Privilege, part 2

Issue: BCMJ, vol. 53, No. 5, June 2011, Page 212 Editorials

“Every morning, I thank God I am alive and I thank God I have a job.”

I was recently on a cruise floating down the beautiful Rhine River when I heard these words. The staff aboard were mostly from eastern European countries. Since none of them appeared to be weight lifters, I assume this demographic is due to fiscal realities. 

I don’t know about you, but I often have difficulty living, or in this case vacationing, off the backs of others. The staff working on my trip labored very hard and very long—often for more than 14 hours at a stretch. I would see the same staff toiling away in the morning and they would still be there when I headed, a little tipsy, off to bed. Later in the cruise I shared this observation with the head housekeeper, who thanked me for my concern but said the words above.

What a concept—first, “thank God I am alive.” As physicians we deal with life and death on an almost constant basis. We realize how fragile human life is and care for so many as their journey comes to a close. So many times we hear our patients lament their passing and wish they had enjoyed every moment more. We observe as patients cling to life simply to spend more precious time with family and friends. They are so thankful to experience another sunrise, ensuring another day on this ball of dirt hurtling through space. 

We share in the joy of our patients who have been cured from cancer, recovered from a stroke, or fought off a serious infection. So why do we forget this simple yet valuable lesson and forget to give thanks for being alive? When was the last time you rolled out of bed and gave praise for still being here? I thought so.

How about, “thank God I have a job”? I often moan and complain about my job. I resent going to the hospital where I pay to park, am required to be on call, observe an apparent deterioration in patient care, and deal with administration. I then move to my office and battle with the often overwhelming volume of patients and their demands. I try to fit in time for the neverending tide of paperwork—forms, consult letters, test results, medicolegal reports, and more. Somewhere the daily phone calls and other miscellaneous tasks must be completed. Last, the details of being an employer and running a business must be fit in. I am often tired and grumpy. I am sure those close to me could vouch for this.

“Thank God I have a job.” What kind of trick is this? Thankful that I have spent my time giving to others and getting paid for it? Thankful that this gives me the means to support myself and take a cruise down the Rhine in the first place? Hmm.

Being thankful doesn’t come naturally to me. Maybe it is because I am so used to being privileged. I am afraid I have developed a sense of entitlement and feel I am owed an easier life with more time off, fabulous vacations, and all the good things I see on TV. I deserve that beautiful car, new house, and delicious dinners out. 

From now on I am going to turn off my alarm and give thanks for the gift of another day. I am then going to fill myself with gratitude for being an integral part of the health care team. Okay, maybe I will focus on the first one for a while. 

David R. Richardson, MD. Privilege, part 2. BCMJ, Vol. 53, No. 5, June, 2011, Page(s) 212 - Editorials.

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