Top 10 ways to survive (and maybe even enjoy) being on call

Like our residents (but not nearly as frequently), my group has started taking “in house” call.   For every one who is currently or has been a resident, this is an experience we all know…. and one that’s hard to describe to those that haven’t experienced it.   Spending 24 hours on call in the hospital can be emotionally and physically draining, but it has moments that make it a special experience, too.

There are ways to make the experience easier.  Here are my top 10 ways to survive (and maybe even enjoy) being on call:

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1. Drink water. Put a water bottle in the lounge refrigerator, drink from every water fountain, put your water bottle next to your computer, or come up with other ways to stay hydrated. If you want more flavor, bring a zip-lock with cut up lemons or limes to put in your water or add a splash of fruit juice.

2. Be kind. No matter how stressed or busy you are, knock on every patient’s door and enter their room with the intention to help. Sit down or put a hand on their arm when you are talking to them. Smile.

3. Take breaks. On purpose. No one really expects you to work non-stop for 24 hours and it’s not good for your patients. Deliberately stop to do something else every few hours, even if it’s just for 5 minutes. Go outside for a few minutes for a short walk to catch some natural light and breathe some fresh air. Get a good cup of coffee or tea, listen to some music or just sit. If you want something more active, climb a few flights of stairs, stretch, or even do a light workout.

4. Eat well and eat often. Do not rely on fast food or the hospital cafeteria. By far the best plan is to bring really good food from home. You need to have “comfort” food on call. If you don’t cook, buy really good prepared food that you can look forward to. Make sure you have “plan B” ready if your call day gets completely out of control by having an energy bar (my favorite is Kind bars), peanut butter sandwich or other “quick” food in your white coat pocket.

5. Be part of the team. Notice and encourage the unique camaraderie you share with everyone else who is on call. It’s a small “band of brothers” who find themselves in the hospital at 3am. Be kind to each other, help each other, and use this unique opportunity to get to know someone you might otherwise not get to know.

6. Wear good shoes. If you are in house for 24 hours, bring a second pair that’s completely different (clogs and running shoes for example). Ditto socks. Buy really good socks and change them after 12 hours if you can.

7. Use caffeine wisely. It’s practically essential for many of us at the beginning of the day, but beware trying to “wake up” with caffeine after 2pm.   Not to mention that if you “caffeinate” all night, you’ll have that sickly post-call-too-much-caffeine feeling in the morning.

8. Take naps. Any sleep is good sleep on call. If it’s possible, 20 minutes will make you more alert and effective in your work.

9. Make your beeper a “Zen bell”. Use your pager or phone as a tool for mindfulness. When it goes off, take a deep breath, relax the muscles in your face and shoulders and be present.  This is a proven practice to decrease stress – try it, it works!

10. Learn. Take advantage of the unique educational opportunity of being on call. The fact that there are fewer people around at night and on the weekends has a real impact on how and what you learn on call.   If you are a student or junior resident, you are more likely to be the first person evaluating new consults and admissions. You are also more likely to have one on one time with your senior resident or faculty as you care for patients together.  If you are further along in your training,  the “down time” on call (if there is any!) is a great time to catch up on reading.

 

 

Fast Food for Call Nights

It’s 2am on call.  All of a sudden you are starving, not to mention craving comfort food.  The only thing available is MacDonald’s or (on rare occasions) the leftover pizza from the noon conference.  It’s a problem.  Eating that kind of food at 2am will almost certainly result in food coma, not to mention that you really know it’s not healithy or what you would recommend for your patients.

Here’s the answer.

These tacos are a great breakfast on the run, afternoon snack or 2am call food.  It takes ~15 minutes to make 10 of them on the weekend – which is enough to last for several weeks.

Start by chopping up the veggies you want to put in the tacos.  My “go to” is one red bell pepper and a poblano pepper.  Corn and rice work well, too.  You can change the taste by using different cheese and different veggies (brocolli, carrots etc with Monterey Jack, for example).

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Buy the cheese you want already shredded.  Lowfat Mexican is my usual choice, but any cheese is fine.  I’ll often cut up a block of 50% Cabot cheddar cheese which is a great tasting low calorie cheese.

Put 10 whole wheat tortillas on the counter and divide one can of refried beans between them.  Use nonfat if you are watching calories.  Black beans, pinto beans, spicy or not – your choice!

Divide up your veggies and cheese onto the 10 tacos.

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Roll them up and put them in snack size plastic bags.

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Put the little bags in a gallon freezer bag (important to prevent the bad taste of freezer burn) and put them in the freezer.  They last for weeks.

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Two minutes in the microwave directly from the freezer gives you a great breakfast, snack, or middle of the night comfort food!

Cold Summer Treats

It’s summer and it’s hot.  I’m on call this weekend.  That combination made me think about cold comfort food I could take to work.

Chocolate (in any form) is always the answer… but I decided maybe I could find something a little more healthy (and a little less caloric) that could serve as the “treat” we all crave when we are working hard on call.  I’m thinking the team will like a little Salpicon mid afternoon tomorrow…

Salpicon – a sparkling fruit drink from Columbia

This soup looks delicious, but with the heavy cream probably isn’t in the “low calorie” list.  You can substitute milk or yogurt to cut calories (without too much sacrifice of taste).  But, then again, as an on-call treat this still beats McDonald’s!  This is just one example of cold soups – which are great for summer on-call days.

Cold avocado soup

Smoothies are great comfort food – but logistically not easy when you are on call.  If you love smoothies, you might want to invest in an inexpensive single-serve blender.  Take the fruit in a baggie, put some yogurt and ice cubes in… instant smoothie.  Alternatively, you can blend your smoothie at home and put it in a container in the refrigerator that you can shake up before drinking.

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Banana mango smoothie

February’s Healthy Habit: Get Moving!

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to come up with monthly “resolutions” for myself and for anyone who follows this blog.  Cooking Light magazine (which is one of my favorite sources of recipes and ideas for healthy living) had the same idea, so I am shamelessly borrowing their healthy habits!

Cooking Light’s 12 Healthy Habits

It’s a lot easier to commit to 30 days of a new habit than a full year.  So this month’s goal is to maintain or improve fitness by increasing activity.

It may seem daunting to stay in shape or even improve your fitness level when you are swamped with studying or work in the hospital.  It’s not easy, but it is absolutely doable.  The best way to start is to pick one or two of the following ideas and make them a resolution for this month.  Pick goals that are “SMART” (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely) and then just do it! Consistency is the most important part of setting this goal – so pick something that you know you can do on a regular basis.

Some ideas to consider:

  • Take the stairs at work instead of the elevator
  • Commute to school or the hospital on your feet or on a bicycle
  • Park as far away from school or work as is reasonable and walk the rest of the way
  • Plan ahead for 10 minutes of exercise while you are on call and take what you need
  • Wear a pedometer and get 10,000 steps/day
  • Do push-ups every morning before you go to work
  • Find a cardio exercise that isn’t boring for you and do it 30 minutes 3x/week
  • Run.  It’s easy, it’s cheap and it’s the most effective exercise for busy people!
  • Hire a trainer for one workout a week (or ask for this as a present)
  • Play golf, tennis, racquetball – any game that gets you moving!
  • Find a spin class or other organized exercise class to attend once a week
  • Organize a basketball or ultimate Frisbee game with your friends once a week
  • Shoot for a total minute goal/week of exercise (start with 100?) and keep track
  • Whatever you decide to do, PLAN – make it an appointment on your calendar, put it on your daily scut list, get your clothes out the night before – do whatever it takes to make it happen!

Tour de France Rice Cakes

I’m addicted to watching the Tour de France.  It’s an amazing athletic event, and the images (at least on HD) are simple astonishing.

There was a really great “side story” on tonight’s Tour broadcast about Dr. Allen Lim, a PhD sports physiologist.  The segment was specifically about his rice cakes – a real food equivalent of a commercial energy bar used by the Radio Shack riders.   http://dailyburn.com/recipes/dr_allen_lim_rice_cakes.

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I haven’t made these yet, but I’m pretty certain they are going to be really good and – more importantly – a great call/energy food for busy students and residents.  He has some other recipes that would probably be good on call energy food, too

Here’s a video on how to make these rice cakes.   http://www.cycle-ops.com/videos.html?id=50

Photo from http://bikefleet.blogspot.com/2009/03/allen-lims-rice-cakes.html

Healthy Sandwiches

Making a healthy sandwich for lunch is a great way to insure that you don’t eat the leftover pizza from last night’s call team.  A really good sandwich which balances protein and carbs is also a great way to get through a long call night.  Keeping your energy up when you are up all night on call is difficult but there are tricks to maintain energy for call. The most important way to have good energy on call is to eat good quality food every 3-4 hours. Sandwiches are great for call because they are so easy to make, easy to store and easy to put in a pocket to eat on the go.

Pick good ingredients whenever you can.  It’s worth paying a little more to have food that is just food (and not a lot of fillers, corn syrup, transfats, etc).  Make sure you get high quality bread – 100% whole wheat is best, but if you really don’t like whole wheat, at least try to get as much whole grain in the bread as you can. Whenever possible, add veggies to add nutritional value.

Peanut butter sandwiches have the advantage of not needing refrigeration.  You can keep them in your white coat pocket if you want to (an advantage on a busy day).  You can stay traditional (i.e. peanut butter and jelly), or up the nutritional content by adding banana (or other fruit) or with unusual combinations http://www.epicurean.com/articles/beyond-jelly-reinventing-the-peanut-butter-sandwich.html

Egg salad sandwiches are great in the middle of the night when you are on call.  101cookbooks.com egg salad recipe is a pretty classic recipe which is really wonderful.  If you want to up the protein and decrease the fat try the  Eat Clean Diet egg salad recipe. There are other sites that give you other options for traditional egg salad recipes or  healthy egg salad recipes

Tuna or chicken salad sandwiches can be made with classic recipes, or less traditional ingredients that up the nutritional content such as spicy tuna salad, or other unique tuna salad recipes.

Lean meat (chicken, ham, pork, beef) makes a great, high protein sandwich.  Add cheese, tomatoes, spinach, shredded carrots or other veggies to increase the nutritional value.  If you are watching your weight use low-fat cheese and avoid mayonnaise.  If you use hummus or avocado instead of mayonnaise or other spreads you’ll also make the sandwich more nutritious.

Here are a few other sites to help you be creative with your sandwich ideas:

Beyond Peanut Butter and Jelly: Healthy Sandwich Choices for Everyone

Healthy Sandwich Recipes & Tips

Love Your Lunch: 10 Healthy Sandwich Recipes

Healthy Sandwich Ideas

Good Nutrition is in the Bag: Healthy Sandwich Alternatives

You Can Exercise Even if You are on Call

One of the great fallacies about working out is that you need to “go somewhere” to work out.  This idea that working out is separate from the rest of your life is the main reason people don’t work out.  Be creative – there are lots of ways to work out that don’t require much and can be done in the hospital.  There are days on call and then there are days on call (everyone who has done it knows what I am talking about).  On the days that have a little “breathing room” here are some ways to work out while you are at work.

Cardio options

  1. Take the stairs instead of the elevator.  There are good data that 3 sessions of 10 minutes of cardio has the same result as a 30 minute cardio session.  Those 2-3 minute “sessions” of going from floor to floor will add up to 20-30 minutes easily by the end of the day.  Or, if you want to push it a bit, add a few flights (or minutes) here and there.  You can always find 10 minutes (or 20, if the day permits) and really climb the stairs.
  2. Take a jump rope to the hospital and keep it in the call room
  3. Find out if there is a stress test lab or PT area in the hospital that has stationary bikes or treadmills that you can use.
  4. Go for a walk.  If it’s safe, and your beeper and cell phone permit, walk outside the hospital.  If not, do “power rounds” on the floors for exercise (do the circuit of each floor, climb the stairs to the next floor and continue).
  5. Talk your program into paying for a used bike or treadmill.
  6. Commute to work on your feet or on a bicycle (more on that later…)

Strength training options

  1. Buy a set of stretch bands or inflatable (with water) dumbbells and throw them into your on-call bag.  You can get a good strength training workout with these.
  2. Cheap dumbbells are easy to find.  For $20-30, you can put a pair or two  in the call room or resident lounge.  See if there are other residents that want to go in with you to buy a complete set.  Of course, you will have to find a way to lock them up if, like most hospitals, things have a habit of walking away.
  3. Old fashion calesthenics (push-ups, squats, etc) will provide a good strength workout , too. You might consider one of the many popular DVD based programs that are making the rounds (no pun intended) at the moment.

Flexibility training

Stretching can be done anywhere, anytime.  Like weight training, there are some good tips that can be taught by a pro.  Make sure if you hire a personal trainer that you ask them to give you some tips about stretching, too.  There are also excellent books on stretching.  You might think about web based or DVD yoga sessions as another alternative.

The key concept here is that working out during call is doable – and will often help with fatigue, stress and the feeling of being overworked.  These “workouts” don’t have to be long – even 10 minutes will help.