The Takotsubo moment: Diary of a peripatetic doctor, By Osmund Agbo


Reading Time: 4 mins read

Though often described as friendly and a great team player, I sometimes find myself harbouring strong opinions. When pushed, my personality, on occasions, could veer towards the rebellious. I disdain formal meetings, struggle with office politics, and am poorly schooled in the art of kissing anyone’s behind. These qualities collectively render me a less-than-ideal candidate for any conventional employment, or so I surmised.

Antecedent to the culmination of my residency and fellowship training here in the US, a pivotal decision crystallised within me. Recognising that ownership of a private medical practice did not align with my aspirations, the only viable avenue appeared to be that of an independent contractor, often referred to as a locum physician. This entails establishing contractual agreements with hospitals to offer “doctor” services, based on mutually agreed upon terms and conditions, rather than functioning as an employee. However, under the persuasive sway of my wife, I yielded in deference to marital harmony.

The nascent two years were designated for testing the waters, an endeavour that nearly resulted in my figurative feet being scorched. I got hired by a local hospital in Upstate New York, started working, and everything was going great. The compensation was also good. But then, kaboom! A new CEO walked in and wanted to change everyone’s contracts. The office politics that I had been conscious of and tried so hard to avoid found me and offered a suffocating embrace. And so, when it was time to renew my contract, I stalled.

Since then, it’s been locum assignments all the way. I work on my own terms, pursue my other passions, and the money isn’t so bad either. I finally reached my nirvana of work-life balance. Then came COVID, and the entire locum life suddenly got turned on its head.

In the post-pandemic era, opportunities dwindled precipitously and compensation plummeted. This trend persisted despite a staggering inflationary surge, which precipitated an astronomical ascent in the cost of basic commodities across the USA. Insight suggests that the diminished job market is partially attributed to COVID exposing a multitude of physicians to the allure of the alternative lifestyle afforded by locum work, resulting in a surge of enrollments. The rising popularity of the virtual practice model, or what I refer to as “I-medicine,” has also led to a reduced need for physicians to be present on-site.

Maybe the truth is buried somewhere between those two reasons, but I worry that many doctors who chose that career path may have developed Takotsubo syndrome — an ailment characterised by heart enlargement induced by stressful conditions. Ok, maybe I am being overly dramatic here but you get the point. The good news, however, is that there are other options. Things have certainly changed, but even in the 21st-century world where Artificial Intelligence has upended many careers, medical doctors still find work.

In the intricate tapestry of language and human experience, metaphors often emerge as bridges that connect the abstract to the tangible, the complex to the familiar. One such metaphor, intriguing and evocative, is the ‘Takotsubo’ effect, which finds its roots in the name of a pot used by Japanese fishermen to trap octopuses. 

This captivating linguistic association extends its tendrils into the realm of real-life experiences, allowing us to draw parallels between the transformative power of the human heart and the resilience embedded within our emotional journeys.

At its core, the Takotsubo effect represents the physical phenomenon in which the left ventricle of the heart undergoes a temporary change in shape due to heightened emotional stress. This transformation results in a structure reminiscent of the octopus trap from which it takes its name – a narrow neck and a round bottom. Remarkably, this biological occurrence serves as a poignant metaphor of the complexities of the human emotional response.

In the journey of life, individuals often encounter situations that trigger emotional turbulence, echoing the stressors that provoke the Takotsubo effect. Just as the heart’s physical transformation is temporary, emotional upheavals too are fleeting. They represent a necessary process through which we navigate the unpredictable waters of existence. The narrow neck symbolises the constriction that can accompany stress, while the rounded bottom signifies the eventual return to a state of equilibrium. This metaphor prompts us to view emotional upheavals as moments of profound transformation, ultimately leading to renewed emotional strength and resilience.

Real-life experiences mirror the Takotsubo effect in unexpected ways. Like the octopus trap, life’s challenges may confine us momentarily, subjecting us to periods of discomfort and vulnerability. However, this confinement often acts as a catalyst for growth and introspection, propelling us toward a broader understanding of our emotions and capabilities. Similar to the heart’s ability to revert to its original shape, individuals possess an innate capacity to heal and adapt, emerging from adversity with newfound wisdom and strength.

The Takotsubo metaphor also extends to interpersonal relationships, where emotional stress can test the limits of our connections. Just as the trap’s structure temporarily changes to ensnare its prey, moments of distress may alter our interactions with loved ones. But much like the heart’s resilience, relationships too can rebound from moments of strain, deepening the bonds through shared vulnerability and empathy.

In conclusion, the Takotsubo effect, derived from an octopus trap, resonates as a powerful metaphor for the human experience. It draws parallels between the heart’s temporary transformation and the emotional upheavals we encounter in life. Through adversity and stress, we find the potential for growth, resilience, and transformation. 

Just as the octopus trap ultimately serves its purpose in capturing sustenance, our emotional trials contribute to our development, fostering a deeper understanding of ourselves and our connections with others. Thus, the Takotsubo effect becomes a testament to the transformative and resilient nature of the human spirit.

Whether the reverberations of the COVID-19 pandemic dissipate eventually, or if life assimilates into a novel state of normalcy, the crux of this narrative remains:  life and careers are in a perpetual state of evolution. Inevitable change necessitates our adaptation; failure to do so may result in succumbing to its relentless tide.

And one more thing: opportunities don’t last forever. It is imperative to seize them as swiftly as they come.








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