Is It a Job or Is It a Calling?

We recently had a family dinner conversation when my 9-year old son declared that he wanted to be a doctor when he grows up. With a brother who is a specialist cardiologist, I cautiously asked my boy why he wanted to study medicine, and he said because he wanted to buy a Lamborghini and go on lots of holidays. Not wanting to discourage his ambition, I put this conversation on the list of discussions I needed to have when he turned seventeen.

Let’s be very straightforward right here. There are some things that – as a customer – I really don’t like experiencing, nor do I like buying these. They include insurance of all kinds, business air travel and going into hospital.

But occasionally one experiences something special, and in this article I’d like to focus on being in hospital. My wife recently spent some time in hospital and we were really impressed by how pampered she was. (To tell you the truth, I don’t think she really wanted to come home.) Her experience, however, reminded me of some of the rare delightful experiences that our family and friends have had in various hospitals.

Going to hospital isn’t something that anyone really looks forward to. First, you feel physically sick and probably in pain. You are also worried, or even fearful about what’s wrong, and what “they” are going to do to you. There’s a lot of uncertainty about how long you will need to wait, how long you will need to stay, and what will happen to your family, your work, and so on. On top of that, you are not really sure about what this is all going to cost you once it is all over.

So as you enter the clinic, either on your own two feet, or on a stretcher, you are certainly not cheerful, nor optimistic, even though you may try to put on a brave face.

And this is where the people who work in a hospital really can make a difference. In my wife’s case, it began at the checking-in process, where she was warmly treated, where the people were very sympathetic, and where they tried their best to expedite everything so she could settle down as quickly as possible. To their credit, the guys in the office called the medical aid to speedily arrange for all the approvals, something that doesn’t seem to happen very often these days

But once she entered the ward, the experience became really special. Margaret, one of the ward staff, was cheerful, and used her sense of humour to lighten things up. She laughed and joked with my wife about being in hospital, about the food, (which was great, by the way,) and teased me about husbands, men and all their weaknesses. She was attentive to every little whim, and regularly popped in to make sure everything was okay.

Then along came an administrator who had to ask a bunch of questions and get some signatures. Again, sensitivity and warmth were very apparent, and even though she probably did this fifteen times every day, her patience and response to our questions were incredibly soothing. A few minutes later, the anaesthetist arrived, and, once again, he patiently took the time to explain exactly what was going to happen next, and how she would feel afterwards.

The procedure came and went, the stay was over within two days, and we returned home happy that everything had gone so well.

A few years ago, on Christmas Eve, I had a kidney stone, and had to spend a couple of nights at the clinic. I guess that my treatment must have gone reasonably well, because I don’t remember much in particular except for the pain of the kidney stone passing, and the relief of having a pethadine injection. (Pethadine is a painkiller, and works almost instantaneously.)

But you know what I do remember most about my stay? I remember late one night, at about two in the morning that I was pretty restless, lonely, hot and hassled, tossing and turning in bed with a drip throbbing in my arm, and feeling very sorry for myself. The next thing I knew, a night nurse walked into the ward to see how I was doing, pumped up my pillows, tried to cheer me up, and checked everything to make sure it was all right. She told me the drip had “blown” and then fixed it nicely to relieve the pain.

Being embarrassed by my grumpiness and her warm attention, I politely tried to make conversation about Christmas, and then she suddenly said: “Hey, do you feel like some ice-cream?” How did she know? And how in Heaven’s name was she going to find ice-cream at two in the morning? But she did find two lovely Cornettos, and she sat there eating with me, and comforted me. Just like my granny would have done when I was a little boy!

And of course I felt much better the next day.

On another occasion, my nephew ended up with an asthma emergency at another hospital in the children’s ward. Once again, everyone on the staff was really great about helping out, making him comfortable not only physically, but also emotionally, and creating a sense of reassurance. I remember the ward sisters being very patient with the many members of our family, who broke all the rules by wanting to crowd around the child, and a pharmacist who actually came all the way into the ward to make sure that the nebuliser that had been prescribed was working properly. They even offered the two grandmothers extra chairs, and when tea trolley came around, the whole family had some – at no extra charge.

In all three of these cases, the treatment of not only the patient, but also the “extended patient,” (as Andrew Boden, CEO of ER24 calls family and others,) was really great, and even though the doctors and specialists in all cases did some great work in healing all of us from our ailments, the whole experience turned out to be very positive.

Sadly, these three specific examples are the only ones I can think of. In my 56 years, with a large extended family, and dozens of hospital experiences (mostly in private hospitals,) I can remember three that went well. In all three it was individuals who had made choices, people who truly and genuinely cared for their patients.

It led me to nostalgically remember what it was like all those years ago when it seemed the world was a much better place, and when treating sick people was not just another job, but a calling. The people who made the difference were those who were passionate in this calling.

That’s what I want to tell my boy when he turns seventeen.
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