Hitting a Nerve

What would you do if ... ?


A few weeks ago we went to Phoenix Theater’s production of “A Chorus Line.” As with all their shows, it was excellent.

The penultimate scene is where one of the auditioning dancers suffers a career-ending injury, forcing the others to consider what they’d do if they couldn’t dance anymore, and facing the fact that sooner or later it will happen to all of them.

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

Dr. Allan M. Block

Let’s flip it onto us: What if tomorrow you couldn’t practice medicine anymore? To keep it from getting too depressing, let’s say it was because of paperwork. Your medical license expired and you weren’t warned in advance, and because of some legal glitch you can’t ever renew it now.

It’s a good question. I mean, I’ve wanted to be doctor as long as I can remember. (Actually I wanted to be Batman, then a scientist, then a doctor. Though I’d still rather be Batman. I’m even the same age as he was in The Dark Knight Returns.)

For all the paperwork and insurance fights and aggravations the job brings, I still love doing it. I get up on weekday mornings and feel good about going to the office. I generally feel good about what I’ve done to help people (or at least did my best to try) at the end of the day.

During my first year of residency (30 years ago) I remember telling my parents that, if even if I were phenomenally wealthy, I’d still do this job for free. Well, I’m not phenomenally wealthy, but I still enjoy the job.

If I couldn’t do it anymore, I’d be pretty sad. I mean, it’s not like I couldn’t find something else – consulting, research, writing, joining my daughter at her bakery – but I doubt I’d like it as much. Even if money weren’t an issue, there’s only so many jigsaw puzzles to do and books to read.

What about you?

Realistically, most of us won’t do this for the rest of our lives. Our expiration date may be longer than that of a professional dancer, but we still have one. Even if the mind stays sharp, sooner or later we all reach a point where it’s time to move on and leave the field in the capable hands of the next generation, just as a prior group of physicians left it to us. As the line in the song states, “the gift was ours to borrow.” And yes, I still see being able to do this for a living as a privilege and gift. But inevitably we all have to pass it on to the next ones, as will they someday.

But I’ll miss it. An oncologist I know was retired for a few months before he signed up for a nonmedical volunteer job at his old hospital, helping people find the rooms and departments they need to go to. He’s happy with it.

Being a doctor, and the desire to help others, becomes so ingrained into our personalities, and is such a central part of who we are, that it’s hard to walk away from it.

But when you do, you need to do your best to do it without regret. After all, you got to do something that many only dream of. Helping others and (I hope) having a job you enjoy.

I have dancers, and retired dancers, in my practice. The retired ones still miss it, but very few of them leave. They do volunteer teaching at community theaters, or just keep dancing on their own in groups of like-minded friends, as best they can. While medicine has made us one of the longer-lived mammals, it doesn’t stop the years.

When it’s time to walk away and point to tomorrow, do it without regrets, and remember that, even with the sweetness and the sorrow, it was what you did for love.

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

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