I can remember the times as a kid when we would have contests with each other to see who could hold their breath the longest. I admit, childhood bravado can definitely drive kids to push themselves to do some crazy things, sometimes with bad outcomes.
But what about physician bravado? How many physicians have learned to repeatedly hold their emotional breath for prolonged periods? As the sign warns, “when you do this, your body starts to shut down and not ask for oxygen, which can cause you to pass out and drown.” Unfortunately, medical training has forced to shut down their emotional oxygen requests, to stop feeling (breathing) as a way of coping with stress, trauma, and grief.
Too many end up drowning trying to be the “Michael Phelps” of medical practice.
We need a revolution of practice that doesn't reward this kind of bravado, if that’s what it really is, argues my friend Sheila Giffen, MD.
“Reconnecting with resiliency is a journey. It starts with taking one breath, with taking a moment just to be. To recognize the stress and to really feel it and accept it. We need each other to resurface and change the medical environment that is causing us to falter in our passion to help others and to lose our sense of self. So I ask you to start really breathing and then to start raising questions and talking and reaching out to find those answers TOGETHER.”
*After the initial post of this article in 2016, our state epidemiologist challenged the statistics stating that at least in Idaho (and nowhere else she knew of) this wasn't the leading cause of swimming-related deaths. Most likely this sign got propagated in YMCAs across the nation because of a spate of drownings in one place.