“Check your own pulse first”

Our four year old loves tag. We play it inside and outside. Of course her favorite time to play with us is when we’re focused on something else, like making dinner. We’ve started calling “Time Out!” so we can flip the chicken or feed the dog. The first few times we abruptly called “Time Out!” our daughter slumped in the corner pouting and confused. What was she doing wrong that warranted a time out? Sometimes the tears roll. Unable to suppress our laughter, we sit down with her and explain what Time Out means during a game. Now as she practices this new concept she calls “Time Out…Go!” like a game of Red Light, Green Light. Usually it’s so she can take a few more steps to distance herself from whomever is “it.”

While Time Out during tag and Time Out as punishment have very different meanings to a four year old, they’re essentially the same thing. Time Out is hitting Pause, calming down and regrounding with the intent of coming back into play with better intent and stronger than before. Time Out as punishment in our house is one minute for every year of life, so our older daughter gets four and a half minutes. I would love to have a 36 minute uninterrupted quiet Time Out myself, but that’s not going to happen.

During my last pregnancy, which was unpleasant and difficult to say the least, I started taking “A Mommy Minute.” Essentially five to ten minutes of alone time so I could return to my family recharged, happy and patient. I still take a Mommy Minute when I find myself particularly irritable or frustrated. Mr PW isn’t always around at these critical times, so our oldest is learning that when I need a Mommy Minute, I need my space. And I’m learning how to maximize these precious few minutes (hopefully) unbothered.

This is a girl who knows how to pause and appreciate life.

Taking a Mommy Minute is equivalent to the fourth law in The House of God (an essential read for doctors), “check your own pulse” first. The full law is “At a cardiac arrest [heart attack], the first procedure is to check your own pulse.” That is, to pause, breathe and clear your mind before taking action during a critical time. This isn’t taught on the front lines in medicine, but it does seem to leak into our training somehow, even if by reading a satire like The House of God.

Physician burnout is a serious problem, and about 400 physicians commit suicide every year. I’m sure we’ve all seen the doc pushing himself to the limit: the surgery fellow leaving the hospital after a 36 hour shift for the birth of his child before returning the same day for the next shift or the resident requesting an hour break so he can get married at the courthouse because that’s the only time they could both find (true stories from people we knew in training). When taught techniques on how to decrease stress, provider and patient satisfaction improves and burnout decreases. I’ve seen this first hand too often from a provider and patient perspective. When I had to have a laparotomy (major surgery), I made sure the surgeon had lunch beforehand. Everyone wins when we take a time out first.

Furthermore, burnout and its consequences are seen in the world of finance. Do you really want a burned-out financial planner managing your money? Do you trust yourself to make major decisions, with money or life in general, when you’re exhausted and emotional? Think about when the stock market has a seizure or you’re deep in debt and feel like the only way out is getting a payday loan (hopefully you don’t have direct experience with the latter). Take a minute, or ten, to calm down your sympathetic nervous system. You’ll make better decisions with fewer consequences.

With all that said, take a few seconds now to think of your happy place and take four deep breaths. Why four? Because two isn’t enough and ten is too many right now, you’re busy people! Now breathe.


What do you do today, at home or work, to help keep you grounded and patient? If you’re a medical professional, what training do you remember from medical school or residency to decrease burnout?

Share your thoughts