Life in an Instant

17 May 2017

By Sasha Adams, MD

I am a multi-tasker. I thrive in chaos. Managing multiple projects, people, jumbled schedules – that’s when I’m on my game. And that’s a good thing, because I’m a surgeon, a wife, and a mother of 2 wonderful kids. I have an amazing husband who is an incredible stay-at-home Dad, but there is always more to do. So I multi-task: 2am waiting for my OR case to start, I jump on my phone and order diapers, confident that they will be delivered before we run out in 2 days. I check my emails (both work and home!) and rapidly respond while walking down the hall from the OR to my office. During morning checkout, I hear reference to a book I should probably read, and surreptitiously jump on my phone and order it for my Kindle app within a minute. Heading back to the office, I look at the calendar and notice the kids birthday party next weekend! Quickly I go online and order the gift so it’s delivered in time! All this while being on the go! Like I said, I thrive in chaos-#Ilooklikeasurgeon!! We live in a world where technology has made this possible: if you think of it – you can get it done, check it off your list, and move on to the next task. It’s all about instant gratification.

At work, however, I see a different kind of instant, and it is not gratifying. I’m a trauma surgeon so I see how in an instant, lives and families are changed forever. A moment of distraction while driving leads to an MVC, and they come to me, facing injury, or even mortality, the loss of loved ones, the shattered dreams of the future. I see the shock and pain in the eyes of the families that come wide-eyed to the ER, anxious and afraid to hear if their loved one is okay. As I tell them what has happened, I watch their well-planned, organized, happy world crumble around them. My heart breaks for them, and sometimes I cry with them. Some of their stories haunt me for years. In the Trauma Bay, there is no judgement, just resuscitation of the injured patient. But the stories unfold over the coming days. Yes – some are obviously intoxicated, but others seemingly innocent. Headed to /from work or dinner, some on the phone. “I never saw the other guy”, or “I just looked down for a second”. In 2014, over 400,000 people were injured from distracted driving, and over 3,000 were killed. 78% of them were on the phone, and although the “novice” drivers (15-19yo) get a lot of attention in the media, they are only 20% of the problem. The other 80% of us “experienced” drivers think we can just look down for a few seconds and we’ll be fine. But 4 seconds at 60 mph is the distance of a football field!

So as I drive to work this morning, my mind starts running – what do I have planned today – meetings, cases, appointments, catching up on the ever-behind notes, wondering how many emails are waiting for me. I should check on the patient from yesterday. The To-Do list grows as I quickly become preoccupied with my day before I even arrive. The multi-tasker in me is awake and on the move! Suddenly my phone notifies me of an incoming email. What could it be this early in the morning? Can’t be good. As I reach for my phone, one of those faces come to mind – a life changed in an instant of distraction. I see the faces of the family looking at their loved one in my Trauma Bay, damaged, hurt, with an uncertain future. The multi-tasker in me takes a breath and pauses. I put down the phone. Now is the time to focus on driving. I turn on the radio and sing along, enjoying the sunrise over the Texas landscape and my 20 minutes of off-the-grid peace while I watch carefully for the other drivers who don’t have the benefit (or curse) of knowing what can happen when they aren’t focused on the road around them.

The chaos can wait.

Dr. Adams is a Trauma Critical Care surgeon at the McGovern Medical School in Houston, TX. In addition to her clinical duties at the Level 1 Trauma Center, she runs the Surgical Clerkship for rotating 3rd year medical students, and is an inaugural Society leader and advisor for the McGovern Society, mentoring 8-10 students per year throughout their med school career. Dr. Adams’ research is focused on improving the care of geriatric trauma patients, through earlier identification of those at increased risk, changes to inpatient care practices, and early rehabilitation efforts to improve long term outcomes.

Our blog is a forum for our members to speak, and as such, statements made here represent the opinions of the author and are not necessarily the opinion of the Association of Women Surgeons.

2 Replies to “Life in an Instant”

  1. Thank you for your post. I’ve definitely been guilty of “multi-tasking” while driving. Whether it is putting makeup on, phone calls, emails and yes…texting. I have definitely changed my practices after doing my trauma rotations as PGY-1/2 and seeing all the MVC vs Pedestrian or distracted driver MVCs.

  2. “I put down the phone. Now is the time to focus on driving.”

    We have to do this each and every time we”re tempted, because our resolve can weaken over time. Sooo…. keep saying no to every distraction…every time.

    I hope everyone reads this well-written and helpful article!

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