When It's Time To Put Up The 'Gone Fishing' Sign
I usually enjoy my work. My office is efficient. The patients appreciate our help. My staff is like family. Most weeks go by fast and end upbeat. Last week was an exception. The efficient office self-destructed when the computer medical billing program died. Something corrupted all the financial data and it vanished. The backup tapes were disabled. Neither the software support guy nor the hardware technician could bring it back to life.
The vascular surgeon with whom I have shared space for the past four years suffered a major bout of burnout and left practice last week. He is 44 and looks 60. His departure leaves a major dent in my life. He has been a friend as well as a valued professional resource. He spent the week boxing up his professional life and hauling it to a storage facility. We didn’t talk much. He was emotional and close to tears all week.
My schedule was overwhelmed with new patients who all needed immediate help. In most circumstances this is good but last week it drained me.
Thursday was the hardest day. I attended the funeral of a young friend who took his own life. He had a great family and everything going for him but could not face impending blindness from glaucoma so he put a bullet in his head. I about lost it when his wife and 16-year-old daughter thanked me for coming.
I sat next to Issac, an old friend who entered pediatric practice about the same time I started my practice 27 years ago. He looked at me and told me I needed some hydrotherapy. Hydrotherapy has been our code word for fishing. We have fished the rivers of western Washington for the past 25 years. Mostly, we don’t catch much but fill our emotional cups that are often left empty after a difficult week. We arranged to meet the next morning on the Cowlitz River.
Isaac and I met three other guys at 5 a.m. and headed upstream. The river was peaceful and beautiful as the sun rose and began to warm our backs. The fish were starting to bite.
I was becoming more relaxed as we drifted down the Cowlitz. Isaac and the other guys had each caught fish. I had a few bites but my goal wasn’t to land a steelhead. I was recovering from a difficult week. I was fulfilling my goal.
At 9 a.m., the other guys had landed four fish. My pager went off. I answered it with my cell phone and the exchange gave me three messages. The software company said the data was lost forever. My stockbroker needed to talk to me soon because the market was falling and my retirement portfolio was circling the drain. An upset patient wanted to yell at me about screwing up her industrial claim. She was still on the line and the exchange wanted to put her through.
Holding my fishing pole in the crook of my arm, I told the exchange to tell her they would put her through to my voice mail. I don’t actually have a voice mail but I didn’t want to talk with her. She was a professional industrial insurance scammer and my least favorite patient.
The exchange connected me with the patient. I spoke in a mechanical voice and said, “You have reached the voice mail of Dr. McCord. I can’t come to the phone at this time because I am with another patient. Please leave your name and phone number as well as a brief message when you hear the beep.” I then said, “Beep.”
She started into a diatribe, calling me a quack because I had screwed up her claim and they wouldn’t give her any money for partial disability. She demanded I send an amended report today. While she was yelling, I felt a tug on my fishing line. One of the guys yelled, “Hey, Doc, you’ve got a fish on.”
I yelled into the phone, “Time’s up. Adios.” Then I hung up and started reeling the fish in. It was a big one and put up a hell of a battle. Eventually we netted it and pulled it into the boat. A 12-pound fish did more for me than a herd of analysts could to get me through a difficult week.
By the end of the morning, I had landed three steelhead. Isaac and I got together for a barbecue that evening. I spent the afternoon filleting the fish and marinating some in whiskey, olive oil and soy sauce. I grilled the fillets on a cedar plank. The hydrotherapy worked wonders. I’m ready for next week.
Dr. McCord is a Diplomate wtih the American Board of Podiatric Surgery. He practices at the Centralia Medical Center in Centralia, Wash.