Hitting a Nerve

Twenty years later, two gambles that paid off


Amidst the pandemic and election, two anniversaries passed almost unnoticed in early November.

Dr. Allan M. Block, a neurologist is Scottsdale, Ariz.

Dr. Allan M. Block

On Nov. 2, 2020, we reached 20 years since the first crew moved into the International Space Station (ISS). This may seem like a minor anniversary to some, but it means a lot if you think about it. From humble beginnings, and scattered launches in different craft between 1961 and 1999, it’s now been over a generation since people weren’t living in space. We certainly aren’t on the starship Enterprise yet, or even going to Mars, but today’s college kids have never known a world where people didn’t live and work in the void upstairs. That’s something to think about.

Equally important, but of significance to far fewer, is that on Nov. 6, 2020, my little solo practice also reached its 20-year anniversary.

To the central person involved, me, this is a pretty big deal. In early 2000, when I made the decision to leave a large practice, I was confident but still nervous. I’d developed a decent referral base while working for the other group, but still didn’t know what would happen. I was 33. My oldest kid was 1 and my wife and I had twins on the way.

Now, it’s 20 years later. All three kids grew up and went off to college, but in the strange circle of the pandemic, they are now back home. Granted they’re not waking us up at night when they’re hungry (they have microwave popcorn – lots of it – for that).

Some things have changed. I’m now across the street from the office I started in. My hospital work, which in 2000 was about 50% of my practice, is now down to 0% for the time being. My medical assistant is still the same one, and my secretary has been with me since 2004. I’m lucky to have such a long-lasting team. Even in 2020, when they’re working from home, we’re still doing a great job of keeping it running.

After 20 years I’m heavier and my hair is thinning and gray, but I still like this job. I still try to do the very best I can for my patients. I sometimes read the personal statement I wrote in the summer of 1987 for my medical school application, trying to keep in touch with who I was then when I started out.

Looking back after 20 years, going solo, like building the ISS, was a big gamble. But both have worked out. My job has allowed me to support and raise a family, to care for patients (contrary to the impression one gets from medical blogs, the vast majority of them are good, decent, people) and get to know them for who they are, and to work with my two terrific long-time office staff who, like my wife, kids, and dogs, still put up with me and my quirks. And all the while I am still doing something that I found I loved in my first week of residency.

Looking forward another 20 years, who knows where I (or the ISS) will be? I probably won’t want to be working full time then, but if I still enjoy medicine I doubt I’ll want to be completely retired, either. Everyone ends up at the same destination in life, it’s the journey that makes it worthwhile. Looking back, I’ve been fortunate that I found this one.

Dr. Block has a solo neurology practice in Scottsdale, Ariz.

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