It was never his intention that the name would stick. A decade ago, when he first began working in the restaurant, some of his fellow employees knew that he was formerly a practicing physician and started to call him “Doc.” Although many of his coworkers had since moved on, taking the knowledge of his previous profession with them, his moniker persisted.
Doc liked the simplicity and tedium of his bartending job. He spent the majority of his nights doing what he liked most, interacting with fellow human beings. He remembered a time when medicine offered such enticing rewards. When he could sit across from a patient with a paper and pen and record only the most salient information. He could look into their eyes, wax philosophical in the exam room, and still have enough time to comfort a grieving family member.
The practice of medicine was once both amazingly complex and laughably simple. The convoluted path of the ailing body was matched by the enduringly straightforward need to be loved and cared for. And Doc loved his patients. He loved them so much, in fact, that the wave of computerization, legislation, and compliance almost got the best of him.
He no longer enjoyed his day to day activities. His warm greetings and kind words were overtaken by a nagging electronic medical record system and voluminous rounds of paperwork. Doc was deeply depressed and on the verge of suicide when he made the life-altering decision.
He had no children, no wife, and no debt. He would leave the job he once loved in order to save his own life.
And save his life, it did.
As the months past, Doc felt the stress wash over his body and fall like a puddle to the ground. He started to laugh again. He smiled at strangers as they shimmied up to the bar. He became a spectacle on his own. A group of regulars appeared at all times of the night to chat as he worked.
It took a full year before the phantom sensation of a pager buzzing on his belt loop finally disappeared. Double that to get used to sleeping the whole night without being interrupted by a phone call. Doc was happy, but couldn’t forget quite everything about being a doctor.
Although his mind was elsewhere, his keen eye kept lurking back to his training. He might notice a Bell’s Palsy or the shuffling gate of Parkinson’s in some unlucky patron making his way to a seat in the restaurant. Occasionally he gave advice for minor ailments. Originally his customer’s eyes would raise in disbelief, but eventually, they learned to trust his instincts.
Once a young man started to choke on a piece of steak. When Doc heard what was going on, he leaped over the bar and ran to the table. He performed the Heimlich and cleared the man’s airway. It appeared as if his actions were too late. But Doc expertly delivered a few breaths and started CPR. The man recovered by the time the ambulance arrived.
It was times like these that Doc wondered if he made the right decision. He still loved medicine deeply. But he also knew that what doctors were practicing today was no longer medicine. It was a bastardized version overtaken by technology, administrators, and rules that made little sense.
Doctors, he felt, were no longer helping people.
Jordan Grumet is an internal medicine physician who blogs at In My Humble Opinion. Watch his talk at dotMED 2013, Caring 2.0: Social Media and the Rise Of The Empathic Physician. He is the author of I Am Your Doctor: and This Is My Humble Opinion.
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