I sure there’s a talent I own
But of those there’s many a clone
And when I read the news
Of the ultimate dues
I think that I’m just a drone.
Synopsis: I’m a Family Practitioner from Sioux City, Iowa. In 2010 I danced back from the brink of burnout, and honoring a 1 year non-compete clause, traveled and worked in out-of-the-way places in Alaska, Nebraska, Iowa, and New Zealand. After three years working with a Community Health Center, I went back to adventures in temporary positions until they have an Electronic Medical Record (EMR) system I can get along with. A winter in Nome, Alaska, assignments in rural Iowa, a summer with a bike tour in Michigan, and Urgent Care in suburban Pennsylvania stretched into the fall. Since last winter I’ve worked in Alaska and western Nebraska, and taken time to deal with my wife’s (benign) brain tumor. After a moose hunt in Canada, I am back on the job in western Iowa. Any identifiable patient information has been included with permission.
A doctor of my acquaintance, since retired, started at 6:00AM, went full speed till 2:00AM, never lost his sense of humor or his smile, never yelled at a nurse, knew everything and didn’t act like it. Every physician in town knew that he was the best doctor. We were keenly aware that more docs like him could put the rest of us out of a job.
During my training, one of the best docs amongst the house staff would say of himself, “I’m just a drone,” meaning that, as a physician, he represented nothing outstanding. While I would agree that I have a few talents (I listen well, have a gift for languages, and establish rapport with children easily) I don’t see myself as anything special as a doctor.
Yet daily I face pressure from patients, staff, and management to relocate. Or at least make a long-term commitment.
During our lunch conference today I received subtle hints along with a very good program about pertussis, and what to do during an outbreak.
Shortly after lunch, though, a memo circulated. One of the consulting surgical specialists came to the ultimate drama and irony, dying unexpectedly overnight. Arrangements would be made for alternative care.
While I stared at the sheet of paper, unbidden, the faces of 8 patients I’d referred to him in the last two weeks came to mind, some straightforward and some mysteries to be unraveled. For two I just wanted reassurance that nothing more remained to be done.
When I first started into private practice, I had to listen to a series of practice management lectures on cassettes. One of the aphorisms that stuck with me went something like, If you think you’re irreplaceable, check your appointment book for the week after your funeral.
It’s true I made some good pickups today. Because of plural occurrences, I can talk about pre-op history and physicals where I uncovered statin-induced joint pain because I asked every question the computer listed. Or the thyroid disease I found, or the folic acid deficiencies. I can talk about how my time in western Pennsylvania helped me interpret the Lyme disease serologies, how my experience in the infectious mononucleosis epidemic of 1990 helped more than one patient this month, or how my habit of always touching the patient where they hurt brought about the diagnosis.
But in the final analysis, I don’t think of myself as anything special. I’m just a drone. When I leave here, the patients will do fine.