On some forgettable day, I was asking a patient routine questions about her sinus problem while simultaneously examining her to optimize my efficiency and stay on time with my clinic schedule.
Out of the blue, she asked me, “Do you ever smile?”
I kept examining her ear in a fierce attempt not to reveal how forcibly she had pummeled me off guard.
In that random moment, it felt like she had swung a sledgehammer at my soul.
“Yes,” I answered as I tried to justify her observation with the serious nature of my job dealing with sick people each and every day while being narrowly focused on the patient in front of me and their problems.
But those words slapped reality in the face of the principles by which I strived to live.
“Do you ever smile?”
What kind of question is that?
Have you ever had a patient ask you a question that slapped your soul?
It was a question that reverberated in my brain,
not because it sounded mean,
not because it shocked me out of nowhere,
but because of my realization in a corner of my heart
that it signified something honest which I needed to face.
I realized there was a truth to that stark observation.
I could ignore it.
I could deny it.
I could blame the patient for her own issues.
Or I could acknowledge that something was wrong.
I’m sure there had been hundreds of signs before.
It was a sign I needed to read.
A huge mirror with a question mark smeared on it.
I found myself disappointed for not practicing the lesson that I’ve believed and preached… to follow my bliss.
I’ve never minded working extremely hard or being tired but the hours and days and weeks and years of working in my serious intense profession where personal connection with a patient was sacrificed in the name of documentation and volume had pushed me farther and farther from the doctor I wanted to be and from the man I thought I was.
I decided I needed to reassess my place in my profession and career in medicine.
I still loved meeting 20 different strangers everyday and speaking with them without superficiality or the goal to sell them something.
I loved impacting their lives in a significant way.
I enjoyed performing surgery and working with my hands.
I gained satisfaction from the immediate gratification of a rapid improvement in my patients when I removed their tonsils or straightened their nasal septum and helped them feel better or breathe better.
I appreciated the unusual stability of my profession which always afforded me an income regardless of the fluctuations of the economy and even a pandemic.
But the joys of my job as a physician had become smothered by my lack of control of my value as our government and insurance companies continued to decrease the payments for my services no matter how hard I worked or how well I performed my job.
Do you feel frustrated by insurance companies?
Who doesn’t feel frustrated by insurance companies? Except insurance companies.
I was frustrated by my lack of extra time to meet my constant inner urge for more: more experiences, more excitement, more challenges, more life.
I wanted to laugh more, play more, and smile more.
Do you want more in your life than medicine?
I knew I had a choice. I could keep working hard and appreciating all the gifts of my healthy body, my wonderful marriage, my great family and my busy job and stay the same.
Would that be so bad? I should be thankful for my blessings.
Or I could change.
But what could I change?
I was suffocating at work, at home, in my life.
And yet I felt I could be more.
I had unfulfilled potential that I needed to realize in order to breathe.
I possessed a deep desire to create something new, unique, nonexistent.
Do you ever smile?
Those words echoed in my memory. I didn’t want my days and life to stay the same.
After a lot of reflection, I chose immediate sanity.
Happiness over work and money.
I decided to take the most radical risk of all.
I closed one of my 2 offices to concentrate my efforts and time on the office closer to home, without any financial return on my 10-year investment or Any baby-steps to transition the change.
I chose my life.
I saw my last patient in that office and stopped commuting, eating lunch in my car and rushing all the time.
I began to focus on one office in a clearer, broader perspective looking toward growth and the future.
What would you change if you were willing to take the risk?
Would you smile more?