My On-Call Life

Emily S. Goncalves, MD, MBA

Disclosures

June 07, 2021

Some people seem to make it through a week of call or a 24-hour shift without too much difficulty ... I am not one of those people. I cannot sleep well during the day and seem to build up a sleep deficit throughout the week. My call schedule this past week was 8 p.m.-8 a.m. Monday through Friday. We take call in the hospital and cannot leave hospital grounds.

On Sunday afternoon, I felt fairly ambitious about the upcoming week and thought about how productive I could be during each day, hoping to tackle my dense textbook of psychopharmacology and training runs each day. But, as the week progressed, the motivation dwindled. And once Wednesday came around, I slept only a few hours and could not sleep after getting back home. The fatigue was hitting hard, but I decided to try and get my run done as soon as getting home before it got too hot outside. The run was relaxing, even though I felt like my legs were made of lead, and it helped me wind down from the night. I stopped to pick up a treat after my run, a bubble tea, and walked home. I felt relaxed at this point and got in a good nap.

I usually don't get the heavy eyelid feeling, but my legs felt heavy, even after the nap, and my head was throbbing ... running with what felt like 10-pound weights strapped to each leg is not easy, and waking up in the middle of the day is disorienting.

So how does a resident who is running 40 miles a week survive night float?

  1. Listen to your body! This can be tough for my type-A personality, but it is super important for my health. I once ran after working all night as a medical student and tripped over the sidewalk and suffered some serious road rash. After this literal crash-and-burn incident, I learned to take it easy (most of the time).

  2. Run slower and shorter if needed. No point in suffering through a run, and most of our fitness gains happen during recovery periods.

  3. Hydrate. Water and electrolytes are key for me feeling somewhat normal after working nights.

  4. Eat healthy. Easy to order in junk when you're exhausted. ... I did order in one day, but I picked a somewhat healthy vegan takeout restaurant.

  5. Lie down even if you cannot sleep. Just lying down and resting helped me reset for the next night, and I eventually did fall asleep, even if it was just for 30 minutes.

Being on call is never easy but a necessary part of residency that everyone seems to survive. I try to take it day by day, night by night, and run by run, allowing myself some flexibility in my running and focusing on rest. The adage, “It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon” holds true while in residency. I try to keep in mind that I am working at a long-term goal of becoming the best psychiatrist I can be, and I hope to follow my own advice as I brace myself for another week of 12-hour days ahead.

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About Dr Emily Goncalves
Emily S. Goncalves, MD, MBA, is a psychiatry resident at Delaware Psychiatric Center in New Castle. She is a competitive runner and ran for Syracuse University. She continues to live an active lifestyle and has competed in eight marathons, including the Boston Marathon. Emily hopes to share her passion for running with her patients and is interested in pursuing a career in consultation and liaison psychiatry. She also enjoys writing about her running adventures.

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