As a physician who is planning an early retirement, and is writing about the topic often, I find that retirement is frequently on my mind. It’s not difficult to articulate my desire for an early retirement. I crave the freedom and time with my family. I look forward to restful nights free from the threat of the loathsome pager. Another round of MOC is not for me, and I’m ready to live life at a different pace, exploring hobbies, staying fit, and challenging my mind in novel ways.
However, I would be lying if I were to say I feel no trepidation when I contemplate my exit strategy. You see, despite the typical stressors that we doctors regularly face, I actually enjoy many aspects of my anesthesiology career. These are the things I will miss the most.
Camaraderie. Teamwork is a key component to a successful OR experience for both the patient and the entire OR. crew. I spend a lot of time with our surgeons, circulating nurses, nurse anesthetists, scrub techs, pre-op and PACU nurses, and ancillary staff around the hospital. We learn how to work best with one another, and we learn about each others’ families, upcoming vacations, childhood stories, etc.
We also save lives together, and rely on each other to do what needs to be done and find what needs to be found in crisis situations. Bonds are formed.
Your coworkers may not be your best friends, and there may be a few you won’t miss, but once you retire, you will never again do the incredible things that almost seemed routine when you worked together. On the golf course, you won’t direct one of your buddies to fetch an 8 French introducer, send another to the blood bank while the third member of your foursome sets up for a crash exploratory laparotomy. And that’s probably a good thing. But the type of camaraderie you develop with coworkers in the hospital and operating room is tough to replicate.
Being with patients at critical times. As an anesthesiologist, I take care of patients during some of the most memorable and important days in their lives. I take away their labor pains on the day mom brings a child into the world. I might be called upon to intubate the newborn baby in the first few minutes of her life. Sometimes I get involved in the final minutes of one’s life, intubating or securing IV access when our team is taking desperate measures to combat what is often an inevitable and unfortunate endpoint in a code situation.
Even “routine” surgeries are not routine for the patient. What happens every day in my world only happens a handful of times in most people’s lives. I see patients on the day they receive a new knee or hip, have a cancer removed from their body, or a port placed to help fight one. These are crucial events for my patients.
It is a privilege to be part of a team that does extraordinary things to help ensure the patient’s comfort and safety throughout their surgical experience. I enjoy connecting with patients when we visit before surgery, answering questions and alleviating fears.
While the perception of anesthesiologists is that our patients are “sleeping,” I typically supervise three or four rooms, and I spend much of my day speaking with patients and their families. Earlier this week, I visited with 33 surgical patients at our surgical center before noon. I also filled out a preoperative evaluation on paper for each of them, performed three ultrasound-guided peripheral nerve blocks, and held several small hands while the other held a stuffed animal as child and animal drifted off together into another world for a brief spell. While I won’t miss the frenzied pace of a day like that day, I will miss the patients. And the animals.
The perks. Once I hang up the stethoscope, the biweekly direct deposits will end abruptly. No longer will I be reimbursed for travel expenses to attend conferences in great cities like San Francisco, New Orleans, or Boston. I won’t be treated to my coworkers’ banana bread or Christmas cookies. I probably won’t be invited to the holiday party, either, but I can’t promise I won’t crash it. I’ll miss that dinner and those drinks, and the people who enjoyed them with me.
Gratitude. Most patients are really thankful for the work that I do. Not only do I get to be a part of some landmark moments for them, but they are happy to have me on their side. When the aforementioned labor patient makes the transition from a writhing, screaming hellhound to smiling, happy puppy dog in a matter of minutes, the magic man with the epidural skills feels very much appreciated. Not only by the finally-calm patient, but also by the Dad, the parents, and in-laws, and especially the patient’s nurse.
I feel that gratitude when I tell parents of young children having surgery that I’ve got young children of my own, and they’ve been through this, too. I feel it when I speak confidently with a patient about what to expect in surgery, and from the kids and grandkids when I reassure them that Grandpa’s carotid artery shouldn’t cause any more problems and that I’ll be there to see him safely through surgery.
Just last night, I was able to reassure an elderly gentleman that his 106-year-old mother was in good hands. She had fallen and broken her femur, and the repair would require an intramedullary rod. We came up with the safest anesthetic plan possible, the patient did very well in the operating and recovery rooms, and her son was most certainly grateful. That’s a feeling I’ll miss.
“Physician on FIRE” is an anesthesiologist and can be reached at his self-titled site, Physician On FIRE.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com