My Most Dreaded Retirement Question

Yesterday somebody asked me “So what do you do now that you’re retired?” I have come to dread the question. I told him I write this blog. That seemed to surprise him a little. It sounded a little lame to me as I said it. I’m not sure it’s the right answer to this question that I still don’t know how to answer, even though I’ve been retired for a little over a year.

I remember the blog post I wrote a couple of years or so ago, “Mindfully Retiring from Psychiatry.” It sounded good. It still sounds good even as I re-read it today. Others were reading it too, judging from my blog stats. I wondered if one of them was the guy who asked me the dreaded question.

I still exercise and do mindfulness meditation, although for several months after I retired, I dropped those habits. A lot was going on. We moved. I didn’t weather that process well at all. I was bored. In fact, I still struggle with boredom. The derecho hit Iowa pretty hard. It knocked over a tree in our front yard, which I had to cut up with a hand saw. The COVID-19 pandemic and social upheaval is an ongoing burden for everyone and seems to be directly related to making everyone very angry all the time. Sena and I are fully vaccinated but I’m pretty sure that more vaccinations are on the way in the form of boosters.

I’ve had to do things I really never wanted to learn how to do. Sena handed me a hickory nut she found in the yard this morning, reminding me of walnut storms we had at a previous home. I picked up scores (maybe hundreds) of walnuts there. I don’t want to do that again. I remember being jarred awake each time a walnut hit the deck.

And for the first time, I had to replace a dryer vent duct. I’m the least handy person on the planet. Our washer and dryer pair are both 54 inches tall and I found out that when you have to drag a big dryer away from the wall, you have to do it like you really mean business.

You don’t want to look at what’s behind the dryer. Worse yet is jumping down behind it in a space barely big enough for me to turn around. Getting out of it is even harder. Jump and press to the top of the machines and watch those cords and hoses.

I tried so-called semi-flexible aluminum duct. I switched to flexible foil duct, despite the hardware store guy telling me that it’s illegal. It’s not. You want to wear gloves with either because you’ll cut up your hands if you don’t.

Who’s the genius who thought of oval vent pipe on the wall when the duct is 4-inch round? It’s not illegal but it does make life harder. And how do you attach the duct ends to the pipes? Turn key or screw type worm drive clamps. If you don’t have enough room for a screw driver, the turn key style is the best bet. Good luck finding those wire galvanized squeeze-style full clamps. I think they’re often out of stock because they’re not only older, but easier to use and cheaper.

See what I mean? I would not even have the vocabulary for that kind of job if I were still working as a psychiatrist. I would just hire a handyman to do it—like I do for a lot of other things I still don’t know how to do since I retired. It’s sort of like that Men in Black movie line from Agent K when he tells Agent J what they have to do on their first mission: “Imagine a giant cockroach, with unlimited strength, a massive inferiority complex, and a real short temper, is tear-assing around Manhattan Island in a brand-new Edgar suit. That sound like fun?”

No, it doesn’t and neither does replacing a dryer vent duct or any number of things retired guys get to learn because they have too much time on their hands.

So, I’m really glad to change the subject and talk about other people who are doing things I admire. First is a former student of mine, Dr. Paul Thisayakorn, who is a consultation-liaison (CL) psychiatrist in Bangkok, Thailand. He did his residency at The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. He put together a CL fellowship program in Thailand. The photo below shows from left to right: Paul, Dr. Tippamas, the first CL Psychiatry fellow, and Dr. Yanin. Dr. Tippamas will be the first CL Psychiatry trained graduate in Thailand next year and will work at another new medical school in Bangkok. Dr. Yanin just graduated from the general psychiatry residency program last year. Paul supervised her throughout her CL Psychiatry years. Now she is the junior CL staff helping Paul run the program. Within the next few years, Paul will send her to the United States or the United Kingdom or Canada for clinical/research/observership experience so she can further her CL education. Way to go, Paul and your team!

Dr Paul Thisayakorn and CL Psychiatry grads (see text for details)

By the way, that tie I’m wearing in the Mindfully Retiring from Psychiatry post picture (the one with white elephants; the white elephant is a symbol of royal power and fortune in Thai culture) was a going away gift from Paul upon his graduation.

The other is a heavy-hitter I met years ago, Dr. E. Wes Ely, MD, MPH, a critical care doctor who is publishing a new book, Every Deep-Drawn Breath, which well be coming out September 7, 2021. Our interests converged when it came to delirium, especially when it occurs in the intensive care unit, which is often. I met him in person at an American Delirium Society meeting in Indianapolis. He’s a high-energy guy with a lot of compassion and a genius for humanely practicing critical care medicine. I sort of made fun of one of his first books, Delirium in Critical Care, which he wrote with Dr. Valerie Page and published in 2011, the same year I started a blog called The Practical Psychosomaticist (which I dropped a few years ago as I headed into phased retirement). Shortly after I made fun of how he compared the approaches of consult psychiatrists and critical care specialists manage delirium, he sent me an email suggesting I write a few posts about the ground-breaking research he and others were doing to advance the care of delirious ICU patients—which I gladly did. I think he actually might have remembered me in 2019 when he came to present a grand round in the internal medicine department at University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics (I wrote 3 posts about that visit: March 28 and April 11 and 12).

In the email Dr. Ely sent to me and many others about the book, he said, “Every penny I receive through sales of this book is being donated into a fund created to help COVID and other ICU survivors and family members lead the fullest lives possible after critical illness. This isn’t purely a COVID book, but stories of COVID and Long COVID are woven throughout. I have also shared instances of social justice issues that pervade our medical system, issues that you and I encounter daily in caring for our community members who are most vulnerable.”

I look up to these and others I had the privilege of working with or meeting back before I was not retired and struggling to come up with a good answer to the dreaded question: What do you do now that you’re retired?

Hey, what do you do now that you’re retired?

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