“I Want to Die Empty” — A Week in the Life of a Workaholic Psychiatrist

February 15, 2022

A Week in the Life is a weekly Zikoko series that explores the working-class struggles of Nigerians. It captures the very spirit of what it means to hustle in Nigeria and puts you in the shoes of the subject for a week


The subject of today’s “A Week in the Life” is Kelvin Alaneme, a Nigerian psychiatrist in the UK. He walks us through the heartbreaking aspects of his job, navigating a long-distance relationship with his family and juggling multiple businesses because he thrives in chaos.

A week in the life of psychiatrist rectangle

MONDAY

My mornings follow a strict regimen. I’m preparing for a medical exam, so the first thing on my to-do list is to study for two hours when I wake up at 4 a.m. By 6 a.m., I hop on Telegram and Discord to follow up with my cryptocurrency communities. There’s never a dull moment in this group, and this motivates me to keep sharing knowledge and resources. 

I have to go to the hospital at 9 a.m., but first, I post content about my career, cryptocurrency and immigration tips on my Facebook and Instagram profiles. 

I’m a specialist doctor at the NHS, so when I get to the hospital, I resume ward rounds. If there’s no consultant around, like today, I become the most senior staff member on-site. I’ll spend the rest of my afternoon reviewing patients, preparing documentation and writing tribunal reports. 

I look forward to studying and reviewing past questions after work for my licensing exams. I live in the UK, but my wife and kids live in the US. I can’t wait to pass this exam so I can relocate with my family. Which reminds me — I need to call my family before I sleep. It’s 6 p.m. in the US now; if my wife is still at work, we’ll talk briefly, but if she’s back home, I’ll video chat with the children too.

After the call, all I can think about today is our long-distance relationship. My wife is also a doctor. When I left Nigeria to pursue a master’s in public health in London, she had just completed her US medical licensing exam. She and the kids joined me in the UK but had to leave for her US residency programme — something she’d always wanted to do. We had to come to terms with the prospects of a long-distance relationship. 

But it wasn’t supposed to be for long. In July 2020, she relocated to New York with the kids. When I completed my master’s later in September, I was going to flee to the US to join them, but in the days leading up to my departure, I received three middle-grade doctor job offers here with juicy salaries and great perks. 

We started to rethink our plan. The jobs offered me career progression, which I couldn’t get in the US yet as I had not written the US medical licensing exams.  Staying in the US meant I would have to do low-wage jobs while I waited to take the licensing  exams. That meant I would only make enough to cope and would strain my wife’s income. We decided to stay apart for a little longer.

TUESDAY

There’s nothing as fulfilling as helping patients with mental illness get better. I’m a psychiatrist, so my job is to diagnose, treat or help people prevent mental illness.

This is why facing a progressively deteriorating mental illness is the heartbreaking part of my job, especially when I have to have difficult discussions with the family of the patient. I have to explain to them why a patient who initially responded very well to treatment is suddenly not responding again. Or why a patient who was supposed to be admitted for a month has been receiving treatment for six months. Then I also have to tell their families and friends that this is the new normal, that their loved ones may not return as the person they once knew — or return at all. 

Watching families come to terms with that knowledge — denial, sorrow, pain, defeat — is crushing.  I wonder: if I feel this way for telling them, I can’t imagine how it must be for them who are actually affected. But I have to help them face it. As a professional, finding the balance between objectivity and empathy is the most difficult thing in the world. But this is what I’ve signed up to do, and it is a responsibility I must bear with grace.

WEDNESDAY

While I have a full-time job at the hospital, I have my hands in many other places. I run Coin University, a 20,000-member strong community that teaches crypto for free. I also founded CareerEdu, a career mentorship platform which helps skilled Nigerians emigrate to the UK. I’m also a musician running a record label. 

Sometimes, I wonder how I have time to pursue all these endeavours. I think it’s because my wife is not around. We were talking about it last week, and it struck me that if we lived together, there would be no Coin University or CareerEdu. If I were living in the US, I wouldn’t have time to be starting new businesses up and down. 

I look at myself and shake my head because it’s just a life of stress. But I’m grateful for my wife. She is patient; she sees the big picture and gives me massive support. Because of her, I can close my eyes and just do what I do. 

THURSDAY

Today I’m grateful for immigration. Moving to the UK changed my life. When I first came here in 2019, I worked as a bartender and a waiter, then I taught nursing and medical students in London for nine months until I got my licence to practise as a doctor. I’ve been practising for two years in the UK, and the quality of my life has skyrocketed. I want as many doctors and nurses to move here.

I’m also grateful for data management: I just retrieved a patient’s medical history and records at the click of a button. I practised medicine in Nigeria for five years, and many of the centres didn’t have functional equipment or the power to run them, and it always broke my heart. Getting told there’s no oxygen when you need it to save someone’s life does things to you. I’ve been in the UK for over two years, but it still blows my mind that CT scans get done in minutes and I can receive MRI results by the next day. 

I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world.

FRIDAY

I can smell the weekend! On weekdays, I’m a full-time doctor; at night and weekends, I’m a serial entrepreneur chasing my passions. I’m looking forward to the weekend because I’ll have more time to pursue my other interests. After hospital work today, I’ll check in with my team of developers and designers. 

Coming to the UK helped me get into tech — I wasn’t always interested. In 2020, I won the Voices of Tomorrow Competition for a healthcare financing solution that will help Nigerians reduce out-of-pocket expenditure. Healthcare is free in the UK, and it’d be nice to create something that’ll help Nigerians get a semblance of that. I now have contacts in Silicon Valley, which scares me as much as it excites me. 

I love being exhausted and when I die, I want to die empty, knowing that I gave everything I could give. To me, life is an orange, and I’m squeezing out every last drop of juice.


Check back every Tuesday by 9 a.m. for more “A Week in the Life” goodness, and if you would like to be featured or you know anyone who fits the profile, fill out this form.

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