Last March, I was working in a small primary care practice on the west side of Denver. COVID-19 came to town. On Thursday, March 12, we were told the schools would be closing. On Friday, we were told that clinic staff had to wear masks — and the clinic had to start testing patients for COVID-19.
The only problem? There were no medical-grade masks to be had. Not through the state health department, not on Google, not anywhere. Likewise, there were no COVID tests available. A patient came into the clinic late that afternoon, complaining of a high fever and a bad cough for three days. He wanted to know if he had COVID-19. So did I! But there was no way to test him.
Although I was 70 years old, I still hadn’t completely retired. I’d left my full-time practice behind, but I still enjoyed working part-time and interacting with patients. However, I also enjoyed spending time with my children and grandchildren, and I didn’t relish the thought of working through a pandemic.
“I am in the over-65 high-risk group. I don’t want to die,” I thought to myself.
On Saturday, I gathered my courage and called the director of the clinic to tender my resignation. The director, who is also in his senior years, cut me off before I could finish my sentence.
“We have already decided to close the clinic,” he said.
Voila! I am instantly retired. As it turned out, there would be no masks and no available testing for at least another two months. Clinics who had major resources would transition to telemedicine. Clinics with less funding, like ours, were forced to close.
Although retirement came as a surprise, I still found plenty to do:
1. I finished up a doctor memoir I had been writing for a couple of years.
2. I reviewed recent advances in medicine, the stuff I hadn’t had time to think about when I was working many hours a week. I caught up on new medicines for auto-immune diseases and for cancer treatments.
3. I slept more, although I had vivid dreams about coming to work in an unfamiliar clinic, seeing patients who are somewhat worrisome and cranky, and being unable to find a script pad.
4. I paid close attention to the epidemiology of a viral pandemic. Clearly, the president at the time did not understand the concept of the exponential spread of COVID-19.
5. I took up new or old hobbies: jigsaw puzzles, Netflix, reading science fiction.
If doctors reading this blog choose to transition to retirement – and it has certainly been a rational decision, for those of us old enough to fall into the high-risk group – then I hope the above list has been helpful. Post-pandemic, I hope to add travel to the list. It seems just a tad uncertain right now – given the Delta variant surge – to plan big trips right now, but it certainly is something to look forward to in the future.
Janet Tamaren is a family physician and author of Yankee Doctor in the Bible Belt: A Memoir. She can be reached at her self-titled site, Dr. Janet Tamaren, and on Twitter @jtamaren.
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