Hello; I’m a retired Consultation-Liaison Psychiatrist and this blog so far has been mostly about how I navigated my last year in the phased retirement program at the hospital where I’ve been working. I retired fully on June 29, 2020. I’m not sure how long I’ll continue the blog. The photo of me spelling “hello” with a calculator helps me get perspective on my career. I never spelled words with this vintage calculator when I actually used it in college.
The calculator and I have something in common; we’re both old. However, being old and, by extension, being retired does not mean useless or dysfunctional. I still use the calculator because it works.
You can debate the meaning of “vintage” with respect to calculators and mine is not worth a great deal of money to collectors. It’s a Sharp Elsi Mate EL-505. I found one collector website that showed a 503-model going for $99. You’ll find somebody claiming it was first manufactured in 1985, but here’s where my personal history lesson really starts.
I distinctly recall buying the 505 before I went to college in 1981. I was one of those married, older adult students who had been out working for a living and had been planning to be an engineer. That was because I had worked for civil engineers for several years as a young man. I was a surveyor’s assistant and drafter. That didn’t work out, even though I had that pretty good calculator.
I eventually decided on going to medical school and wound up being a C-L Psychiatrist in the general hospital. It’s a lot like being a fireman, running all over the hospital trying to put out the “fires” of what happens when medical illness collides with psychiatric issues—which it turns out is pretty often. I worked in an academic medical center and taught medical students, residents, and other health care learners. One Family Medicine resident actually bought me a fireman’s helmet after going through the general hospital psychiatry rotation. The thing I’m holding in my hand is a camp stool, which a surgeon and palliative care physician gave me. I tried to sit down whenever I could with patients because I think it builds rapport and is more respectful than standing over them. On my last day, I gave the little chair to the first consultation-liaison psychiatry fellow we’ve had in decades. I wish him all the best.
Now that I’m at the end of my career as a physician, I’ll be one of the many physicians who unfortunately will contribute to the shortage of doctors by retiring. About 3 in 5 psychiatrists are age 55 or older. It’s just one of the many psychological challenges of retirement.
Those challenges are what I have chronicled in the past year. The difficulty of letting things go and embracing retirement seem almost incalculable.
I’m way past the stage of being in phased retirement and I’m pretty sure I can’t do without this blog—or at least some way to keep writing. I notice I said that I was not sure how long I’d keep blogging.
I recently updated my YouTube trailer. It’s my first attempt at an elevator pitch in years. It’s a 48 second video, probably the shortest video I’ve ever done. According to some experts, it’s 3 seconds too long. If you want to read the long version, it’s on this blog, “Elevator Pitch for a Very Slow Elevator.”
Anyway, I’ve been retired from psychiatry since June 30, 2020 (there was a minor clerical glitch in the exact date). My wife, Sena and I have gotten all of our Covid-19 vaccines—until they come up with more. We have made Iowa City our home for over thirty years.
We play cribbage. One of the most fun cribbage games we played was the game on the Iowa state map board. That was a blast. The video of it was over 10 times longer than most YouTube videos I make. That’s because the main reason for the game was to talk up Iowa. You really ought to visit, maybe even move here. You can get used to snow. I keep reading articles on the web telling me I’ve got to stop shoveling at my age. I’ll think it over.
We also like going for walks. One of our favorite places to walk is on the Terry Trueblood Trail. Sometimes you can see Bald Eagles out there.
I have not yet mentioned Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry, even once. That’s a big difference from the old About Me page. It was the first thing I mentioned then, because it was just about the most important role I had in life.
It took a long time before I began to question that once I retired—about a year or so. It was a lot like being a firefighter. In fact, my pager was the bell, and I even had a firefighter’s helmet, a gift from a family medicine resident who rotated through the psychiatry consult service. I didn’t wear it when I interviewed patients. It would have alarmed them.
I also carried around a little camp stool. It was because there were never enough chairs in patient rooms to accommodate me, the trainees, and visiting family. Often, I sent a medical student to find me a chair from out in the hall—until I got the stool. I slung it over my shoulder and away I went. I was sort of like the guy on that old Have Gun—Will Travel (paladin) TV show (a 1950s-1960s relic with a gunslinger called Paladin). Have Stool—Will Travel. A surgeon, who also doubled as a palliative care medicine consultant, gave me the little chair as a gift. I passed it on to a resident who took it with good grace.
I miss work a lot less now than I did when I left. I think I must have loved my work. Maybe I loved it too much, because leaving it was hard. There are different kinds of love. I love Sena. I love writing. I love long walks and watching the birds. And most of all I love Sena.
I’m gradually replacing work with something else I love, which is writing. Mindfulness meditation and exercise also help. And let’s not forget, I change electrical outlets. I think I’ve changed just about every outlet (and many toggle switches) in the house. They ought to do away with those bargain bin plugs. Just because they’re cheap doesn’t mean they’re any good.