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    The myth of work-life balance? It's nonsense, says one dental hygienist

    A dental hygienist tries to balance a sick son with her job. She then asks, "Would you be as hard on yourself as I have been on me?"

    Readers, I need your help (I am not bluffing). I have a friend who is a hygienist who shared this with me. What would you say?

    Here I sit with my son sick with mono and all of its complications. He got ill one week after I started a new job (Why couldn’t he have been more considerate of my schedule? I had been off work for months!). It was THE dream job at THE dream practice I have always wanted to get into. My girlfriend kept her eyes open for me and got me in the door when another hygienist gave her notice … but there has not been time to celebrate. Instead, I have been running on exhaustion … or is it just fumes? Let me share with you my reality (Here’s a warning … it ain’t pretty!).

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    My son is a pretty good kid who rarely gets ill. He came down with low-grade temperatures almost two weeks ago. So far, so good. I was able to go to my job and only feel that guilty feeling when I thought about it. He was OK to be at home alone, so I did my job and just got out of there at the end of the day on time. I kept my head down, stayed focus, and worked smart. No one knew he was sick and that was what I preferred.

    On Friday, my son called me at work sounding like a scared, little boy. He said, “I am scared, because I can’t eat and lost 6 lbs this week.” (That would have caused me to do the victory dance, but for a skinny, tall kid? This was cause for alarm.) It was time to see the doctor. We went after work. (I get out at 4 p.m.) Other than his weight loss and low-grade temperature, there were no other signs. It was a bug or something that would just have to run its course (I knew this wasn’t going to last very long). That weekend, he started vomiting. On Monday, I had to figure out what to do. I have patients who are counting on me to be there. How could I get time off to take him to the doctor? My husband also has a job and can’t just take off time. It was time to call in the cavalry (who is your cavalry?). My sister doesn’t work on Mondays, so she got the honors of taking him to the pediatrician. I got a text saying that my son has mono and some other complications like an inflamed liver and spleen.

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    Two days later, he started complaining that he couldn’t swallow and his throat was on fire. His tongue turned green and we went back to the doctor. Now we needed the serious drugs … steroids, narcotics, and something to numb the throat. Again, the cavalry came to the rescue. My father played a major role in helping me take care of my son.

    While all this was going on, I magically still put in my 40 hours of work. I pulled strings having people call or show up at the house with smoothies, applesauce, or soup. Meanwhile, I was wracked with guilt. What kind of mother was I to be at work instead of with my son?

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    Everyone at work knew how ill my son was. It is hard to keep things private when you need to talk on the phone to the school, to my son, and to my family to coordinate taking care of him. Yes, I did all this while continuing to do my job. People were impressed with my work ethic. Poor thing, they whispered, this new girl has a sick kid at home, yet she was doing a great job. People were so kind to ask about my son, but I got tired of it. I just wanted to come to work and get the job done. I didn’t want to relive this nightmare over and over again. I just wanted to stay focused, but probably didn’t do a good job of that.

    I was so sleep deprived, it was a wonder that I didn’t cause an error or a car accident on the way to work. The bottom line is that taking work off wasn’t an option. I can’t afford to go with unpaid time off. I also didn’t want this job to get started off on the wrong foot. So, I did what I had to do. But dental peers, I felt terrible. It is a myth to think you can have it all. You can’t. You can’t live through a nightmare and expect that somehow it won’t impact your job. It does … but you just plow forward and do the best you can and don’t judge yourself for not being perfect. I did quite a head game on myself, telling myself what a horrible parent I was, but I need the paycheck. The answer to this is simple … do the best you can and let the rest go. I am not the worst mother in the world. I am not the worst employee in the world. I am just trying to do the best I can. The boss gave me some slack. I need to learn to give myself some slack. How about you? Would you be as hard on yourself as I have been on me?

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    If you have had this kind of experience where your personal life has invaded your work life, drop me an email at [email protected] and share how you kept your sanity and got through that experience. Yes, even the experts need help when” life happens.” 

    Lisa Newburger, a master's level social worker supervisor, helps audiences find humor in talking about tough topics. Her "in-your-face" style of presentations and writing will make you smile or just shock you into taking some action. Either way, she is very effective at empowering others to reach their goals and feel better about themselves. Her entertaining workshops are available for national and international audiences. Writing for the dental industry since 2010, she uses an alterego (Diana Directive) to illustrate her points in a sarcastic but effective way. Presentations can be scheduled by contacting Lisa at www.discussdirectives.com/dental.html.

    Lisa Newburger, LISW-S
    Lisa Newburger, a master's level social worker supervisor, helps audiences find humor in talking about tough topics. Her "in-your-face" ...