The NHPHP has been a valuable resource for individual consultation with our institution’s providers suffering from Burnout. Their assistance and interventions have been instrumental in helping to maintain these clinicians in the work force providing continued access and healthcare to our population. The NHPHP has also served as a source of education and awareness for our clinical constituency by providing CME grand round presentations addressing health and wellness. This program has such an impact to physicians as it provides a confidential environment where they can share their vulnerabilities and the pressure they address in a judgement-free zone.
As a practicing physician about 6 years into my career, I began to struggle with maintaining the balance of work, children and aging parents. I developed severe depression, triggered by postpartum issues and having to assume responsibility for my aging mother with Alzheimer’s disease. The career I had worked so hard for, and that my passion and identity was wrapped up in, was stunted as I was pulled in so many directions. I was hopeless and angry, and completely lost sight of my true self and who I needed to be in the world. I began to drink heavily to dull my sad and negative thoughts; of course this only made me less able to benefit from the counseling and medications I was trying. I became suicidal, and entered a repeating spiral of suicide threats and attempts, hospitalizations, and periods of outpatient treatment during which I would be working and with my family but continued to feel empty, sad and out of control.
Enter Sally Garhart, Deanne Chapman and the NHPHP. As part of my last ditch effort to heal, I entered alcohol rehab. Dr. Garhart was actively involved with my progress during my stay in residential rehab, and worked with my husband to set up continued treatment at a local IOP program and other outpatient supports. I was able to transition smoothly to outpatient care with the support of Dr. Garhart, and my recovery truly and finally began in earnest.
Under the active monitoring of the NHPHP, with the combination of random drug testing, supportive group therapy and intensive individual therapy, I stopped drinking for good, and began to find my way back to myself. Ms. Chapman and Dr. Garhart were always available for questions or concerns, or to help troubleshoot challenging situations as I integrated back to work. My fellow members of the NHPHP provided excellent support and comradery as we all worked together to figure out who we wanted to be as physicians, parents, family and community members. My depression lifted, and I began to be able to help others again.
My story is not at all unusual. Physicians, dentists, veterinarians, and other health care providers are struggling and suffering all over the state of NH. As I heard their stories, and we worked together to move forward, I learned how “not special” I was; that I am just one of many who lose their way gradually and insidiously. What is special and unique, is that I am one of the lucky few who have access to this tremendous resource, the NHPHP. Dr. Garhart and Ms. Chapman and the group always believed in me; I never felt shame or demeaned in any way. Their expertise in navigating not only the complexities of mental health and substance abuse treatment, but also the issues of medical licensure and return to work is unique and extraordinary. They were my advocates always in making sure I got what I needed to continue to move forward.
I have an extraordinary life now, and have weathered many challenges well since graduating from the NHPHP. My career is thriving, and I am fully myself in the world. I am lucky in my family and my friends. I am healthy. I will be forever grateful to the NHPHP for dedicating themselves to my success.
I had contacted the NH Board of Medicine in a pique of anger to report the unprofessional behavior of another physician, so when I was told that Sally Garhart, MD of the NHPHP would be visiting me at my office I assumed it was to talk about the other physician in more detail. She sat down in my office and her ﬁrst question was "how much have you been drinking?" I was taken aback. My initial response was going to be defensive and angry but then a sense of resignation washed over me and I lowered my head.
"Let me paint a picture and you tell me if it sounds familiar," she continued. "You are here at work from early in the morning until late at night. You go home, maybe have dinner with the family, maybe not. You go to your office to do notes and paperwork and have a drink. You fall asleep in your office and wake up around 2 to go to bed for a couple hours and get up and do it all over again the next day." Had she placed a hidden video recorder in my house? This is how my life had been for years. I had been a solo practitioner at a small community hospital on call 24/7 for the practice and hospital for years.
Our interaction lead to rehab…ninety days later I came home. Miraculously, thirty days after that, I was able to return to work with no action on my license. This began a ﬁve year monitoring program directed by Dr. Garhart and her loyal colleague Deanne Chapman. A program that I often chafed at but in reality it saved my life, my family, and my career.
When I went to rehab I thought that I was going to be the only physician there. There were 120 fellow physicians from all specialties from across the country. Their stories were similar in many ways and many were in much more dire straits. Some had lost their families, their jobs, their licenses and for one of my roommates, and another friend, their lives to addiction. During one of our sessions, one physician told his story that he knew he was in trouble concerning his alcohol use. He left a note for his wife on his dining room table next to an empty bottle of wine saying “Please Help Me!” I wish that I had been able to do the same earlier. I was too worried that if anyone found out I would lose everything.
Becoming dependent upon alcohol was an insidious process. I rationalized my need for a drink by convincing myself I worked so hard and needed it to sleep and relax my nerves. Even after I was hospitalized with pancreatitis for ﬁve days, I was back to work two days later and began secretly drinking again in a few weeks. After my 13 year old daughter found out, she screamed at me “how could you drink again after having pancreatitis?!” She was obviously thinking much more clearly than I had been. My blood pressure the week before Dr. Garhart’s visit had been 150/108 on two blood pressure medications. Dr. Garhart’s intervention and subsequent monitoring through the NH PHP literally saved my life.
Dr. Garhart and Dee truly are advocates for physicians struggling with substance abuse, high stress at work, behavioral issues and depression. The NHPHP operates to return physicians and other health care professionals back to health ﬁrst and foremost. The NHPHP strives to help professionals achieve a more sane work-life balance. Physicians are bombarded daily with incessant stressors and often work in environments that are not supportive. This has led to skyrocketing rates of physician burnout and even suicides. The NHPHP realizes this and works tirelessly to combat these pressures. If you feel that you are struggling with alcohol or other substances or feel that the pressures of work are too overwhelming, please please please don’t be like me and wait for Dr. Garhart to show up at your door, or to be hospitalized with pancreatitis, or lose your license or family. Reach out and ask for help. You are worth it!