It all started pleasantly enough. The sun was shining, it was warm, and I was hurrying along the tree-lined road. The concrete island in the middle of the street was not exactly where I should be crossing but… I was in a hurry and the regular crossing was further down the way.
As I rushed across intersection, my foot slipped and I took a tumble toward the pavement. My head hit the pavement so hard it shattered my sunglasses. The plastic pieces cut my forehead above and near my eyebrow. Blood ran down my face. I tried to break my fall with my left hand. My fingers were forced into an almost right angles to my hand. In other words, two fingers were now in an an “L” shape! My knee was slammed and skinned.
But momentarily, almost as my head was hitting the pavement, several people rushed to my aid. A nurse showed up out of nowhere who checked my vital signs and made sure my neck wasn’t broken. Then the ambulance drove up. I was whisked off to A&E or the emergency room.
One of the burly young ambulance EMTs had his name written in elvish on his arm. How nerdy is that– and how nerdy is the fact I recognized it as elvish. He’s the dad of small daughter and has a job that daily points out just how fragile the human body is and the staggering variety of ways in which it’s possible to injure it. So he has a guardian angel prayer on his inner bicep. Then he’s got a full guardian angel on his upper shoulder. I felt very protected.
Now the irony of all this is– next week I am going to work with the writers, directors, and producers of Casualty. The show is a long running drama on the order of ER. I’d never been in a British emergency room before and my bed was placed with a full view of everyone coming and going. It was the perfect vantage point. In came the young and old, the critical and the minor accidents, like me.
I had an X-ray to make sure my fingers weren’t broken. They weren’t, only severely dislocated. Then a doctor who specialized in anesthetic injected my fingers and joints and the bone doctor snapped them back into place. I didn’t feel a thing except a small pop. They were straight again! I had another X-ray to make the bone didn’t when the fingers were repositioned. While I was waiting I was served a selection of sandwiches and a very nice milky tea. The report came back from radiology, all was okay. My fingers were taped, I got a few stitches and I was sent on my way.
I asked the doctor who administered the anesthetic why he chose that particular specialty. He said there was great variety of cases. You are only responsible for one patient at a time. And when you are done, you are done. You leave your work at work.
That brings me to the point of this post. There are a number of ways to approach being in the medical profession —
1. It’s a job. Being a doctor is solid professional employment and a good way to make a living or support a family. The doctor does what is expected and punches out. He or she puts in the time and is concerned and responsible when on the job. But the doctor doesn’t take the job home and retires as soon as is age-appropriate and financially feasible.
2. It’s a career. Being a doctor is a good opportunity for getting ahead in life. The doctor is working to achieve advancement either in the organization (or hospital) or in the specialty. The job is a means to an end (rising through the ranks, achieving greater recognition, becoming a sought after expert etc.) It is a stepping- stone to something else and worth the hard work, discipline, and extra effort to achieve a larger goal.
3. It’s a vocation. Being a doctor is a life mission or a higher calling. The doctor is there to make a difference and impact people’s lives. The work is a consuming passion for the doctor. There is no dividing line between work and personal life. Work is the doctor’s life.
4. It’s a mistake. Being a doctor is not a good fit. The individual is in medicine for the wrong reasons, the wrong motivations, or to please someone else. Or the reality of the job doesn’t conform to the ideal of the job or the fantasy of being a doctor. In any case, the individual puts in the time and effort, got the job, and now feels trapped.
Any kind of employment, but particularly in medicine, has a variety of people who look at the “Why” of doing the job very differently. All individuals naturally assume their “Why” is the most valid reason or, if everyone else was honest, is the real motivation “Why” anyone works at the hospital. This is a great area of opportunity for personal conflict in a story. Too often in medical shows, or shows about other professions, everyone is doing the job for the same reason. That isn’t the case in life and it shouldn’t be the case in a drama.
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As a side note, the whole experience cost me exactly nothing. No charge. Zip. Zero. Nada. My care was prompt, professional, and very concerned and personable. Despite paying the equivalent of a mortgage payment for health insurance in the US our deductible is $1600. The whole bill including ambulance would have cost several thousand dollars– or my deductible at the very least. When I tell this to my British friends they shake their heads and mutter softly, “Madness. Absolute madness.”