Yesterday our home-school year started in earnest.  I was up at the same time as my wife and children, making biscuits, bacon and eggs for breakfast.  (I mean, you have to start of the school year right, you know?)  Across the kitchen, my 13-year-old first-born son looked up from the novel he was reading and asked, ‘Papa, do you like your job?’

Wow.  That’s a loaded question.  But also a question with great potential.  I could have let go a tirade about drunks and drug-seekers, about insurance and lawyers.  I could have told him to never, ever consider medicine.  I could have whined about how I deserve more for less, or about why work is such a misery.  He could have been tainted by that; he could have developed a premature cynicism about work that might have colored his work ethic for decades.

Fortunately, I didn’t.  But I wouldn’t have done it anyway.  (I save my whining for my wife, incidentally, God love her!)  I answered my boy honestly, and said there were many things about my job that could be frustrating, but many that were wonderful, and that yes, I do like my job.  He smiled and looked down at his book again, as the intoxicating smell of bacon drifted across the great, open room that is our living area.

I began to think, though, about what I do like when I go to the emergency room to do my job.  In the midst of all the frustrations, there are some wonderful things about medicine, even the practice of something so chaotic as emergency medicine.  I mulled it around and came back to my son and said, ‘Sam, you know what I like?  I’ll tell you some of the cool things!’

So I told him.  And I’ll tell you.  Do you know the things I enjoy?  I love taking care of someone who is having trouble breathing, and putting that tube through their beautiful, smooth vocal cords, and knowing that it’s in the right place; then watching them relax as they don’t have to struggle anymore.  I like putting an EJ (external jugular) IV in someone’s neck when the nurses have exhausted all options; I love manipulating that little catheter and watching the flash of crimson that says I’m in the right place.  I’ve always enjoyed the ‘whoosh’ of air from a chest tube that releases a pneumothorax.

I told Sam I love to figure out what’s wrong with someone, and know that I found that pneumonia, found that meningitis, eased that pain, opened that abscess.  There is a joy of discovery in medicine.  That makes it wonderful.

I like knowing everyone and what they do.  I can talk with welders about welding, with coaches about coaching, with parents about children, with students about school.  I can converse with police officers about felons, timber-cutters about chainsaws and hunters about hunting.  I can talk with veterans about war, or with widows about loss.  My job lets me see their worlds, if only on the accidental periphery where they are injured or ill.

I think we get angry and frustrated because so much of what we see isn’t really fixable, or often even ‘discoverable.’  We muddle through confusing stories of strange and often complex illnesses, or fictional ones, without the passionate delight of an answer, a fix, a flash of blood, a rush of air.  It can be demoralizing; especially because there is no end-point to any of it.

But the lack of answers is balanced by the knowing.  The way we can, if we choose, learn to love and appreciate even the drunkest, saddest, hardest, most broken man, woman or child we meet.  We, with our technology and our Western desire to fix, our ‘scientific’ obsession with the answer, have lost the delight of learning, the peace of accepting what we won’t ever know, the joy of knowing others, and the singular delight of walking through life with a sense of mystery and charity, realizing we can’t repair it all.

Sam, I like my job.  Don’t you worry.  I pray you find a job that you can like as much; even if it drives you crazy, too!  (Love, Papa)
To all, a blessed day!


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