Just before Christmas, I was out walking my dog, who’s a large (100 lb.) but very sweet, somewhat timid mutt. We passed by two German shepherds who obviously are not friendly but usually are walked by their owner, a tall man who controls them well. On that sunny Sunday morning, his college-age daughter was walking the dogs. As we passed them, they suddenly snarled and lunged for my dog’s neck, dragging the daughter behind them, and my left hand was badly bitten in the fracas.
I went immediately to the ER; the deep puncture wound on my hand was irrigated and packed open, and I started taking Augmentin. Nonetheless, four days later a formal I & D was necessary, and I had Penrose drains for days. There was a ligament stretch injury, and a splint for two weeks. Now, seven weeks later, the wound is just about healed, and although the scar is unsightly, the hand works pretty well. The dog bite managed to miss the nerve and the joint. My hand hurts when I intubate, the grip strength isn’t quite back, and after a long day in the OR it definitely aches. But on the whole, I feel lucky that it wasn’t a career-ending injury.
Probably the thing that most surprised me, out of all the sympathy and well-wishes from friends and colleagues, was the number of fellow physicians who asked me if I would use this injury as my ticket to retire. Several expressed surprise that I ever came back to work. The prevailing attitude was that this was my big opportunity to cash in on my disability insurance, and I was letting it slip away.
I’ve always enjoyed my work as an anesthesiologist, and I wasn’t planning to quit any time soon. Is this a naive attitude? Has being a physician become so unrewarding to many of us that a career-ending (but not incapacitating) injury should be regarded as a lucky break?
Writing as a non-physician, I wonder if the attitude of your colleagues about your missed opportunity to “cash in on your disability” is an expression of the frustration and stress that our physicians are in the midst of in the push and pull of what they idealistically wish to accomplish and what they are accomplishing within the confines of current healthcare regimes.