Triumphs despite slow computer systems.

The computers were running so slow,

Still I managed the good patient flow

Through all the strife,

I saved someone’s life

The satisfaction’s as good as the dough.

Synopsis:  I’m a family practitioner from Sioux City, Iowa.  In May 2010, I left my position of 23 years, and honoring my non-compete clause, traveled for a year doing locum tenens work.  In June of 2011 I joined up with the Community Health Center, which provides care for the underserved.  I’m now working part-time, which, for a doctor, means 54 hours a week.

I wish I could give details of the case that made my day, but I didn’t ask for permission, and, under the circumstances, any permission would have been suspect.

The sequence of events unfolded over the course of a morning, and finished with a doctor’s moment.

My medical school class started with a couple of people who had nothing but money in mind.  Half of those dropped out in the first two years, the others dropped out in the third year, when we had to start dealing with real sleep deprivation and patients with genuine bodily fluids.  A mercenary mind-set can’t stand up to that kind of torture.

A lot more of us came to campus with pure idealism, which lasted till we started taking care of patients.  Too many nights without sleep and days without eating robbed us of the urge to save the world without recompense. 

All in all, the medical education process and general maturation brought us to reality.  Yes, the work carries a satisfaction that no other field can provide, but, we realized, no one should work for free.

My career trajectory has brought me full circle. I haven’t decided to volunteer, I still want to be paid, but the real rewards of my job come from professional satisfaction, when I have that moment when my education and my abilities to listen, examine, and think all come together and the patient gets better.

Saving the life of a baby, relieving back pain or a dislocated shoulder before the patient leaves, taking foreign bodies out of places where they don’t belong, all give me a thrill. 

Today the computer system ran with maddening slowness, taking 45 seconds to change the patient on the screen and 40 seconds to access the printer.  The first patient left me frustrated, but the second patient left me alarmed.  When testing confirmed my suspicions an hour later, a pink cloud of clinical satisfaction settled over the rest of the day as I received successive phone reports detailing the saving of a life.

A minor clinical triumph followed in the late morning. 

I talked to three patients who have taken up the good cause of diet and exercise, losing a total of 280 pounds between them, and doing away with a total of 14 medications for five diseases. 

One patient, about whom I’ve written in the past, came in, still a beacon of light and hope to many on the verge of despair.

I still have defeats, the alcoholics who have no insight, the smokers who don’t want to stop and in the next breath talk about their deceased close family members, the obese who refuse to exercise.

And in between I took care of the curable and the treatable.  I finished with patients before the end of the session, and settled down with my computer to finish the documentation for the day, with the system still running at a glacier’s pace.

Originally written mid-December.


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