I spend a lot of my own work talking to other people about their work. Either they want to and can't, or they don't want to but can, or they're not sure and they want me to decide for them.
It is possibly the one area where I have become less sympathetic rather than more so, since I've had my own experience of ill-health.
We know doctors don't do sickness, and a big part of that is not doing absenteeism. We simply aren't into it. It is not a neutral subject for us. We are not like, "eh, whatevs" about whether we go to work or not on any given day. We are defined by, nourished by, enraged-but-captivated-by our work. It is not a meh kind of job. It is horrific, excoriating, exhausting, illuminating, inspiring, breath-taking.
So we are not best placed to make a judgment call about whether taking a few duvet days is a reasonable thing to do if you've had a bit of a cold, or whether a few extra weeks tacked on to the end of a gallbladder op recovery period is just what anyone would do in the same boat. Our boat is nothing like other people's boats. Ours is leaky, and carrying a lot of sick people who are glaring at us saying "C'mere, where are you going, Captain? We need you!" (Some of this is the usual "doctors-thinking-they're-gods" hyperbole. Some of this).
By dint of our stubborn pig-headed inflated-ego-driven work ethic, we are a useful study group for anyone trying to figure out if work is good for you when you are faced with a life-altering illness. Because whether it's good for us or not, we will work through pretty much every adverse condition you can throw at us.
Sometimes that's not very wise. I do recall sitting in a consulting room the size of a wardrobe with a patient whose TB was so active he was actually wearing the mask they give infectious people (but never really expect them to wear). My white cell count was diddly-squat (making me very prone to life-threatening infections) but I just held my breath and nodded at him for the five minutes it took me to fill in his social welfare cert.
In season 2 of The Handmaid's Tale (which is about a fictional dystopian world, Gilead, where women are fierce oppressed altogether), two women work together in secret because the man is too sick to fulfil his duties and they need to cover for him. They were both professionals in their former lives, but that right had been taken away from them. They enlist the help of another woman, who was formerly a neonatologist (and who can now cure the apparently-moribund-but-healthiest-looking 10-month old I've ever seen). The handmaid (who is about as shat-on as it is possible to be) isn't even allowed to own a pencil, in case she would go around inciting subversion (or making lists of jobs for the man to do). When the two women get the opportunity to use their skills again, to activate their long-dormant knowledge and experience, they are elated and, almost unheard of in Gilead, actually smiling (cue lingering close-up...)
There is worth to work that exceeds financial reward. Yet there is almost a universal assumption that when you are sick or injured, that you should not work. Of course you shouldn't work if you simply can't - I don't think I would have been on the top of my doctoring game if I saw a few patients while I was off my trolley on fentanyl in ICU - but I am talking more about long-term absences, particularly related to cancer.
When I first asked my oncologist if I could work, he said why not? He had spent many years in the US, where patients had to go to work because the welfare system is so shite, and they needed to earn money to pay for their treatment. That doesn't sound like the ideal scenario for rehab and recovery. But in Ireland, I think more cancer patients could be supported and encouraged to explore the possibility of returning to work, perhaps in a reduced capacity or in a different role. The organisation Working With Cancer is a UK-based enterprise which aims to support both employers and employees in dealing with return to work after cancer diagnosis and treatment. I have not come across anything equivalent in Ireland.
In the past three and a half years, the times that I have been most down, most despondent, have been related to feeling that I have not been pulling my weight at work. I have realised, though, that I cannot commit myself entirely to one job, or one kind of work, as it quickly wears me down and wears me out. Instead, I have found that working on projects about which I am truly passionate has lifted me out of any tendency to wallow or ruminate. Taking on new challenges, trying things I have never done before, walking into a room of strangers and saying "hello" - these are all things that I shied away from in the past. It seemed that life would be so much easier if you just ride along with it, keeping your head down, doing the same old same old, day in day out. Using cliches like those and not even realising it. But that is what crushes you, makes you flat, makes you two-dimensional.
Do something that makes you think you're great. It's a good feeling.