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Career & Leadership

Do You Need a Supportive Work Spouse?

January 6, 2019

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After almost five years working together, a colleague, a diagnostic radiologist, moved to be closer to his parents. “We don’t have that much time left,” his parents said, weightily. As a dutiful son, he complied with their wishes, selling his house, and uprooting his little family to move hours away. And just like that, I lost my supportive work spouse. 

At our trauma center, he was a workhorse, squeezing joint injections and barium studies between interpreting scans of brains, bellies, joints, and everything in between. Working at a constant pace, he was indispensable. I will take over arthrography duties in his absence, and I’ll be thinking of him.  

My work spouse and I enjoyed short chats between cases, strolls to tumor board, and afternoon tea. These breaks were part of our “wellness ritual,” we joked. Physician burnout is a hot topic these days, and most radiologists don’t have time for lunch away from the monitor. So reminding my work spouse to leave his desk felt like a small act of service. These breaks served to loosen our limbs and clear our minds, just for a few minutes.  

We talked about the tea selection, and about switching from coffee to water. We griped about the hospital grub, with fried food and Monster drinks among the consistent offerings. Discussing the diet of the week, I told my work spouse about the breastfeeding diet, which allows you to eat whatever you please, including doughnuts. He kindly assured me I didn’t need to worry about it.

A work spouse will discuss the mundane aspects of the day.

A cold here, a backache there. We chatted about the mundane.  And there are only certain people with whom one can discuss such things. This is the virtue of a work spouse.

Sometimes we talked about travel- he and his (real) wife were always coming back from somewhere exciting, like her homeland, Ireland, or Japan, or Patagonia. But mostly, we talked about abscesses and visceral artery ectasia and the beverage of the day.

An ally at work will recognize you, just for doing your job

“You’re always so calm,” he’d say, when inside, I felt anything but. It was just what a busy interventionalist wanted to hear in the middle of a stressful day.  We consulted each other’s opinion throughout the day, and had a mutual respect for each other’s role in caring for patients.  

When I was pregnant, my husband was on tour for weeks at a time, traveling with a popular jazz ensemble. Bob woke up somewhere new each day. His days were filled with new places and interesting people. At home, I felt out of sight and out of mind. During that time, my work spouse was there, day after day, asking how I was. Later, when I was ordered on modified bed rest, I was restricted to working from home. In my isolation, I could rely on my colleague to answer a “hello” over the instant messenger, or offer an opinion on a difficult case.

My work spouse was a fixture in our lives.

Over the years, as other professionals and friends came and went, my work spouse was woven in the fabric of our social group. We belonged to an extended work family.

If you can find such a supportive and symbiotic relationship at work, I recommend you cultivate and appreciate it.  I know I’ll miss my work spouse.

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