This weekend was bliss. I went from Friday night to Monday morning without a single phone call. No nursing homes were needing to send a patient to the emergency room: no new fevers or unexpected falls. I can honestly say that it is the first time in more than a decade that I have gone a whole weekend without doing some work. The thing about my half retirement is that I am only available during normal work hours. I have now transformed into a nine to five job. While that may sound painful to some, it is a fair improvement from the 24/7 existence I have maintained for so many years. All that being said, letting go of direct patient care will also be difficult. What I’ll miss most, no doubt, is the patient interactions and the challenge of dealing with human illness.
Will I regret my choice?
Challenge and satisfaction
Although much is frustrating about the practice of medicine, there are very few professions that feel as challenging. One step into the exam room teaches you that there is no ordinary patient — no ordinary illness. Textbooks pale in comparison to the complexity that can walk into any run of the mill primary care office.
What I’ll miss most is standing up to that challenge. To be OK with not having all the answers, digging deep, and solving complex problems. There is very little as satisfying as coming to the end of a difficult illness, finally finding the right medication, or making the obscure diagnosis.
These are some of the joys of medicine that I have decided to forego willingly.
Intimacy and laughter
The doctor-patient relationship is an intimate one. Conversations in the exam room touch on almost all topics related to human existence. It is the place where people shed their outer skins and get real. I have seen some of the best and worst of human nature in the small confines of my primary care office.
But time and again the laughter is what I’ll miss most. This combined intimacy allows for a certain amount of base crudity and self-effacement. Patients often let loose with their doctors and vice versa. I have spent countless hours at the bedside in the hospital or nursing home laughing. In both good times and bad. Laughing through tears sometimes.
It is what we humans do.
Being part of the team
While being on call all the time is a pain, there is something magical about waltzing into a hospital room at 10 p.m. on a Saturday night. Your patient’s face lights up, and all the fear and stress fade away. Now they are safe. Now they see you and know that someone who cares for them is in charge. It’s a feeling like no other.
What I’ll miss most is not the egoism but the ability to give comfort by being present. For the most part, medicine has answers. People get better or worse based on a strange mix of skill, luck, and happenstance. We only have a certain amount of control over these things. But we can always be there. Showing up cost so little but means so much.
I have come to this crossroads in my life because it was time. Because this superpower of financial independence has allowed me to leave that which has stood in the way of purpose and identity, and forge a new future for myself.
I am thrilled with the ability to change and look to the future with great optimism.
I also feel such a great connection to my past. What I’ll miss most is being a doctor. The kind of doctor I dreamed about as a little kid. The kind of doctor I spent my youth learning to become.
Rushing into hospitals at all hours of the night, chuckling at the bedside with a patient even in the face of pain and fear, working through each challenge day by day.
I guess it was all worth it.
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