It's a time of Thanksgiving. Even though our jobs can be difficult and our lives hectic, there are many things for which we should be thankful.
I made a list of some things that fill me with gratitude, gifts I have received over the years. My life is so graced with good and wonder that this is only a fraction of the things I could mention.
I am thankful for the times I give paralyzing drugs and an airway opens before my worried eyes, the vocal cords clear and shiny, free of blood or any other obstruction, and I slide the plastic endotracheal tube in place. I am thankful that terrible accidents sometimes leave patients free of harm, dusting off a few bits of glass as they roll into the emergency department. I am thankful for easy spinal taps, the flash of blood in a central line that lets me know it's in place, the whoosh of air as I place a chest tube.
I am thankful for those rare times when my patient's doctor, who knows him, is on call and can answer my questions. I am thankful for specialists who ask, “Would you like me to come have a look?” I am thankful for consultants who don't yell at me in the middle of the night. And for those unusual nights when I sleep or days when I wander about, almost bored. I am so grateful for easy diagnoses: sore throats, bladder infections, shingles, and shoulder dislocations, for anything that doesn't involve dizziness, weakness, chest pain, numbness, or tingling.
I am thankful for my job and for good collections that allow me to care for my family, pay my taxes, and use my resources as I see fit. I am thankful that family and good teachers allowed me to be a physician, that someone taught me how to be calm in all the chaos, how to pursue answers with tenacity, how to know when to stop.
I am thankful for modern medicine, for technology, for scientists and businessmen who allow me the opportunity to treat and often discharge people I would have pronounced dead in decades past. I am thankful for the nurses and paramedics who do things I could never do and who are always one step ahead of me.
I am grateful for the poor for whom I care, who remind me that we are all the same, pauper or king, for the wisdom that I am, myself, no better than the least and no less than the greatest. I am thankful for the ones who teach me patience and love by being difficult, who show me that even the craziest and meanest can be truly sick and worthy of my time and interest.
I am thankful when little old ladies look up from their bedridden infirmity and say, “You're handsome. I'll take you home!” I am thankful for big police officers with guns, TASERs, and handcuffs who walk into the room with belligerent drunks and say, “Can I help?”
So many things make me thankful: the first frost, the first snowflake, the lights in my house at night when I crest the hill and know that my wife and children sleep inside. I'm thankful for their goodnight kisses and for bedtime stories, for my warm wife in our warm bed. I am thankful that they all teach me, everything from mythology to Latin, from chemistry to love. I am thankful for mountain laurel in the spring and the first day the pool is open, with its water still arctic. For the smell of honeysuckle, the blooms on blackberries, and the way a lazy rattlesnake looks on dark asphalt.
I am thankful for play, whether Barbies or Xbox or bike rides in the hills. I am thankful for creeks for panning gold and arrowheads last touched by man in unmeasured years past. I am grateful for writers like C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, Edgar Guest, and Larry McMurtry, who inspire me; for the wisdom of St. John and St. Paul from thousands of years gone by. I am thankful for Tchaikovsky's “Serenade for Strings,” for Bach's “St. Matthew Passion,” for Rachmaninoff's “Vespers,” pieces that calmed me on long shifts in nocturnal chaos.
I'm thankful for a day off, with rain pouring down, for a pack of dogs on the porch, sleeping and worthless and lovely, for the tales of my ancestors, the love of my parents, for steak and funnel cake, for the South, for fires on cold nights, for the feel of a rifle in my hands in the deep woods, for errors and successes, for a life lived moving forward, for a job that makes me proud to talk to my children about work.
I am thankful for the perfect word, the perfect sentence, for inspiration, for you who read my columns.
I am thankful for life and death, and everything that lies between them.