The passage through life is, at times, exciting, stressful, and confusing. Like being on a roller coaster ride: strapped in, climbing up to the high peaks, and surging down to the valleys. It’s a ride where I hang on for dear life with the hope I can endure the trip until it ends. Don’t get me wrong, I do utter intermittent screams of joy here and there, but I’m happy when the ride comes to a stop, and I have solid ground under my feet again.
There are no road signs in life that point us in the right direction. No yield or hazard signs to warn of potential danger. Much of our journey is by trial and error, with the hope that mistakes made will teach us valuable lessons. On occasion, faulty choices have caused me to feel that the “rug has been ripped out from under me,” and that my sense of equilibrium has been knocked off-center.
As a person who remembers watching the Lone Ranger and Tonto and the Howdy Doody show on my family’s small black and white TV set, I’ve seen a lot of life. My body shows the scars of health encounters that shook me to my core. Encounters that had me questioning if I dared to push through … if I dared to continue. Did I have the courage to do what must be necessary to put my health back in order and forge a new lifestyle that would allow me to see my grandchildren grow and prosper? I had to ask myself difficult questions to find answers that would allow me to reduce the risks before me. Sometimes fear and indecisiveness had me locked in a corner. It seemed that one health event after another would happen. Just when I summoned enough determination to get past one, another seemed to be waiting in the wings. It wasn’t until I realized that I wasn’t facing this all alone that I had my family, my doctors, and most importantly, my Lord in my corner to help me with whatever I was to face.
As a patient, I realized that my voice needed to be heard, that my story, which makes me unique, needed to be heard. And so, I found my voice, not only for myself but for other patients whose voices sometimes may falter and go unheard. A sense of community does wonders in supplying us with courage and resiliency. My visible and invisible scars are now viewed by me as badges of courage and the ability to move past barriers.
Positive change will not happen if we are unwilling to step forward and voice what needs to be fixed to the world.
So what about you, my doctors? You have endured years of education and training to secure your medical degrees. You entered a profession where you felt you could do the most good for humanity, healing the mind and body. Sacrifices were made: Holiday dinners missed, absence from your son’s little league game, coming home late when everyone else has gone to bed. Experiencing the joy and satisfaction of being a physician and bearing witness to the tragedies- of not being able to heal all those who stand before you. A feeling that you must always be perfect since the well-being of your patients is in your hands. There is no room for error.
Always having to conform to the multitude of laws and restrictions put in place by health systems, insurance corporations, and governmental agencies seem to be ever-increasing in number. Having to perform clerical tasks often takes you away from time spent with your patients. And yet, patients are waiting to be seen and heard, but the line must be kept in motion.
Many praised you and your colleagues as heroes during the height of the COVID pandemic, and rightly so. But in your mind, you were simply abiding by oaths and promises that had been made. As the pandemic fades, so have the shouts of praise. Now it seems that some blame you for causing undue panic during the past two years, for the economy coming to a halt, for job loss; when all you were doing was trying to save lives, supplying scientific information rather than misinformation.
You feel tired and alone. The light within you has dimmed as you were witness to such a magnitude of sadness and death. Promises made by health systems that employ you have gone unfulfilled. Your voice calling for change seems to continue to go unheard. You feel you are only viewed as a part of a corporate machine whose main concern is to bolster the bottom line and expand territory. Corporate board members seem to be unwilling to acknowledge the complexity of your skill and knowledge level and the essential contributions you make to their viability. Those billboards and TV commercial spots that show your image and carry your voice are great marketing ploys for the health system, but they do not show what goes on behind the scenes. But heck, it makes for good PR.
There are no simple answers to the situation our doctors are in, that health care, in general, is in. But I do know that nothing good will happen if we ignore the problem and maintain the status quo. There is strength in numbers; there is strength in the sense of community. We can not afford to lose those doctors who have given their all to those who have sought their assistance.
We are warriors. Doctors and patients are waging the battles daily on the front lines.
Michele Luckenbaugh is a patient advocate.
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