A plastic surgeon in Sydney, Australia has quit her job after months of grueling work that turned her into a patient for six weeks.
Kadota’s ordeal began in February 2018, which she described as “the worst working days of my life.”
Assigned to be on-call for up to 180 hours, she barely had time to sleep, exercise and eat healthily.
“My two-week cycle looked something like this: I was on call from Monday morning 7:30 a.m. until the next Monday 4 p.m. … about 180 continuous hours,” Kadota recalled. “This means that at any time during those 180 hours, I could (and did) get called by the hospital.”
“From the first week I was receiving phone calls every night until about midnight, and sometimes even a 3 a.m. call here and there. I would then get Monday night off — a momentary relief of one night’s uninterrupted sleep — and then back on call again the next morning until Friday afternoon — another 80 continuous hours of being on call. I got two days off, and then the cycle started again.”
Kadota’s log records show that at one point, she only had four hours of uninterrupted sleep. But some nights were more “unpredictable.”
“My days were long. I kept a log of my hours; I was at the hospital for 120 to 140 hours a fortnight, and work would follow me home with phone calls whilst trying to park my car in the garage, whilst I took a shower, whilst I was trying to cook dinner, and whilst I was trying to fall asleep. Every fortnight I would only be guaranteed four nights of uninterrupted sleep. The other 10 nights were unpredictable. Maybe I’ll get woken up, maybe I won’t. This mental unrest for 10 days a fortnight was taking a toll on me. I couldn’t go and exercise, I couldn’t plan anything social … I had to be on standby.”
At the end of her first month at Bankstown-Lidcombe Hospital, Kadota logged a whopping 100 hours of overtime work. Unfortunately, her grueling schedule continued — despite requests for rearrangement — and this started to affect her physical health.
“After a while, the other doctors began to notice how much time I was spending at the hospital. My locker had spare clothes, socks and toiletries in anticipation for all the nights I would be spending at the hospital. By April I began to feel physically unwell. The combination of stress, dehydration, poor nutrition, and sleep deprivation affected my gut health.”
Aside from physical stressors, Kadota had to endure other factors that made her days “unpleasant,” such as patients calling her a nurse even after introducing herself as a doctor.
She added, “It wasn’t just the patients. An emergency doctor rang me at 3 a.m. about an appointment. At 3 a.m.? Really? I expressed that it was inappropriate to wake me up at 3 a.m. about non-urgent matters. This was hardly an emergency. ‘Stop being an emotional female,’ he said. Oh no he didn’t … Would he have called my male counterpart ‘emotional’? I tried to get back to sleep but I couldn’t. How dare he call me emotional!”
Kadota, who had no choice of healthy food at work, eventually visited her family’s general practitioner for a check-up. She learned that she had become overweight.
“She’d known me for several years now, and was concerned by how physically and mentally exhausted I appeared. She felt strongly that she needed to write a letter to the hospital, which I gave to my HoD (Head of Department) and medical administration.”
She managed to take some time off but only to find additional workload upon her return.
“I came back from annual leave with the hope that my working conditions might improve. There were no such improvements; only an extra load imposed on me for taking time off – I didn’t realise that taking annual leave was a punishable offence. I was given an extra weekend to ‘make up’ for it.”
Kadota soldiered on for a few more weeks but before June started, she had to call it quits. She made the deliberate decision knowing that her name would be put on a blacklist.
“On the 1st of June I resigned. It wasn’t okay anymore. I was physically alive, but spiritually broken. At lunch time, I begged the HoD if I could go home. The answer, as always, was no. ‘Just hang in there.’ I felt like I had already ‘hung in there’ for three months. The 1st of June was my 24th consecutive day of work, 19 of which were 24-hour on-call days. I knew what it would mean to resign — I would be blacklisted and I would never get a job in plastic surgery again in Sydney. But I couldn’t keep going. I crashed my car on my way home.”
In a follow-up entry, Kadota detailed events that took place after her resignation. Being a yogini for as long as she had been a doctor, she once again turned to yoga and became a certified RYT-200 teacher.
Unfortunately, Kadota harbored insomnia and post-traumatic symptoms which left her hospitalized for six weeks.
“What still affects me every night is that I wake up every two hours. My brain still thinks it’s on call. The hypervigilance makes me wide awake. I’m not even stressed about anything. I’m not the type to ruminate over things. I just wake up, with an empty space in my head, with nothing in particular on my mind. ‘No, Miko, you’re not on call, there are no emergencies to be on standby for. Just go back to sleep.’ But I can’t.
“In early October I finally surrendered to my condition. I was admitted to a private hospital for treatment of my insomnia and post-traumatic symptoms. I was told I’d probably be there for three weeks. I ended up in hospital for six.”
Kadota concluded her update with hopes of returning to practice surgery, but not until a later time. For now, she seizes every second to heal herself from the wounds of clinical work.
She has also been campaigning against the exploitation of junior doctors in Australia — in hopes of saving others from the same fate.
“I wanted to be a surgeon, and there’s still a place in my heart for it, of course. Whatever I go back to, it will be surgical (if clinical), or anatomy (if academic). Those are my thoughts right now but I can’t make that decision yet. I need to heal first. In the meantime, I am enjoying some time off clinical work. I’m reading books to nourish my mind, eating a plant-based diet to nourish my body, and doing yoga to nourish my soul. I’m finding myself again. I’m not a plastic surgery registrar right now. I am just Miko, and I hope that that’s okay.”
Images via Instagram / Dr. Yumiko Kadota (@mindbodymiko)