Forty-three Years

Today, March 26th, 2023, is the one year anniversary of my last shift in the emergency department (ED), after having worked there for over forty-three years. As I look at this picture, I see faces of not only gifted healthcare providers, but also of dear friends, some with whom I labored for decades. While the photo gives me some sense of nostalgia, even more so, I’m happy to have moved on to a calmer, more peaceful existence. I have no desire to turn back the clock. It’s high time to enjoy the fruits of my labor, and I am grateful to God that I still have good health and the opportunity to enjoy my life. It seems impossible that I am seventy-years-old. Where has the time gone?

Thinking back, I recall when I first walked through the doors of the ED. Nothing in my training could have prepared me for the chaos and seeming insanity I would come to face. Yet, mixed with these sometimes overwhelming challenges were many beautiful, transformative, and yes, spiritual moments, ones I will never forget. All emergency medicine personnel are regularly faced with such wild swings, frighteningly-steep ups and downs, yet much like the yin and yang of Taoism, one can’t occur without the other.

It seems a good time to express a word of thanks to my beloved colleague and friend, Dr. Mary Puntenney, my parent’s internist in days past, who later became an emergency physician. Because of her recommendation, I landed at the hospital where she worked, a place I would stay for my entire career. I am also appreciative of Dr. J. D. McKean, who as the physician director, was willing to offer me a position. Deserving special mention is Dr. John Clemons, an emergency physician and my racquetball buddy, a man deeply loved by his fellow healthcare providers and patients alike. He died at far too early an age from complications of Parkinson’s Disease, and I will always miss his contagious smile and upbeat personality.

I will forever be grateful to all of the experienced nursing staff in my early years who helped show me the ropes. ┬áNurses are the true backbone of medicine, and the whole system would collapse like a house of cards without them. Thanks to each and every one of you, from early in my career to years later. Because of you, I was able to complete my life’s work.

Before I close, I have a few thoughts I’d like to share. One thing I am most proud of is the fact that no one in my ED was ever turned away because of inability to pay. In my opinion, healthcare is a right, not an earned privilege, and I’m happy to report that while in the ED, the medical safety net for the poorest of the poor remained intact.

The devastation that those in medicine faced in dealing with Covid-19 cannot be overstated, and I well recall the period of time before immunizations were available. Our lives were placed at risk simply by performing out duties, and the heroism of those who provided healthcare in spite of this danger stands out to me as the ultimate in courage and bravery, which has never been surpassed during my career. I applaud all of those – and there were many – who put the wellbeing of others before their own, sometimes at great cost.

In my book, The Pit, I have described at length my thoughts as I approached retirement, and I feel no need to repeat them here. I will conclude by saying while emergency medicine has presented challenges to me on many different levels, if I had my life to live over, I would do it again in a heartbeat. I may have scars from all those years in the ED, but I am wiser and better for it.

And for that, I couldn’t be more grateful.

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