medical” stuff I read.  Trying to keep up with everything when one is not fully immersed in “everything” is tough.  Be selective, cancel those journals you know you’re not going to get to….ever.  I’ve learned that “it ain’t gonna happen,” so I’ve stopped beating myself up (or better yet, I’ve lessened the beatings) for not reading absolutely everything.

What have I learned? I’ve learned that day to day interactions with staff, patients, and colleagues all but dried up, let alone what Covid restrictions have added to the equation!  Humans need humans and the loss of those day-to-day interactions/encounters is what I miss most with retiring.  I still see the occasional patient or staff member at the grocery store, but with the required social distancing and mask-wearing suggestions/rules those interactions are not quite the same.  What have I learned? I’ve learned that as best as can be done with Covid (and we will eventually be back to some type of normality) keeping your contacts going and up-to-date is important.  Zoom meetings just don’t cut it for me (and I’m betting with many of my fellow older than ?50-60-70 year old colleagues as well) When on-site meetings safely start back up, get to them and reconnect.  Same with non-medical events.  Be it investment clubs, yoga classes, or poker night, don’t become a hermit, get out there.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t put in a plug for POMA.  I’ve been going to POMA meetings for more than 30 years, thanks to an active POMA-ite physician (you know who you are) on my first rotation my third year who invited/insisted that I get involved with POMA, first his local district meetings then on the state level.  It wasn’t just medical stuff at those meetings, it was face-to-face human connections.  I originally started going to POMA events because it gave me the opportunity to see what was going on as it related to the practice of medicine in Pennsylvania, and by extension, nationally with the AOA. It gave me an opportunity to get an inside look, and keep abreast, of what was happening. What have I learned?  I’ve learned that those 30+ years have introduced me to a whole bunch of people, physicians as well as many non-physicians, I would have never met, and I have also learned about how much is done in the background, “unseen” by many colleagues, for the benefit of all physicians. Get involved, keep your membership active, get to meetings; be it local district meetings as well as state meetings.  Give a lecture to your students/residents, at your district meeting, or, better yet, the annual POMA Clinical Assembly—you won’t regret it!  You’ll meet a group of extraordinary “behind the scenes” people who make your association work.  Meet people—your colleagues— your POMA staff and you will be rewarded with a lifetime of friendships, and, oh yes, you won’t miss out on that proverbial human-to-human contact.

What have I learned in the 1+ years since retirement?   I’ve learned a lot, but most importantly, I’ve learned that retirement is a “good gig.”

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Comments on "It’s Been a Year And What Have I Learned?"

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Lisa Witherite-Rieg - Friday, May 21, 2021

I’m learning with you, R.J.! I have also learned that regular dinner/drinks/conversation with mentors/fellow retirees/friends and their spouse really lends a boost. Extra points when that is all wrapped up in the same person!

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