HealthCommentary

Exploring Human Potential

This Is Not My First Pandemic.

Posted on | January 19, 2022 | 3 Comments

Mike Magee

This is not my first pandemic. When I was a little boy –70 years ago – I was lying on an examination table on a Sunday morning, in my underwear, in my father’s office that was attached to the house.

The door to the room was closed and my brothers and sisters were huddled outside.  I was inside with my father and a neurologist who had extended to him the professional courtesy of coming to our home on a Sunday morning. It was cold in that room, but his hands were warm as he raised my leg in the air and said, “Now, with all your might, I want you to hold you leg up” – and he let go.

I was four years old and I remember that leg falling to the table, as if it were detached, not even mine.  And I can’t remember what he said. But I do know that the way he said it allowed him to not only tell my father and me that I had polio, but also to bring us closer together – as father and son – to manage both our fears which were coming from very different places that day, and to point us both to a more hopeful future.

Some 20 years later, I became a doctor. But in truth, my medical education began that day in his office.  I recovered quickly, was soon back to exploring, wondering, questioning.  And one day, I said to my mother, “Mom, do you think if dad had wanted to, he could have been a bus driver?”

It seemed to me at the time that being a bus driver was the most complex, responsible and interesting of all jobs, certainly beyond the reach of most normal human beings.  That you could master the skills necessary to drive this huge machine; that you could deal with the complexity of communicating with all types of human beings; that you could safely transport them to their destination, and remain calm, collected, and happy most of the time; and that you could do it day in and day out, year in and year out. Well, you can understand why I was so impressed.

This morning, on the eve of my 74th birthday, as our nation struggles with its own pandemic, and societal disruption made worse by a partially compromised health care system unable to manage a massive accumulation of fear and worry, I found myself reflecting again on these two stories.

From the first story – the boy with polio and the two doctors together one Sunday morning – I recall with gratitude the neurologist’s “professional courtesy.” How should we caregivers – doctors, nurses, family members – treat each other? How well do we care for each other and each other’s families these days?  With all we have been through, how do we find our way back to that space, that feeling I felt that Sunday morning, as I watched two caregivers care for each other as they cared for me?

And the 2nd story, the bus driver and my mother’s reaction.  Did she silently voice, “Do you know what your father does, how complicated it is, and the toll on all of us?” Perhaps somehow my own questioning of the connection between caring health professionals and the maintenance of a healthy, civil society was seeded that day, transferred from my mother’s inner sanctum, to my childhood unconscious recesses for later exploration.

Fifty years later, with a team of sociologists in Philadelphia, our studies established that physicians, nurses, and caregivers contribute 3 important functions to stable civic societies that go far beyond the standard nuts & bolts of healthcare.

The first is this – that together as a collective, hundreds of thousands of times each day, health care professionals  process the populace’s fear and worry, which in our absence would accumulate and undermine our society.

Second, as with my father and his small son, in individualizing care, they subtly reinforce essential bonds between the individual, the family, the community and society.

And third, caregivers point the people toward a hopeful future, instilling in them the confidence necessary to invest their money, their time, and their dreams in what could be, rather than what might have been.

My mother knew the truth – the full role and contribution of health care workers and their imperfect systems. She observed it. She supported it. She nurtured it.

We, as Americans struggling to stay afloat in an ever changing and destabilized environment, are still learning the full meaning of what doctors and nurses and their many teammates do.  We are so busy doing that we fail to appreciate what has been done, and what, together we will accomplish in the future.  But my mother knew!

As for driving a bus, the idea still intrigues me. And truth be told, the skills, responsibility, and sense of common stewardship that members of the health care team work to master are quite transferable to many other critical roles in society. Caring for each other, after all, is (or at least should be) our common human goal and purpose.

Comments

3 Responses to “This Is Not My First Pandemic.”

  1. Mary Ellen Washienko
    January 19th, 2022 @ 6:28 pm

    Very nice article Mike – a personal story that gives everyone a good sense of your practice and values as a health care provider and the US health care system.

  2. Mike Magee
    January 19th, 2022 @ 7:13 pm

    Thanks, Mary Ellen, for this and all you have done for so many others. Best, Mike

  3. Xsimplex
    January 21st, 2022 @ 9:18 am

    So inspiring story of yours Mike and thank you for sharing.

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