Just as people start things in all sorts of ways, so do they quit them.
Some people describe “falling into” a job or a profession. Others tell the story of seeking it, “knowing” from a young age that it was their calling.
I’ve seen some folks bounce around, swapping professional hats from one career to the next. I admire that fluidity.
Me, I’ve been a doctor, or in training to be one for over half my life. Not much of a bouncer am I.
I have dabbled widely, from fixing old cars to remodeling houses, but all the while, I have had a singular profession. I was a family doctor.
But I have decided to retire.
I have let go of many things in this career.
I used to practice intubations. That is when you stick a tube down someone’s airway, past the vocal cords, inflate the cuff, then pump air into their lungs when they aren’t breathing. Such a violent act can save a life. I thought I should keep that skill sharp when I was covering emergency rooms. That skill faded long ago.
Same with all the interventions to gain access to a dying patient’s blood stream. I thought I was pretty good at it, but like welding, you need to keep in practice.
I used to love providing obstetric care, delivering babies. I got training to do C-sections, since such an intervention was sometimes called for when you deliver babies.
But after many years of delivering babies, I began to notice a change in myself. During training, as a resident on the delivery ward, two or three women could be in labor at a time. I would check on then regularly, and catch a nap whenever I could, since back then, we did 24–36-hour shifts.
Out in practice, a woman might go into labor midday. I’d check on her, have dinner with the family, check on her again, then sleep a few hours, knowing I had a full clinic schedule the next day. Then I would go in at 2 or 4AM and do the delivery, sew up what needed to be sewed, write the orders, check on the baby, then go back home for a couple more hours of sleep.
As I aged, and I slowed down the number of deliveries I was doing, I found I could not sleep as she labored. I could not put my mind to ease that I had done and checked all that was needed. So, I would sit at the nurses’ station or go check on her more frequently. My inability to nod off was telling me something. My mind was not at peace with the process. Too many worries. I realized it was time to let go of this aspect of the profession I loved.
It has been a bittersweet process, this deciding to retire thing. I thought I had kept sharp, but I found I was looking up more of the medicines my patients had been prescribed. I was looking into the newly recommended medications and studying their chemistry. My natural skeptical nature made me wonder about the wisdom of this pharmaceutical investment. But I needed to know the wisdom of the treatment and make a wise recommendation. I worried I wasn’t as wise as I should be.
So, at the age of 69 I have decided to quit being a family doctor.
It truly was a passion for me. The fact that I earned a bit less than the local superintendent of schools seemed fitting. I saw too many of my colleagues make way too much money. And that should never be what inspires.
I valued the patients, their stories, their suffering, and their willingness to share their plight with me. They were very generous.
I tried to be too. Letting go can be a gift.