I thought about quitting medicine one day last week.  I asked myself, in all sincerity, ‘how long do you think you can do this?’  This summer will be my 16th year of practice since leaving residency.  Frankly, I’m getting a little tired; emotionally and physically.

My instinct to ‘pull the handles and eject’ came was in the midst of an exhausting night-shift.  I was in the belly of the beast, in the swirl of 2 am stabbings, 3 am overdoses and 4 am chest pain patients when I came face to face with a fellow physician who was really, REALLY angry at me.

We had an argument over the appropriate care of a patient.  This is normal stuff in medicine, but it struck my deeply.  Looking back, as I always try to after confrontation, I’m sure I could have handled it better, with more equanimity.  Still, the attempt by a colleague to humiliate and intimidate me, the barely concealed rage, the ridiculous imperative, ‘I’m going to talk to you and I don’t want to say anything,’ all combined and left me wondering if anyone would care if I just left and went home.

Of course, I didn’t. There were still sick patients to see and evaluate.  The ‘captain of the ship’ can’t just walk away in the wee hours.  I shook my head, ranted, raved and went on about my business.

I finished my shift, finished my charts and drove home.  But I have a confession.  I stopped for gasoline and ate two Little Debbie Zebra Cakes,  (https://www.littledebbie.com/products/ZebraCakes.asp)  In fact, I may now hold the land speed record for eating Zebra Cake; I’ll have to check on that.  But I do know that they work as well as any pharmaceutical agent, so long as they’re being used to alleviate the standard stresses of emergency medicine rather than neuro-chemical abnormalities.
.At home, my wife and kids were smiling, happy and packed.  We were headed to the beach.  There was no reason to hurry; we had all day to travel the length of the state.  So, I packed my bags, ate some more comfort food and drank iced tea for breakfast.  Ultimately, the car was loaded and I had picked out the books I wanted to bring along. I sat in the front seat and fell immediately, deeply, asleep as Jan drove us to Hilton Head, SC.

After a long journey across South Carolina, we found ourselves in a wonderful rental, near the rolling, blue-green ocean. I found myself in an outstanding continuing education course which I have attended before and continue to recommend (https://prod2.ccme.org/ema_pcma_courses/ema/).  I was surrounded by emergency physicians from all over the country, each and every one facing the things I face, telling the same stories, and doing their best to learn how to be smarter and more effective in caring for the patients who entrust them with their lives.

The strength in numbers, the review of the science and research in the specialty, the comfort of knowing a) I’m not alone and b) I’m doing a pretty darn good job, all made me feel immensely better!

Looking back on the shift before I left, it occurs to me that the love Christians are called to can be difficult at times, and next to impossible at others.  Christian physicians are called to love patients and administrators, nurses and other physicians; even consultants and evaluators!  It ain’t easy, I can tell you.

But nowhere did Jesus say, ‘love one another, because it’s about as easy a thing as you can do.’  Neither did he say, ‘love people, because they’re just so loveable!’  Hardly.  He called us to love enemies and neighbors, foreigners and oppressors; even snarky physicians…like me.

So as I go back from this time of rest, I pray that I’ll be able to do it.  I pray that I’ll be able to love all the people I’m supposed to love; and that all of the men and women attending the conference will, as well.  Our jobs as physicians can be immensely taxing; only the God of the universe can make it bearable; especially in the middle of the night.

But if there is any doubt that God loves me, I offer some evidences.  My beautiful wife and lovely children, smiling in the sand and waves, and Little Debbie Zebra Cakes.

Yep, I’m ready to go back.  But I may have to stock the office with my Bible and a box of those little chocolate wonders.  Those things, the love of my wife and children, and the memory of the beach may just get me through another summer of emergency medicine.


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