Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Other Side

the years teach much which the days never knew
Ralph Waldo Emerson
As I sit at our dining room table to write my first words in five months, I am realizing just how much I've missed writing about both my personal and professional life experiences. Though my family and close friends may know my reasons for this unplanned break, you, my friends and readers from StorytellERdoc, do not. So instead of diving head-first into writing a funny, planned posting, I thought I might simply change course to write and say "hello" and "how the hell are you" to each of you.

Let me briefly explain my absence. Simply, I began to have some vision problems last November, ultimately resulting in urgent surgery. Always the doctor and never the patient, this was my first real health scare. Following successful eye surgery, I was forced to take a few months time to recover. This break included absolutely no gym time and, most odd for me, no work time. Looking back on my career, I had never had so much as a week or two break from working in the ER. This inactivity, at first painfully frustrating, ultimately proved to be one of the greatest learning experiences thus far in my life.

For the first few weeks following surgery, I had to wear an eye patch, a blue, oval-shaped piece of perforated aluminum paper-taped to my face. With this new accessory, I spent much time in front of the mirror, looking to find that invincible, healthy fellow I once was. I couldn't find him. Friends tried to make me feel better, telling me I looked "sexier" with an eye-patch, but I saw through their flimsy compliment--the only way to look sexier, I reasoned while laughing with them, was to have sexy to begin with. My kids, hesitant at first, realized that patch or no patch, I was still the same Dad that I had always been. In fact, soon after surgery, Cole had a basketball game that I wanted to attend. "Cole," I asked, "is it okay if I come to your game with my patch or would you rather I stay home?" Without even a hint of pause, his resounding reply inspired me. "Of course you are coming, Dad, why wouldn't you?"

After several weeks, I was able to lose the eye patch. More importantly, with healing and some serious introspection and reflection, I was able to regain my perspective of what is most important in this journey of life. Family. Friends. Humor. Love. Compassion and kindness. Living a purposeful life.

Part of this time away included reevaluating my job differently. Although I still considered kindness and compassion at the forefront of my ER interactions with patients and their families, even I was not immune to a growing cynicism that occasionally seems to be pervading our medical field. Maybe this had even leaked itself into some previous writings. Luckily, though, I feel more privileged than I ever have, since residency even, in walking the halls of our emergency department and providing care to such a diverse and unique collection of patients. Of course, there will always be patients that are obnoxiously difficult, but my reserve to find something good in each and every patient has definitely been refueled. I've been honestly warned, however, by several of my hard-working partners. "Just give it a few months, Jim," they said, "and then see if you feel the same way about things." I can only hope that I have some great staying-power. I feel I do.

Being a patient, I have also learned and witnessed first-hand just how important a role a doctor can play in one's recovery. Luckily, I am surrounded by four absolutely incredible individuals who have prioritized being a compassionate person first and playing a doctor second, proving that one doesn't need to place himself on a pedestal to be amazing at what he can do. This all-star team of providers, however, did not come without some rearranging on my part. I removed from my team, so to speak, one nationally-recognized specialist who was less than stellar in both his personality and in his style of delivering unwanted news. Although this specialist may have been quite good at what he does, I was less than impressed with his all-around abilities to communicate. To heal well and remain positive throughout my ordeal, I insisted on only being surrounded by similar individuals.

Overall, I have much to be thankful for. An almost complete recovery. A supportive family. Supportive friends. And supportive co-workers. What could have been a terrible outcome was not. For this reason, I will always be humble and grateful. Returning to work, I was greeted with many kindnesses and friendly, encouraging words. Hugs included. I also returned to some sadness as well. One of my favorite nurses, Sue, tragically lost her son during my absence. My ordeal embarrassingly pales in comparison to this tragic event of her life. To hug her and share tears with her as she attempted to give me a warm welcome-back smile speaks volumes of her strength and character.    

So there you have it. Officially, I have now returned to my life as I know it. Playing doctor full-time. Playing Dad full-time. Attempting to be a writer again. And, most importantly, continuing to look at my wife with complete wonderment, appreciating more than ever her infinite strength, support and love. Except for the glasses outwardly, my most significant changes from my ordeal have come from within. For this, I am most appreciative. I am stronger than ever, actually. As Ralph wisely stated above, the small day-to-day battles were worth the positive hindsight of it all.

It feels so very good to be back...

As always, I thank you much for reading, my friend. More importantly, I thank you for your patience and returning to read my words.