Like most doctors, I have, on rare occasions, been bestowed an award of one kind or another. In this way medicine parallels the current everyone-is-a-winner ethos of society.
Nonetheless, awards are nearly always a good thing, and so being asked to serve as the official race doctor of the USGP was a shiny trophy indeed. So cool in fact that I had to tell reigning US champ Tim Johnson, and women’s winner, Georgia Gould about my “status.” I might even brag this one to my parents. (In reality though, the USGP just needed a doctor—any doctor—for “documentation purposes.” For if they needed a “useful” doctor, they would have picked an emergency-room specialist or surgeon well before an installer and ablator.)
Little did I know how useful this “race doctor” distinction would prove to be.
After the old guys race, I was asked to ‘pit’ for an elite bike racer. (In cyclocross most racers have a ‘pit bike’ in case of a mechanical, or excess mud.) Saturday at the USGP—which is far more spectacular than the usual local weekend bike race—the pits were buzzing with activity. There were entourages of professional pit crews, two neutral support tents, and of course, the blue golf-shirt-claded cycling officials. Said officials, with their ear-pieces and clipboards were checking to make sure all in the pit had a pass; which of course I did not. Why would a cardiologist need a pit pass?
And, at the risk that all sweeping generalizations put one at, let’s just say that cycling officials are not known for their Starbucks-brand friendliness.
So there I was in the pits of a professional bike race, a specialist in cardiac electrophysiology Monday-Friday, but on Saturday, a rank amateur devoid of any pit knowledge or official credentials. Then came the confrontation:
“Excuse me sir, you are not allowed in here,” said the very serious official.
…Think quick John, the race is about to start.
“I live here in Louisville; this is my town…I even post the local Wednesday training ride,” I retort.
“You need a to get a pit pass from the registration tent.” (Which was a long walk, and my legs, back and neck ached from the recently-finished race.)
…Try the doctor card, I thought.
Proudly I say, “Sir, you know I am the official race doctor.”
“Really? Are you joking with me,” he asks, as he looks at my post-race disheveled persona–far from the doctor stereotype.
A friend chimes in, “I know it is hard to believe, but he is the race doctor.”
“Alright then, you can stay.”
The “doctor” card worked on a cycling official?
It is clearly true that doctors carry much less clout then they did back in “the day.” But still, some intangibles remain–albeit in diminishing numbers, as medicine becomes increasingly commoditized.
To the younger generation who are considering a career in medicine, I suggest that there are still some fairly cool intangibles to being a doc. Not the least of which is that sometimes one is granted a pass–often from people whom you would least expect it, like a cycling official, perhaps.
Doctors are just regular people; like everyone else we have our faults, and our personal struggles, and we really don’t deserve that proverbial free cup of coffee any more than others. That said, the reality is that we often get it–deserved or undeserved. It isn’t the actual free stuff, it’s the respect denoted by the gifts which feels so good.
With respect though, comes the pressure to continually maintain the professionalism which earned us this honor. Like in bike racing, when you are expected to win their is added pressure. Doctors are expected to continue to be professional, and hopefully we will. I will surely try hard.
Finally, let it be known, loud and clear, that one doesn’t have to make 3 million a year to be content with doctoring.
Just let me be an “official race doctor” once in a while.