I Used To Be An Anesthetist. Now I’m Happy Instead.

Picture by Piron Guillaume

About quitting a job, life-decisions and what matters most.

Growing up as the son of an internist, when I was about five I visited my father’s practice and got asked by one of his employees what I wanted to be when I grow up. ‘When daddy is retired, I’m gonna be the boss here!’, I replied straightforward from about one meter above ground level.

The years passed but most of my life, when asked what I wanted to be I replied that I wanted to be a doctor.

So school came, school went, University came and so came my degree. Originally from Austria, this is where I started my career.

I traveled to Switzerland with my girlfriend that year as well. Oh boy what a country. The mountains… the lakes… the cheeses… the salaries. I fell in love.

About a year later I quit my job in Austria, we moved to Zurich and I started to work at the University Hospital as an assistant doctor in anesthesia.

Anesthesia is great. You get to drug people and get paid for it. It’s a ton of fun. And it’s a ton of stress.

While having been interested in self-improvement, financial freedom and other good-for-your-life-things before that was about the time when I first got in contact with minimalism. More on that later, but first: Back to the story.

 


 

Most people don’t know what anesthetists do. It’s commonly thought that they give you a shot and then you sleep while the surgeons do the work and they’re off drinking coffee instead, which is… only partly correct.

It’s true. Anesthesia kind of rhymes with coffee. But the main job as an anesthetist (next to drinking the lovely black happiness) is making sure patients don’t die.

Yes, sure, most doctors do that, but in other ways.

Think of it this way: While most doctors try to prolong your life as well as improve your quality of life, by curing diseases, when shit truly hits the fan, it’s highly likely an anesthetist is somewhere close. 

Emergency medicine is a big part of anesthesia because anesthetists basically make sure air goes in and out of the body and the blood continues to circulate around in it. 

Spoiler alert: Any deviation of this rule of thumb is bad.

So things like resuscitation, massive trauma as in bike vs. truck and keeping keeping patients alive at the intensive care unit are examples of what anesthetists do.

I don’t want to go too much into detail and bore you to death (hah!) but to sum it up: It’s exciting, it’s fun and it’s stressful as hell.

I liked what I did. I had worked as a paramedic next to my studies already and therefor had been in emergency medicine for a quite a while before. So I knew the stress. But at the same time I knew that for my own health, it was bad.

While it’s great to have the ‘I just saved a life’-feeling, having people die in front of you, often as part of your daily routine is — and you don’t need to be an expert on the field here — bad for you.

Not only was I working too many hours a week, I didn’t have the time to recover from the everyday normality of having death as your co-worker.

Sure. Not all days were as bad as that. Often times you’re just going into the surgery department, anesthetize patients, making sure they are receiving a good narcosis, keeping their vital functions in tact for the surgery and then you go home again. But the days when you are in the ER and emergency surgery department can be quite exhausting in that regard.

The high wages and the being-awesome-saving-lives helps, but in the end they can’t compensate for everything.

So after close to a decade of emergency medicine (pre- and in-hospital) I started to feel out of balance. There were two things which made me realize something was truly off:

  • I noticed that I needed more holiday than I had. Yes I know. Many people do. But there’s a difference between thinking ‘Man, I’d love go on holiday again soon’ and just coming home from two weeks of Norway doing essentially nothing, being supposed to be completely relaxed and thinking ‘Man, I need to go on holiday again soon’.
  • I realized that small annoyances made me unbelievably angry. There are some things you run across working in a hospital that happen over and over again. Asking a patient if they have any known problems with their cardiovascular system and they reply with a definite ‘No’, but later you find out they already had two heart attacks and their heart is basically toast. When you then ask them why they didn’t tell you before the answer is usually: “I didn’t know it was important” or “I take my medications regularly, so it’s all good”. No it’s not. You had two heart attacks. It’s literally essential for your survival that you tell me about your heart problems, because I could easily kill you with my drugs if I don’t know about them. Usually this is not #1 on my priority to-do list for the day.
    Or take the pregnant women for example. Screaming and moving around because of the pain of her contractions while I’m sitting behind her trying to give her a peridural anesthesia made me so angry it’s hard to put in words. In my head I constantly heard myself shouting at her to pull herself together and that other women can do it too. I swore and cursed in my head (never in front of the patient though of course!), but when I was done I walked out of the room thinking: ‘What the hell are you doing? That woman was in pain. What’s wrong with you? Who are you?’. I felt bad for having emotions I wasn’t supposed to have and which weren’t logical in any way. Especially if you’re a doctor, who is supposed to help suffering people, not be angry at them for suffering.

So I got up in the morning thinking ‘Fuck… Not again, I need a break’. Then I went to work and was incredibly pissed all the time by things that shouldn’t have pissed me off and after a 10–12h shift I walked out of the hospital thinking ‘Thank god’.

That’s when I knew I had to change something.

Change is scary. And that’s good.

I was always of the opinion that if you don’t like something about your life, you need to change it. Because quite frankly, you’re the only one who CAN change something about your life. The more you blame others for something you don’t like about your own life, the more you make them responsible for what’s not right with it. Therefor the less the control of your own life lies in your own hands. If you’re not the captain of your own ship, you cannot blame someone else for crashing it into the shore. It’s that simple. You don’t like something? Change it.

 


 

I liked Zurich better than my hometown. It’s gorgeous with it’s old town and the lake, the mountains surrounding it… Everything. The pay was a lot better here. The medical training — from what I heard — was in some ways different/better in Switzerland than Austria as well.

Having lived in the same (small) town my whole life this was a huge step for me.

It was incredibly scary. But my girlfriend, having moved from Germany to Austria ten years ago, already knew the process of moving to a different country and showed me that first of all: It’s ok to be scared. And second: I don’t need to be scared. 

What was the worst thing that could happen? We wouldn’t like it and we moved back. So what? If you don’t like something, you can always change it.

So we moved. I left behind everything I had known my whole life. My friends, my family and my home. And I haven’t regretted it a minute since.

You lose some friends in a process like that. And that is fine. It’s good even. 

We spend so much time with people we don’t truly care about. When I come back home from time to time, I meet the ones that are truly important. I noticed that I much rather spend more time with the 5 best friends back home and have much better, much deeper conversation with them that truly enrich our lives than meeting with the 25 others that don’t add the same value to my life. Sure, I liked them too and was glad when I met them. But when you set priorities and reduce your time to the things and people that matter most, you realize how little you need and you furthermore appreciate what/who you have much more.

When I moved to Zurich I decluttered my belongings, getting rid of everything I didn’t need. Only when you move is when you realize how much stuff you don’t need you have lying around. 

Continuing to move this principle of minimalism to all parts of my life, I realized more and more that it’s not about what you have, but much rather what you get rid of that makes up for a good life. 

Let me give you a few examples: We got rid of a lot of stuff that we had lying around. We traded that for a great looking home. Whenever people come to visit, they say that we are so tidy. No we’re not. We just don’t have all the junk lying around anymore, that’s why it looks so clean.

Many people say they wish they found more time to read. Well, do it then. All you need to do is remove the Facebook-scrolling and the random Youtube-watching and sit down with a book and read. We all have enough time for whatever we want, when we stop wasting our time with things that don’t add value to our lives.

When you start to remove the things you DON’T like about your life, all that remains is the things you DO like. 

And that’s what I did. I realized that I value my health and happiness more than the 6-figures I made as an anesthetist.

It’s not that anesthesia is not a great field. I love it for the most part. But I realized it was more important for me to remove this bulk of stress in my life, than it was to keep the I’m-awesome-cause-I-just-saved-a-life-high.

When asked what I do I always enjoyed the responses like ‘Wow. That’s so cool. I could never do that’, because it made me feel special and gave me the feeling that I was so tough to push through that.

But by the time I realized that in fact I wasn’t as tough as I thought. And to be honest it hurts and scares me to admit it. 

But being scared means accepting that failure is an option. And from failures we learn, we grow, we advance in life.

 


Picture by Jamie Street

So here I am now. Writing my first post on my blog. At the start of a new path. I invite you to join me on this journey, so I can learn some things from you and maybe I can give you some things back to help you enrich your lives in one or another way.

Was quitting my job a decision that made my life better? I feel good about it, haven’t regretted it since and I’m happier than I’ve been in a long time. But I don’t know yet. All I know is:

I’m scared. 

And I love it. 



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