If your days were numbered . . .

Over my medical career, I have seen many colleagues leave practice. A few have left the country for new opportunities. Many have narrowed their practice to their areas of special interest, such as maternity, hospitalist or cosmetic medicine.

Many have retired, and some have died.

Over a life of practice, a doctor may treat many thousands of patients, sharing the intimate details of their individual lives, spending many hours considering their circumstances and helping them achieve the best possible outcomes.

At some point, every doctor wonders if they would be missed when they are gone. My more jaded colleagues have told me that the first thing a patient asks after their doctor dies is, “Who will look after me?”

I hope that a few of my patients will remember the extra time that I gave them when they needed to talk, when what I said resonated with them or what I did had a lasting positive impact on their lives.

I wonder how many patients realize that I have treated every one of them with the same care I would want for my own family.

I recall colleagues whose contributions to our hospital, community and organizations were above and beyond the clinical work of the average physician. They contributed many unpaid hours on volunteer committees and providing services unpaid by the Medical Services Plan.

When these extraordinary colleagues left their positions, rarely were they thanked by the physicians who had benefited from their work. Others carried on as if nothing changed. Noses to the grindstone, physicians fail dismally at thanking and appreciating their colleagues.

But we don’t do what we do in order to be rewarded or thanked. We answer our calling because it is what we must do. An artist must create, a musician play and an athlete achieve his personal best.

We do what we do because it is the perfect synthesis of our values, our talents, our passions and the needs of our patients. Some of us give more of ourselves to our community because we recognize that we are just a part of a greater whole that has a potential and a future beyond our individual and limited lives.

If your days were numbered – you are at the end of your career or have a life-limiting condition, what would you do differently? How would you like to be remembered? By whom would you like to be remembered?

Would you spend more time on the computer? Send even more texts? Work overtime? Complain about traffic, the weather or inflation? Spend more time on the couch watching reality TV?

In our daily lives without the end in sight, we each have a running list of things to do, many of them mundane. If your days were numbered, would you toss out that old list and create a list of that which matters most? Would you say what needs to be said to those who matter most?

The truth is our days are numbered. We each have a sexually-transmitted terminal condition; it’s called life. None of us knows how much time we have left.

So what is on your list?

blank sand beach


About Davidicus Wong

I am a family physician. I write a weekly newspaper column, Healthwise for the Vancouver Courier, Burnaby Now, Royal City Record and Richmond News.
This entry was posted in patient-doctor relationship, Positive Change, Positive Potential, Procrastination, Purpose, Relationships, Your Calling, Your Goals. Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to If your days were numbered . . .

  1. Cindy Su says:

    Dr. Wong. Thank you for your being my family for the last 3 years or so, and treating me as if I were your family. You will truly be missed after I move away. I hope I will be able to find a family doctor in Burke VA who is as caring and professional as you! Is there any doctor you could refer me to in Burke VA or Washington DC area?

  2. I wish you were my family doctor! All the doctors that I’ve seen, including my family doctor who has been with me since I was born, tend to usher me out of their office after a 3 minute consultation. I understand that there is a far greater number of patients than doctors. They’re just doing their best to help more people but I barely have enough time to tell them what’s wrong with me before getting ushered out.

    • It is a challenge being a family doctor, but also a privilege . . . to be trusted to listen to each patient’s concerns and to help. When I teach medical students and residents, I challenge them to listen for the first two minutes without interrupting the patient’s story.
      I’m not sure how your doctors could be done in 3 minutes!
      The doctors in my clinic do take more time. It is a more satisfying experience for both patient and doctor if we are both mindfully present for an entire visit.

  3. Balraj Basi says:

    I am blessed to have Dr. Baldev S. Sanghera as my family doctor. Over many years, he has given care to my family second to no other doctor. It is pretty obvious that his extra care has added many years to my mother’s life who is now healthy 81 years old individual. On many occasions, He has provided his unconditional service 24/7/365 to my family. For example, During my visit this week, he came in half in hour early! I was almost in tears when I heard that he is coming early – especially for me. My family doctor is not just a doctor he IS my family! In fact our family doctor is second GOD to us and our blessings are with him – always!

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