Summer’s Over, Now What?

October 3, 2019

Summer brings a time of busyness; now that it’s over, it might be a good time to catch up (or at least plan on it).

Longer-term readers may have (correctly) gotten the impression that I am a big-time fan of summer. I love it all: Bring on the sweltering heat, even overwhelming humidity and fearsome thunderstorms. Long daylight hours, everything green and/or in bloom, wildlife at its most abundant and active. I would happily live like this year-round. (Why I don’t move somewhere else to do precisely that is another matter.)

So, around this time of year when we’re transitioning away from all these things I enjoy, and their wintry opposites are in the increasingly-visible future, I can get a little glum. There’s a Zen-like value in “being with” that unjoyous frame of mind, but I’ve found it more adaptive and functional to find some positives in the situation to focus on. No small number of which pertain to my work as a radiologist, especially during the past 8 years doing tele from home.

One of the biggies is that summer is the busiest and most chaotic time of year, at least from my telerad perspective. Lots of onsite rads take vacations, leaving much more imaging-work to be uploaded to remote readers. So, too, do the referring clinicians and associated ancillary workers-and covering docs as well as shorthanded hospital staff rarely have matters as well in hand as the usual crew. Those less familiar and/or confident tend to order more imaging, clinically-appropriate and otherwise.

This is especially the case at teaching-facilities. Around the end of June, hosts of medstudents become interns, interns become residents, rezzies become fellows, and fellows become attendings. And, of course, a new crop of medstudents arrives. Suddenly, everybody is at a new level of inexperience and responsibility. Including folks who have moved from one hospital to another and have to learn the local way of doing things on top of everything else.

By the end of summer, most have grown somewhat accustomed to their new roles, and there are fewer vacations resulting in coverage-crises. Further, there seem to be fewer patients turning up to the ERs as their own summertime activities-many offering greater opportunity for traumatic misadventure-come to a close. To say nothing of the reduction in hospital visits for heat exhaustion, dehydration, kidney stones, etc.

My previous telerad-gig had a nickname for the overabundance of summertime work, often accompanied by panic-inducing TATs (Turn-Around Times, if you’re fortunate enough not to know the term): The “summer surge.” There would usually be a mass sigh of relief after the close of the season.

Even though I’ve never been directly impacted by an overflowing worklist (for instance, by being required to continue working after my shift is done),  I still have a leftover sense of satisfaction at seeing the list get nice and short, or even empty, from back when I worked in an imaging-center and could reliably empty the queue each day. That sense of accomplishment is much more achievable once summer’s over.

Speaking of plugging away at my worklist, I find it much easier to focus on the task at hand without the allure of a delightful summer day outside my windows/door. On a sunny day with temps in the 80s, I’m far more liable to gaze longingly outside (if not step out there) than I am when it’s windy and in the 40s.

Also in the vein of “satisfying because it’s finally getting done,” I find that I have pretty much zero motivation to sit home and work at my CME requirements during the nicer part of the year. That doesn’t negate my sense of lingering responsibility, though, and the thought intermittently crosses my mind during the summer that I should be racking up some credits. I start checking off those boxes once huddling indoors becomes preferable to venturing out into the chill.

More peculiar to my situation, when I started my first telerad gig in 2011, my work-year began around November, and when I switched from that to my current situation it wasn’t much further on the calendar (January). Job-anniversaries can be another source of satisfaction, if not anticipation: A mark of tenure, if not a reliable progression in clout, compensation, etc. To me, summer ending means I’m soon to complete another “lap.”

Finally, a number of years ago I decided to approach the non-summery part of year by assigning myself a “winter project.” (I could have sworn I blogged about this before, but a brief search of my records has turned up nada.) I would identify something I wanted to accomplish, but probably wouldn’t without giving myself an extra nudge in the form of a deadline: The beginning of spring.

Having such a deadline makes my time move along a lot faster, and establishes a “win-win” situation. If I’m not making the progress I had hoped, winter seems to fly by, and my consolation for not having completed the project is that it’s spring already.

Alternatively, I accomplish something during the grim season that I probably would not have otherwise: Hitting new milestones with exercising (my first project was adding a hundred pounds to my bench-press, for instance (although my rotator cuff paid for that and I’ve returned to more modest numbers), sorting through a mountain of clutter in the basement, finally getting through some “I’m going to read that someday” books, you name it. Each time I reach this part of the year, I get to target some new priority-and the race begins as to whether its completion or the spring will arrive first.