A Tampa gynecologist’s second retirement: Life changes since COVID-19

I've never met Paul Wilborn. But I feel like I know him. I’ve seen this local personality’s name from dozens of newspaper stories ever since I came to Tampa in 1976.  

So I avidly read Paul’s account of life in the time of coronavirus recently in 83 Degrees in which he lays out the chronology of his “typical” day during these epic times. What a small world is Tampa Bay -- even as separated as we are presently. His story planted the seed for this one.

COVID-19 has compelled me a second retirement. My first one was the retirement from my medical practice in 2016. After four decades working as an OB-GYN at St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital in Tampa, I was pretty much ready -- ready to end the daily stress and those middle of the night emergency cesarian sections.

Among 7,000-plus babies delivered over the years, my last was a planned birth just two days before I retired. The couple was excited to have the Tampa Bay Times there to document this special delivery which ultimately made it to the front page “above the fold.” The hospital’s staff and administration were very supportive once we made sure everyone was compliant with HIPPA and the various other regulations that have come to ensnarl all aspects of healthcare. And the paper’s photographer, Cherie Diaz, and also my patient “got the shot.”

Retirement is an adjustment for most doctors and it was for me. Our identity tends to become tied up with our work. In my case, even limited voluntary patient care after retirement was forbidden by my malpractice insurance carrier -- their condition for providing a free “tail” policy, which is an expensive insurance element that extends coverage to doctors after they hang up their shingle.
 
A year later, I became amazingly content with my new life. I relished having more time with friends, enjoyed added travel, and took better care of myself. Even improved my “sleep hygiene” (as a good night’s sleep is now called). And then there was the jogging, the pc term for which is running. This old obsession found a new rhythm, solidifying social bonds with my running buds.

And I did have a small way to still be a doctor without a medical practice. I could teach. I gave lectures on women’s health just as I had been doing in the last years of my practice. This was through a local St. Petersburg company that employs physicians of all specialties to provide certified continuing education to their peers. And of all things, the teaching is done on cruise ships.
 
All good. Until this month.

That’s when my second retirement started -- the one driven by COVID-19. This time I’m part of global retirement. Here’s what “safer at home” in Tampa was like for the Shephard family on Monday, March 30, 2020.

7 a.m.-9 a.m. -- This is an arbitrary wake-up time for my wife and me since I’m no longer working and she can do her health insurance job from home. Coleen and I have been together for 19 years, have 4 kids between us, and live with our two adorable rescue cats, Picasso and Monet. Today is special on two accounts. It’s the anniversary of our first date.  And it also happens to be National Doctors Day.
 
When I was in practice at Women’s Hospital, on Doctors Day the hospital put on a real seafood feast in the doctor’s lounge. I used to take home extra goodies for an additional evening meal. But not today. I called one of my Ob/Gyn friends at Women’s, Dr. Mark Davis and he explained the meal was COVID-cancelled like so many other things. I’ve been messaging many of my still-working colleagues at Women’s, thanking them just for being healthcare providers during such times. My son Chris and JoAnn my former bookkeeper sent their own texts to me today. Doctor’s Day is mostly symbolic but very appreciated by physicians, especially now.
 
9 a.m.-11 a.m. -- Normally Coleen and I watch the preprogrammed Today Show and also stay close to Channel 9 on Spectrum which seems to have really stepped up with its local and national COVID-19 coverage.

Coleen and I wipe down high-touch surfaces after we get up. Even with all the cleaning and hand-washing, I worry if I’ve missed someplace. We run to the Keurig coffee machine frequently, which will probably wear out before this thing is over. It’s also time to check on my monarch butterfly caterpillars. We have quite a few “cats” from our garden milkweed that are now housed in their own protected 3-foot gauze cage, gorging on milkweed as they prepare to enter that dazzling green chrysalis stage prior to adulthood as iconic monarchs.

11 a.m.-1 p.m. -- I run every day and belong to a nerdy national organization called the Streak Registry. Not what you think. To continue to belong you have to run at least a mile every day, regardless of weather, your health or pandemics. A few have gotten up to 40 years without missing a day and I’m in year 12. My love of running goes back many more years and has led to some close friendships and a bimonthly track meetup. But these have ceased for now along with all official races. Likewise, my weekend buds, Bess and Bill, and I have stopped our weekly long runs where we pretty much solve all global problems, political and otherwise. So I do my miler or more at this time. Going out for a run since COVID-19, I see many more walkers, runners, and dogs, and I hear more birds. Everyone is friendly, but we all seem to respect the 6-foot rule.
 
1 p.m.-5 p.m. -- I work online through a small state contract to do something called Utilization Review. In English, that means I must review some medical cases to be sure hospital days are justified according to “best medical practices.”

And, then, it’s time for a nap starting with reading from a tall pile of books by various authors I’ve been meaning to explore. I really have enjoyed “The Good Neighbor’’ about Fred Rogers’ life, a kind and creative human being the likes of which seem sadly missing today.

5 p.m.-6 p.m. -- I go over to my UPS mailbox (calling first to see if I have other than third-class mail). The place has a few customers standing apart on the blue, paint tape floor markers. I’m wearing my elegant too small purple gloves for this. Everyone is friendly.

6 p.m.-7 p.m. -- Join a conference call with the Hillsborough County Medical Association where I serve on the Executive Council. We’re receiving an update from our Executive Director, the very capable Debbie Zorian, outlining how the office will receive incoming calls (dedicated cellphone) and the cancellation of our Foundation’s Annual fundraiser, a golf tournament originally scheduled for Carrollwood Country Club. We raise money for worthy groups like the Judeo Christian Clinic, St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital, and of all things, Scrubba Bubba, a charity that has for years taught kindergartners the importance of handwashing!
 
7 p.m.-8 p.m.  -- Coleen and I watch the news compulsively despite daylong glances (or more) to see what’s happening in Hillsborough County, Florida, and the nation. We are fans of the News Hour, a PBS TV daily show with in-depth coverage of just a few stories. 83 Degrees readers may be interested to know that public TV and radio like NPR receive about 85% of their funding from local fundraising and only a small percentage from the federal government. I know this as a former WEDU Board member.

8 p.m. -- Dinner at 8 or later is customary, perhaps a hangover from my working days. We talk first (I once read a book advising that regular talk time -- even a few minutes -- helps a marriage). What marriage wouldn’t benefit from a little extra cushioning these days?

9 p.m. to ?? -- It’s time for Netflix streaming or a movie.

Sometimes it seems we have TOO MANY book-TV show-movie-streaming-news sources. We try to be selective and not allow ourselves to drown in all the negative stuff. Finding a good balance is challenging. And I haven’t even touched on social media, which filters through our daily lives more so than ever, even if only to keep up with the kids.

So that’s pretty much it for today. We’re fortunate to have as many benefits as we do in Florida, especially in the Tampa Bay Area. While I do remain a defiant optimist, I do look forward to that third retirement.  One, where COVID is behind us and where we can return to some semblance of what we used to think would be forever normal.

Bruce D. Shephard, MD, and his wife, Coleen live in Tampa.

Here is a link to Paul Wilborn's story that inspired Dr. Shephard to write this. If you would like to share the story of your new normal under COVID-19 or want to recommend a story idea for coping in the time of coronavirus in the Tampa Bay Area, reach out to 83 Degrees via email. We too are sheltering in place at home but doing our best to carry on by producing and sharing stories that you may find helpful -- even if it's just to lift your spirits -- in these surreal times.

 

Read more articles by Dr. Bruce Shephard.

Dr. Bruce D. Shephard, a retired Obstetrician-Gynecologist and Affiliate Associate Professor, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, USF Morsani College of Medicine, is best known locally for delivering more than 7,350 babies. He now occasionally teaches and always practices good health, dabbles in writing, and raises monarch butterflies. He and his wife, Coleen, live in Tampa.
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