What’s your IQ?

Mine is pretty low.

I’ve been thinking about my work as an ENT registrar at a busy tertiary referral hospital here in Australia. I receive patients from all over the state as we have a fully serviced ENT department with Trauma, Hyperbaric  Oxygen, and other superspecialised services under one roof. So we see patients with complex presentations requiring high level care that only this hospital can provide, which means that my day is often inundated with phone call interruptions. Doctors from other hospitals, including interstate, may refer patients to our service. Some call for advice, others request urgent assistance and transfer. Patients too, interrupt my day with various queries ranging from “When will I next come to clinic?” to “My father’s tracheostomy tube is dislodged, and he’s coughing up blood. What do I do?” One day I looked at my iPhone and calculated that I received 43 phone calls between 7am to 6pm. And this is on top of the ward round, clinic, face to face consults with upwards of 20-30 patients and the operating session.

Busy, busy, busy. I hate interruptions. I’m sure you do too. But interruptions, particularly for a surgeon, is a necessary part of our job. When I come to work, or be on call, there’s a huge element of unpredictability as to what will actually happen. My ideal day will be when I get to operate all day uninterrupted. But that rarely happens.

It’s obvious that the more interruptions I get, the more annoyed/irritated/frustrated I become. The poor doctor who was caller number 35 that day received the unfortunate end of my annoyance stick. He was unlucky. But to him and his patient, that call was important because they needed my assistance. But to me, it was an interruption.

At home, when I’m trying to immerse myself in the anatomy of the pterygopalatine fossa and it’s contents, my son may run up to me and shout “daddy, daddy”. That’s an interruption as well. Or is it really? To Little E, he was simply expressing his love and desire to play. To me, he was an interruption.

So I have a very low IQ, indeed.

Interruptibility Quotient, that is.

And it’s not good. People don’t interrupt other people for the sake of interrupting. Most of the interruptions in my life as a trainee surgeon comes from true requests for assistance. Patients need specialty help and advice. And I’m here to provide them. My son is not an interruption. He is a gift from above, given to me so both he and I can grow.

When is something or someone an interruption? I suppose when I expect my day to go a certain way according to my plan, and there are unexpected intrusions to my day. That’s an interruption. Dictionary says “something that breaks continuity or uniformity.” I want my day to be uniform and continuous, but something breaks or intrudes into it.

There are 2 personal issues here: 1. I want to control my day, 2. I do not want anyone or anything to interrupt my day.

I know what you’re thinking: “Hmm… that’s pretty unrealistic and childish.” Well I think so too. I’ve been challenged to think that perhaps maturity may also include the ability to accept interruptions, and that I do not have full control over my day. They say maturity involves accepting responsibilities. I say that maturity also involves accepting interruptions as part of life. Throwing tantrums whenever I get interrupted doesn’t seem quite a mature thing to do.

As a trainee surgeon, a father and a husband, I need to accept interruptions as a normal part of life. Interruptions are to be opportunities to help, assist, care, grow, encourage. Accepting interruptions as normal will lower my annoyance level and help me mature quicker. I need to respond to each interruption with grace and humility. Noah was interrupted by a flood. Abra(ha)m was interrupted by a call to leave his home. Moses by a burning bush. David by a Goliath. Jonah by a storm and a mighty big fish. And Jesus interrupted the engagement plans for teenage kids Mary and Joseph with His arrival. I’m glad Mary saw Jesus not as an interruption but as a gift.

Interruptions are opportunities to practice grace and humility. Interruptions are gifts. Interruptions are a normal part of life.

What about you? What’s your IQ: Interruptibility Quotient? What are the interruptions in your life that you need to see as gifts and opportunities for grace and humility? How can you turn interruptions into a tool to help you mature in your life?