A funny thing happened on the way to retirement. I switched jobs.
Most people would say, “well, that’s not so strange, you’re only 58. You have at least 10 more years of work in you before the government and your 403B provides for retirement.” In other words, in emergency medicine changing jobs every 10 years is not a big deal.
My problem is leaving has become a big deal to me. I have been at my present job for over 20 years. I have made friends, enemies, and everything in between. All the people I have worked with are like family. The hallways are familiar, the rooms are familiar, and even the smell of the wards are familiar. I know this ER and I know the patients, the good, the bad and the… well I’ll leave it like that. I even have a picture of myself with the previous director, the head of our nurses and the head of the paramedics, all on a hill they blasted into rubble to build our new home. The administration finally relocated us from a rat-infested section of the hospital. The publicity department made us hold shovels like we were digging in a picture full of smiles.
I remember the political bigwigs brought in to help raise funds for the building. There was Senator Ted Kennedy. I remember thinking his head was the biggest I had ever seen and like a radar dish locking into the signal from a missile, he would lock into any TV camera around. Ted, the previous administration of the hospital, my boss, members of community organizations and myself all sitting around a giant, dark wood rectangular table and all congratulating ourselves on how wonderful this new emergency room was for the town that exploded into violence and drug rage every chance it got.
I remember the horrible morning when I was walking into a morning shift. There was an ambulance entrance that I usually entered, but on that day for no reason I came into the ER from the patient waiting room. I looked up at the small TV that was hung by wires from the ceiling and saw the World Trade Center billowing smoke from the North Tower. I remember thinking that the ER secretaries had put on a TV station running a disaster movie. 18¬¬¬ minutes later I learned it was not only a real disaster, but the beginning of a change in the reality of life as I had been living it for so many years.
One disaster followed the next and after the anthrax scare I remember being the doctor who was the medical expert on a committee to keep the hospital safe. Obviously we thought Lawrence, Mass. was going to be site of the next terrorist plot (well the city does have a gigantic natural gas storage facility within city limits and cyanide storage tanks on trains that go through the city destined for Sweet and Low plants). I remember contacting the physician in charge of the Senate medical office and arguing with him about the necessity of treatment for one of our local residents. The gentleman had the misfortune of visiting a senator’s office the previous day. Congressional security had just found anthrax spores in this particular office and the news was full of theories that this was a weaponized form of the bacillus and deadly. The gentleman was in a panic, but who could blame him. I, who had just joined the committee on Bioterror had a load of information on anthrax, none of it justifying any sort of treatment for the patient’s exposure or lack thereof. As I would learn, if you call two different governmental agencies for further information, more often than not they will give you two contradictory opinions. Isn’t that so “government”?
Finally, I remembered treating countless members of our ER staff and their families that only wanted Dr. Danesh to help care for them. By this time I had become the Poppa of the ER, my beard now white as snow, with pronounced male pattern hair loss and a certain gravitas earned from my years at the same institution.
I remember when the ER was the ground zero of the hospital, given respect for being the unit that saved lives from the street and being there for problems that couldn’t be handled by anyone else except the boots on the ground. What other doctor was in the hospital at 2 a.m., the private practice internist, the pediatrician, the surgeon? No, they weren’t there. As my chief, when I was a general surgery intern, used to say, “if you called the consultant doctor for help and he didn’t answer he was either dead drunk or fucking.” There must have been a lot of partying going on in those years.
So why am I leaving? Because I am no longer king and my ego can no longer tolerate the lack of recognition and respect that for 18-and-a-half years of my 20, I, and my colleagues had regularly received. The emergency department was integral to the delivery of healthcare to the community and now it was just another department with insufficient funding, staff, and most importantly, respect for what we did, had done and accomplished in this community. The “I remembers” become especially dark in the disasters and near disasters that we as an ER group had participated in and the old administration had acknowledged.
I remember being a brand new associate director and having the day off visiting a mall when my beeper went off. Yes it was that long ago. I called and the ER secretary tersely said, “Get here quick, we need you…it’s a disaster.” I arrived to find lifeless children who had drowned playing on the thin ice of one of Lawrence’s rivers. Almost the entire group of full time ER docs responded, dropping whatever they were doing to try to save lives. Side by side doctors tried in vain to resuscitate even one of those kids. The hospital administrators were there to lend support, get us what we needed, or just sit with the parents. There was no tallying of bills or worry that this would break a budget. When it was all over the hospital thanked us for trying and reiterated how important we all were to the community and the hospital.
Those days are over and I for one decided that I would rather leave with my fond memories than work in an unappreciated environment.