Necessary Interruptions: When to Let Life Get in the Way

Jennifer Frank, MD


November 08, 2021

Today we had a scary event happen at my children's high school. Apparently, a disturbed individual took a selfie with a handgun and claimed he was going to shoot up the school. It must've been sent or posted and created an immediate police response and school lockdown. Fortunately, the suspect never entered the school and was arrested a couple of hours later in a neighboring town without incident. However, the hour and a half of uncertainty while the school was locked down was terrifying for kids, teachers, and parents. One of my daughters was in her classroom under a desk with the lights off for an hour.

I can only imagine how frightened she was.

I was seeing patients less than 3 miles away. As is typical, my phone was kept on silent mode as it sat on my desk to avoid any distractions that would interrupt what was a typically crazy day in the clinic. When I finally glanced at my phone, there was a series of texts. Fortunately, the all-clear text was the first one I saw. Had I seen the initial text alerting parents to the danger the school faced, I can't imagine the kind of panic I would have experienced. After a moment of relief, I went about the rest of my day, not realizing what the impact would be on my children.

I arrived home later that evening and realized that both of my daughters were deeply affected by this event. Their experience was much different than what was conveyed in the brief descriptions offered in the reassuring texts sent by the school district. There was legitimate fear, and when I scrolled back through the family group texts, even an "I love you all" text from my daughter while she huddled under a desk.

As I spoke with them, it became apparent that our timelines were completely out of sync and I wasn't appropriately sympathetic to the hour or two of uncertainty and fear that shaped their memory of the day. For me, the experience was condensed into a 10-second timeline as I read the automated texts. For them, it was so much more.

Work feels so important while I am doing it. And, truthfully, it is important. My patients come to me with a host of problems and needs, and it is my privilege to care for them. I try very hard to be fully present with them and concentrate completely on them while I am in the clinic. Today, though, my singular focus on my patients feels off. A major event in my daughters' day, one I feel I should have been a part of, occurred without my knowing or appreciating the intensity of it.

Work-life balance often encourages a single-minded focus on what is before you — fully engaging with your family at the dinner table or concentrating on the meeting or appointment you are in at the moment. We are encouraged to be mindful and be present. Yet, this fails to honor the multi-faceted nature of our lives in which interrupting events occur unexpectedly. The challenge is how to make the right amount of room at work or in our personal lives so that the important interruptions find a place without allowing all interruptions to take over.

I will show up tomorrow resolved once again to be fully present at work, and I will return home in the evening and do my best to avoid checking my electronic inbox. But I suspect that I may be checking my phone a bit more frequently to make sure I don't miss anything.

How do you manage to maintain a work-life balance while making room for necessary interruptions?

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About Dr Jennifer Frank
Jennifer Frank has the unbelievable privilege of being a family physician, physician leader, wife, and mother in Northeast Wisconsin. When it comes to balancing work and life, she is her own worst enemy because she loves to be busy and enjoys many different things. In her spare time (ha!), she enjoys reading suspense and murder mysteries as well as books on leadership and self-improvement. She also writes her own murder mysteries and loves being outdoors.
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