From The New York Times
One night during my training, long after all the other doctors had fled the hospital, I found a senior surgeon still on the wards working on a patient note. He was a surgeon with extraordinary skill, a doctor of few words whose folksy quips had become the stuff of department legend. “I’m sorry you’re still stuck here,” I said, walking up to him.
He looked up from the chart. “I’m not working tomorrow, so I’m just fine.”
I had just reviewed the next day’s operating room schedule and knew he had a full day of cases. I began to contradict him, but he held his hand up to stop me.
“Time in the O.R.,” he said with a broad grin, “is not work; it’s play.”
For several years my peers and I relished anecdotes like this one because we believed we knew exactly what our mentor had meant. All of us had had the experience of “disappearing” into the meditative world of a procedure and re-emerging not exhausted, but refreshed. The ritual ablutions by the scrub sink washed away the bacteria clinging to our skin and the endless paperwork threatening to choke our enthusiasm. A single rhythmic cardiac monitor replaced the relentless calls of our beepers; and nothing would matter during the long operations except the patient under our knife.
We had entered “the zone.” We were focused on nothing else but our patients and that moment.
But my more recent conversations with surgical colleagues and physicians from other specialties have had a distinctly different timbre. While we continue to deal with many of the same pressures that my mentor dealt with — decreasing autonomy, increasing administrative requirements, less control over our practice environment — the demands on our attention have gone, well, viral.
Extreme multitasking has invaded the patient-doctor relationship.