“Where has the time gone?”
While it may seem like a throwaway statement people make as the New Year approaches, it is also a somewhat ominous reminder of our most precious commodity – time. As a primary care physician, the elusiveness of this resource is one I am reminded of daily:
Do you have time to see me? How can I find time to see a therapist? What is my wait time? How much time do I have left?
The other day, I was pacing between patients, chewing on the inside of my lip as I walked up and down the short hallway where my patient rooms are located. My medical assistant looked up at me puzzled, “do you need something doctor?”
“Just a few moments to think,” I answered. I was debating about which treatment approach to pursue with a patient and I was worried that if I sat down, my thoughts would slow along with my body, and I didn’t have time for that.
I spend so much of my day counselling patients on where to find time – for exercise, for yoga, for therapy, for meal-prepping. And while I am doing so, I am painfully aware of the clock ticking behind me, reminding me that I don’t really have time to be doing so much personalized advising – there are many more patients waiting to be seen.
With the arrival of automation and computerized medical records, physicians hoped it would open the door to expediency – that it would reduce workload and create more time for direct patient care. But the time saved has now been used to schedule more patient visits, and the electronic medical system demands its own timely attentions as well.
I am all too aware that physicians are not alone in this reality. We live in an exceedingly fast-paced world where it is increasingly hard to “unplug”. Work follows many of us home and our jobs are demanding more from us than ever. Meanwhile, rates of anxiety are increasing nationwide as young and older generations struggle to find time for their own needs amidst the chaos of the daily grind.
Like many of my colleagues, I find minutes by skipping lunch, coming in early, leaving late. I lean on my partner to walk the dog in the morning and pick up the groceries because those are minutes he can find better than I.
I cannot fix the complexities of US corporate culture, or the time demands that companies but on their employees. However, I can say that the extra minutes I give my patients can be transformative. And the minutes my husband gives to me in return are priceless. So perhaps there is some remedy in donating your spare time to those who need it – taking a few minutes to help a busy friend, completing a task for an overwhelmed colleague, or offering a ride to someone who needs it. That way as we are all asking ourselves “where the time has gone”, we might feel that it was not wasted.