I am cleaning out eight years worth of my life's work right now with a heavy heart: certifications from accredited treatment programs; years and years worth of research from hours I spent in medical libraries; notebooks and binders full of notes and committee meeting minutes; health education tools, handouts, copies of powerpoint presentations; hundreds of names of physicians I've worked with over the years.
And, in the end, eight years of my life ended, as T.S. Elliot said: "not with a bang, but a whimper."
He was referring to the world, but in many ways, I feel like the world I've known -- that of sterile hospital walls, patient charts and illnesses -- has ended amazingly anticlimactically. Hardly a soul noticed me as I passed through the corridors of the hospital one final time to drop off my key and pick up one remaining box in my office. There was no celebratory party to wish me farewell from my coworkers, no tears, no laughter. Nothing. It just happened like any other day.
Just like that, I've rounded a corner into another phase of my life. Quietly, but still, completely.
Healthcare is an industry, a big business, and greedy and self-serving, just like any big business. I have emerged a different person than when I entered this world on February 28, 2001.
When I entered, I was naïve, hopeful, still believing whole-heartedly that physicians and other healthcare providers genuinely care about helping people. Afterall, all physicians still take the Hippocratic Oath before practicing medicine. Written by Hippocrates in the 4th century B.C., this statement became the cornerstone of modern medicine that states, essentially, first “do no harm.”
But in 2003, my viewpoint abruptly shifted, thanks to a candid conversation with a physician I was working with at the time. I talked openly with him about my frustrations with launching a program at the hospital to engage smokers in a dialogue about the dangers of smoking around their children. These children typically had some form of breathing diagnosis and needed desperately to be freed from the bondage of breathing their parents’ 4000 + chemicals from smoking.
My logic was simple: take the few extra minutes to address this issue during a patient visit, and in the long run, it will save both provider and parent the stress of another sick visit.
What this physician said in response to my logic was like an anvil of understanding smashing down on my head.
“Frankly,” he said, “I make more for a sick visit than a well visit.”
In one sentence, I suddenly realized this monster -- the healthcare industry -- I was immersed in, his motivations becoming clear to me. And I believe that was the beginning of my separation from the healthcare industry.
That was over five years ago. Monday, I begin a whole new chapter in my life, closing the book on healthcare, the business of sickness. And while I clean out years of paperwork and things that seemed important, from where I sit at this moment, they don't seem all that important. And now, I feel like that anvil has lifted.