Sunday, October 12, 2014


"…so lift me up, increase my buoyancy. I'm still not floating, please, attach more nothing to me."
-Atthys Gage, "Surface"

I was reading through the medical records of a patient and came across this diagnosis in their chart:
Weightlessness. It turns out there is an ICD-9 code for this, specifically E928.0. This is not to be confused with E485, which is "an accident involving a spacecraft".  Neither of these is billable, incidentally. And in the case of this patient, I suspect it was the transcriptionist's mishearing of weight loss. Because if someone is weightless in a forest, do they really need a doctor?

For the last 19+ years, I have been either in training or in practice as a doctor. It starts, for most of us, as a naive wish to help, with no serious strings attached, nothing weighing us down. Most in this profession will give up something, or many things: time with family for sure, other passions and pursuits, often one's own health. Still, a good job: you get to be useful, and you will eventually usually get paid reasonably well.

As with most things in life, what was once carefree becomes slowly laden with the stuff that sticks to you, irritatingly increasing your friction and slowing down your cheerful ride. Like Katamari.
If a doctor was a Katamari ball, they would be covered in: MCATs, mean Attendings, grumpy senior residents, expensive licensing exams, soul-sucking debt, grief over all the sad stuff they see, PTSD from that noise that pagers make, one step away from madness from one-too-many middle of the night awakenings, and bewilderment at why, when they are generally just trying to help people, they are so often the target of people's anger and desire for more. Doctors are now on Craig's list alongside the guy who unplugs your toilet.

I have great respect for plumbers, let's get that straight.

Doctors can do some cool stuff that everyone admires, like my surgeon friend who fixed up the surfer who got munched on by a shark, or the times we pick up a diagnosis that was elusive, or when someone gets saved from the almost certain death of ebola. But a lot of times, what doctors do is create a space where someone can get hurt as little as possible while their own body does the work of healing. And truly, a lot of the real work is done by nurses. One of whom is now dealing with her own case of ebola after caring for the man in Texas.

Lately there have been some serious discussions though about what we cannot do. For instance, we cannot keep people from getting frail as they age. We cannot change the fact that the death rate for all humans remains at 100%.

As the parent of teenagers, one thinks a lot about what the point of life is. This is for two reasons:
1) You want to be some kind of advisor for these people who are about to step out of your nest.
2) You find yourself with less life ahead of you than behind you.

As the parent of teenagers, a hospice doctor and the medical director of a clinic for the frail elder, I think way too much about what the point of life is. I sometimes feel like I am trapped inside that Rodin sculpture, with my eyes darting back and forth while people admire me: wow, she's a thinker!

Advice to the offspring, to myself and for those that feel like they are a Katamari ball or trapped within a ripped, iron thinker guy:

Be kind and useful.

Ride your bike to work, take a run, do Zumba, do yoga, take a senior aerobics class, do chair exercises, wiggle your little toe: MOVE YOUR BODY. There is no better drug. Not even lipitor. I know: radical.

Let the angry people vent at you, smile and be kind, and useful.

Never let your work hurt you. Never let your passions wither.

Do not look only to doctors, pills or operations for salvation. They can help, sometimes. But ask yourself: what is it you seek? And did you eat well, exercise, and tend to your own spirit on this fine day?

Move your body, be kind, be useful. Let go, and float to the surface.

1 comment:

  1. Having been in recent discussions about when the soul leaves the body, I thank you for giving me a moment of 'weightlessness' through your writing. Note to chart: it is akin to joy.