They Work Here Too

The cardinal nest is pretty much done—no eggs yet, though. At least we think it’s a cardinal nest. It looks typical according to experts; loosely woven of twigs, leaves, stucco, and ponderosa pine accents. They’re pretty fussy about us snooping around the backyard evergreen tree they chose to build a home in.

Any day now, we’re hoping to see a clutch of eggs, bluish white with brown markings. Or maybe pale green with brown-lilac spots. Or possibly whitish to pale bluish or greenish white, marked with brown, purple, and gray. Or Hawkeye black and gold. It all depends on which guidebook you read, I guess.

I’m gradually getting back into bird watching and spending less time with my head at the hospital (“Earth to Jim!”). Doctors learn to spend all their time either on the wards or in the clinic. It reminds me of a couple of scenes from Men in Black (MIB) II.

As Agent J walks into the MIB complex at Battery Park, the elevator dude says “Don’t you ever go home? Agent J says “Nope.”

Later he drops into Zed’s office and asks, “What you got for me?”

Zed replies, “Look. See those guys in black suits? They work here. We got it covered.”

That’s how physicians can get after years of acculturation into the driven doctor model. Often enough, I take most of the work away from the trainees, when they’re not looking. And I take my work home—that’s called pajama time.

Hey, those dudes work here too. I have a tendency to see myself as almost indispensable, which makes it hard to envision retirement at times.

I have to keep reminding myself that I’m not the only doc who can do my job. The next generation of doctors are eager and ready. They deserve a chance. But I sometimes catch myself telling old war stories about how hard it was when I was a resident or a junior attending.

“I remember when I had to walk 40 miles to work in the driving blizzard alternating with blazing heat (it’s Iowa) to get to my 6 x10 foot office in the basement to stoke the fire in the pot-bellied stove for coffee and grits at 4:00 in the morning, before the damn birds even get up, milk a few dozen cows in the atrium, chase the pigs out of the operating rooms and then go see about a hundred or so consultations before 7:00 in the morning I tell you, then write notes until midnight, be on call until 3:30 the next morning and do it all over again. What do you guys know about work?”

I may exaggerate a little bit. Usually there weren’t that many cows in the atrium.

It can be difficult to unwind from the physician’s treadmill. But as time goes on, I look forward to seeing the birds build nests, to see the brand-new eggs, the ugly chicks who look like little dinosaurs until the feathers grow out. I can pay more attention to the world outside the hospital, where the new doctors are stoking the fire.

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