I wish I had more equanimity. Apart from the annoying daily practice issues, I (and many others) feel the effects of bigger irritants, such as contract negotiations and the way we are portrayed by our paymaster. I am envious of those who, surrounded by demanding people and frustrating situations, can sail serenely on and do their job without rancor or preoccupation.
Consider my friend Phil, who does many different things but whose passion is sailing. He’s about as far removed from being a medical practitioner as it’s possible to be, although he has an honorary doctorate that lets him call himself Dr Phil when the mood strikes.
About a year ago, Phil decides to take part in an offshore race scheduled for January 2004. Through the year he undertakes the prepared-for-any-event tasks required to do this—his boat has to be in perfect working order, insured and ready for any weather, and he has to assemble an eight-person crew. In addition to the mandatory number of certified mariners in the crew, he elects to include a gynecologist, although the reason for this is never clear.
Five days before the race, one of his experienced crew suffers a concussion and withdraws; 2 days before the race, another crew member is bitten on the ankle by a venomous spider, with interesting consequences. The backstay on the boat intermittently loses its grip. Phil’s sunny disposition wavers, and then restores itself.
On the way to the start of the race, the engine cuts out. While being towed back to the dock, Phil finds that accidental closure of a fuel cut-off valve was the cause. Just over an hour into the race, another boat tacks immediately in front and is rammed by Phil’s boat with sufficient speed to force its retirement from the race. The required penalty maneuvers put Phil’s boat at the rear of the race fleet. One hour after that, the bottom of the boat fills with water and tacking must stop while the water is pumped out. One of the crew is terribly seasick and cannot leave his bunk.
Did Phil quit? No. Complain? Well, a bit. But not so you’d notice, or remember. Rather, he focused on the good stuff—like the sunrises, the dolphins (and the odd shark), the competitiveness, the camaraderie—and finished the race, because that’s what you do. Store the good stuff up for use later when work or life gets unpleasant again, for example, when contract negotiations come around.
The decision by the BCMA Executive to drop demands for a fee increase in the next 2 years was a relief to me and, I suspect, many of my colleagues. It’s been a long time since contract negotiations weren’t acrimonious and divisive, and the Executive’s decision felt to me rather like when you stop hitting your head with a brick. Now, I hope that equanimity can be restored, with luck to Phil’s level, and we can remember that we enjoy practising medicine. Equally important, we should remember that there is a life beyond medicine.
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