An antidote…

Without trying very hard you can read about all that gives doctors the blues. CNNMoney recently reported that many docs are actually going broke. It’s true, the take-the-fun-out-of-medicine people push harder all the time.

But worry not, I am not going to drone on about negative things. I’m not even going to list one. (Think lower word count.) On the contrary, this glorious globally-warmed January afternoon has me feeling good about work.

You see, I had a great day this week: the day ‘young’ Sean shadowed me. Sean is a smart, hard-working business major who I first met when he answered my request (on a cycling e-group) for statistical help with our recent AHA poster. His ability to understand complex medical questions belies his youthful phenotype. After learning about how to apply statistics learned in class to real-life science questions, he got interested in Medicine. Sean wondered which box to check on career day. You might have guessed, I pressured him to consider being a doctor–as I do with all talented young people who are courteous enough to listen.

And like any smart person would do, Sean asked to see what medicine looks like up close.

I reveled in a beautiful day. I showed him how to ablate heart rhythm problems and do consults on hospital patients. My partner demonstrated how squishing blockages rescues patients from heart attacks. And of course, for the win, Sean was dazzled by the sight of open-heart surgery. It’s good that was last, as for visual images, the cath lab pales in comparison to the beating heart in an opened chest.

Yes, the fury of modern medicine does indeed show well. Of course, though one can see all this on YouTube, being that close, feeling the tension, hearing the voices, of real people working to make real people feel better, brings so much more.

I got this email from Sean the evening after his visit:


After today you have made me even more confused on what I want to do with my life than I was this morning.

Thank you for a great day. I had a lot of fun today and loved every minute of my experience. Now I guess it is time for me to really start thinking about what I want to do after graduation and make some hard decisions.

Thank you again for everything, I really appreciate the experience I was given today.

The thing is I think the experience helped me as much as it did Sean. Showing the coolness of what we do to a talented young person makes you see things that often blend into the blandness of normalcy. Things like how the touch of a computer screen can send a brief electrical stimulus through flexible catheters snaked through the body. And if these pulses excite the heart at just the right time a rapid heart beat is induced. And then delivery of wattage through another catheter makes a small burn that stops the abnormal tissue from conducting. A cure. Really, this works?

Or this, from open heart surgery: how can you do all that stuff to the heart and watch it start beating again by itself? It had been awhile since I watched an open heart case; I too found myself mesmerized and impressed when that heart started beating again. “Go heart go,” I thought. (Wait, random thought here: Seeing heart surgery might help AF patients understand how durable their heart really is.)

Explaining and thus really seeing what we do always gets me dwelling on how far that our training and experience brought us–from paper boys to heart doctors. And imagine if you made it as far as a heart surgeon? That would be something.

I wrote a far-too-long response back to Sean. Here are a couple of excerpts:

In considering a medical career, you probably see the journey as daunting–years in training and student loans, among others. You may have even heard naysayers speak of the decline of physician autonomy, lower salaries and our diminished job satisfaction. Stop listening to these voices. They could lead you down the wrong trail. (Cycling metaphor alert!)

Dr P (a doctor Sean met), will probably agree with me when I suggest to you that one of the greatest parts of being a doctor was the journey itself. And this too: the learning never really stops.

Not once that day did I think about the negatives.

I signed, dated and timed with a smile.