I’ve been off a long stretch.  I’ve enjoyed my time at home immensely.  I spent a fair amount of time in meetings.  It was pleasant.  I’ve been eating well, sleeping well, having stimulating discussions and living like a human being with a reasonable schedule.

Tomorrow, it’s back to the emergency department where I make my living.  Looking back on my time off, I wonder, if I suddenly weren’t practicing, would I miss it?

I don’t know, exactly.  I wouldn’t miss having an uncontrollable volume of patients; I certainly wouldn’t miss having almost no control over my practice whatsoever.  I doubt if I’d miss regulations, dictations, billing services or the myriad things that seem to conspire to evacuate joy from the practice of medicine.

I wonder, would I miss sickness?  Would I miss pain?  Would I miss complaints, histories, medication lists or crazy stories contrived to secure narcotics or work excuses?  Would I miss the detective work of medicine?  Would I miss my role, somewhere between family doctor and police officer?  Would I miss blood?  Would I miss incisions and abscesses, sutures and X-rays?

I might miss some of that.  I might miss the way it feels to know humans, and their bodies, with such depth.  It’s a kind of odd intimacy, this connection to humans that we develop as physicians.  We complain about the bad things, but we come back over and over and over again.

Is medicine somehow addicting?  Is it addicting to heal?  Addicting to touch?  Is it a calling so powerful it’s irrevocable?  Or is it just all we know how to do, and as creatures of habit (and few other skills) we simply can’t stop?

I’ll leave it for you to ponder.  I don’t know the answer.  All I know is that, if I couldn’t do it again, I’d miss it.  Because people fascinate me, even as they can drive me to distraction.  I know the touch of their pulse, the sound of their breath, the life in their eyes draws me back to intubating, and stitching, splinting and evaluating.  For now, I can’t say no.

Ask me tomorrow when I’m up to my neck in patients with chest pain.  I’ll beg you to take me home!

And that’s the paradox of medicine.








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