As a long-distance truck driver, he did not have time to visit a doctor. In fact, the last time a doctor ever examined him was decades ago. When his leg started hurting, he ignored the pain for months before it got too severe and started interfering with his ability to drive. He showed up in my office in severe pain and limping. And while he tried to joke it off, I could see the fear in his eyes. I examined him and then sat down and faced him. I knew he wanted to get out of the office by any way and was hoping I would tell him it was just a pulled muscle. But, I suspected it was more dire than that, and as I shared my suspicions that it was a blood clot, I saw his eyes mist over but the tears failed to fall.
Since it was evening, there was no way to get any radiographic studies done, so he was asked to go to the ER. And there, the blood clot was confirmed and the patient hospitalized. A few weeks later, he came back to see me and thanked me for saving his life. I knew it wasn’t just me but a whole team of health care workers who saw him in the hospital. I wonder if he thanked them, because they played a role in saving his life as well. Would they ever know how grateful he was that he was diagnosed before having a catastrophic pulmonary embolism?
People like to demonize doctors these days. While the health care system totters on its unsteady legs, blame looks for a victim to cast itself upon. Doctors are easy victims because, for most of us, we care about doing the best for our patients. We are the few that are emotionally invested in patient outcomes; others are more interested in data mining. Many days it seems like we are making no difference at all, other than to serve the coffers of bloated insurance company executives.
Despite the forces weighing us down to the bottom of the health care ocean, we must keep in mind that our work is valuable; we do make a difference. We may not always see it or even become aware of it. Many times this impact is hidden behind the curtains of life’s stage and will never act its drama for our benefit.
Anytime we convince a patient to quit smoking or eat healthier, we are making a difference. We may have added years onto that person’s life. For the most part, we will never see this but it doesn’t matter; our job is to make a difference, not to seek the glory. Though many like to conspire against vaccines, those of us in health care know the truth in the science, and we are preventing death. It may seem to some we are just sticking people with too many needles, but we are making a difference.
Whether it is restarting an arrested heart or getting a sick child to smile, our work has meaning. Despite our tainted image in the media, we do make a difference.
Linda Girgis is a family physician who blogs at Dr. Linda.
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