Why The DPM Identity Crisis Is Much Ado About Nothing
I have never cared much about my identity as a professional. It did not matter to me if the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services considered me to be a physician as long as my patients thought I was a good doctor.
I looked forward to retirement so I could get my first name back. That part has not gone smoothly. More people address me with the “D” word than when I was in practice.
I was attending mass a few weeks ago and when I went up to communion, the Eucharistic minister said, “Doctor, the body of Christ.”
I muttered, “Amen. Call me John.”
Identity has been a crisis situation for many of us and it does not need to be. As long as we are good foot and ankle experts, the feds can call us anything they want. It does not matter to me and never did. It does not matter to our patients.
I had several major goals in retirement. One was to get my first name back and I have failed to do that.
I also had the goal of turning my two acres of lawn around my house into a rolling green golf course-like carpet. I envisioned a beautiful front yard when a contractor talked us into building our home in the center of a two-acre parcel 19 years ago. I was a good foot surgeon but on a John Deere lawn tractor, I was a butcher. PICA would not have insured my lawn mowing skills. My lawn looked like an Afghan battlefield, no thanks to my dogs, kids, moles and the misguided John Deere. Things had to change.
I fed and fertilized the lawn, then applied weed killer and hired a hit man to assassinate the moles. I had my John Deere tuned and got a new set of blades that I vowed never to use for mulching trees or shrubs. I set the blades at 3 inches instead of 1½ to avoid the recently excavated look after I mowed. My lawn looks beautiful.
My new role as a groundskeeper did cause an identity problem. One day as I was placing cedar bark dust around a small flower garden, a shining black Escalade pulled to a stop. The driver lowered the window, revealing a beautifully sculpted nose, perfectly wrinkle free skin and too perfect blonde hair. The driver lowered her designer sunglasses and asked, “Do you do lawn care?”
“Yes, ma’am,” I replied.
“What do you charge?”
I thought for a moment and recalled that a national labor study reported the average earnings of a podiatrist to be $96 per hour so I gave her that figure.
“Surely, these people do not pay you that much.” She was from a gated neighborhood nearby and must have been slumming on my street.
“Actually, ma’am, they don’t. I have a special deal here. The lady of the house makes me breakfast and lunch, and I get to sleep with her whenever I want.”
The Escalade driver would have displayed a shocked look and frowned at me but the Botox must have kicked in because all I got was a blank stare as she raised her window and sped away. Dang!
I bet she did not even realize she was talking to an ex-doctor. I really did not care. Maybe if I were wearing surgical scrubs like some of my physician friends do 24/7, she would not have assumed I was just an overpaid lawn boy with an unusual benefits package at this house.
We torture ourselves with the identity crisis and accomplish nothing for the pain.
It is important to be professional in the patient care parts of our lives but outside of the clinic and the hospital, we need to relax and quit worrying about being recognized as physicians or “real” doctors. In the end when you retire from being a doctor, you need to fit into the real world.
I enjoy going to coffee every afternoon with a bunch of old guys. They still call me the “D” word but I am slowly converting them to the use of my first name.
The coffee gatherings are stimulating. We have some rules. Nobody can gripe about his wife and we stay away from politics and religion. Gossip is okay but limited. Facts never ruin a good story. I never give medical advice. We play a game of liar’s poker to see who gets to pay for all the cups of coffee. My pager is at the bottom of my sock drawer with a run down battery.
I am just John again.
Dr. McCord recently retired from practice at the Centralia Medical Center in Centralia, Wash.