Every year during the Christmas holidays, I make a point of taking the time during those busy days to sit for a few hours to watch my favorite holiday movie, Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life.
In this classic movie, actor Jimmy Stewart plays George Bailey, a likeable and hardworking family man who considers taking his own life when his absent-minded Uncle Billy accidentally misplaces a large sum of money from their bank. As a result, George goes into a deep, suicidal despair. To George’s rescue comes his guardian angel, Clarence, who demonstrates to George how important his life has been and how his family, friends and community would have been negatively affected without his selfless actions over his lifetime.
Clarence, the guardian angel, is able to show George Bailey that his life has been and currently is very important and meaningful for the people and community he loves. Clarence is able to help George realize that he does indeed have a wonderful life.
Like George Bailey, I also find the pressures of my podiatric medical practice and busy life can cause worry and anxiety and even, at times, a feeling of hopelessness. After over a quarter century of podiatric practice, working hard and long hours to keep my practice running smoothly, issues still seem to continually come up within my practice and these issues can be very frustrating.
Whether I am fighting with insurance companies to allow my patients to receive necessary medical care and receive fair payment for my services, whether my patients are creating more problems for themselves by not following medical advice, or whether I have problems with the running of my practice in general, it is often difficult not to become frustrated and develop a sense of futility. For other podiatrists in worse situations than mine, these feelings can spiral downward to the point where life itself seems an unbearable burden.
Even though I haven’t yet had my own Clarence help me through the difficult situations that may result with my podiatric practice, I do find comfort in knowing that my life is filled with many positives. I have a wonderful wife of 31 years, two intelligent and healthy sons, a lovely and caring daughter-in-law, and three healthy and happy grandchildren.
Yes, my podiatric practice can be frustrating at times but I still greatly enjoy having the knowledge and skills that allow my patients to stand, walk, run and do their physical activities with less discomfort and more pleasure. My profession also allows me to meet a wide range of individuals, from professional athletes to minimum wage workers, and make a positive health impact on nearly all of their lives.
Like George Bailey’s problems leading him into his own despondency, many podiatric physicians, including myself, can get so wrapped up in the continual difficulties of their own practices and their own lives that they often are not able to recognize how they positively affect the people they love, the people they work with and the people they treat as patients. As podiatrists, we have been trained as medical experts to administer the gift of healing to our communities and this gift of healing that we bring to the people we treat is much more meaningful than we take the time to fully appreciate.
In fact, it has become quite clear to me over the years of being a podiatrist in my own community that the appreciation I receive from my patients is very similar to the ending minutes of It’s a Wonderful Life. In the last scene of the movie, George Bailey’s friends, family and neighbors show their gratitude for what he has done over the years for them by helping him out of his own difficult situation. Every day, I am reminded by my patients with their smiles and their big “thank yous” of how much my professional expertise as a podiatrist means to them and their lives. Every week, I get referrals from previous patients who have enough trust in me to recommend their family, friends and acquaintances for treatment of their painful feet and lower extremity injuries.
As podiatric physicians, it is important every now and then to take the time to step back and appreciate the positive impact that you have on the lives of your patients. Like George Bailey, we all need to be reminded at times that it’s a wonderful life.
Dr. Kirby is an Adjunct Associate Professor within the Department of Applied Biomechanics at the California School of Podiatric Medicine at Samuel Merritt University in Oakland, Calif. He is in private practice in Sacramento, Calif.
Dr. McCord retired in December 2008 from practice at the Centralia Medical Center in Centralia, Wash.