August 1998

We Who Work

By Michael J. Katin, MD

Laissez les bon temps rouler

It becomes more obvious that the population of the United States, and possibly even of the world, is becoming divided into two camps.  Where previous divisions were established by race and religion, the new differentiation is between people who feel obligated to go to work regularly and those who see this attitude as reactionary.

Woody Allen said it best:  "Eighty percent of success is showing up."  A corollary was supplied by Yogi Berra:  "You give 100% in the first half of the game, and if that isn't enough in the second half you give what's left."

Regardless of percentages, most of us in radiation oncology are here because we did everything required to accomplish our goals.  Radiation oncologists, radiation therapists, nurses, physicists, dosimetrists, and engineers all had to go through rigorous training, pass certifying examinations (usually) and maintain competence with continuing education.  At many times during these years it would have been much easier to  get off the treadmill.  A lot of other people have taken the easier way out, at least in the short term. 

Everybody agrees it's a pain to get up early to go to school, go to the hospital, go to the office, and then on top of that go to educational conferences that will usually have you starting at 7 am in a different time zone.  We may now be to the point that the vast majority of the population takes each day as it comes.  many of these people have a fatalistic view that things will take care of themselves, and often do, and if they happen to look like Mark Wahlberg or Cameron Diaz in addition, that makes it even easier.  They can get by with part-time employment in positions that fill in gaps from professionals or in businesses that are spin- offs from primary occupations.  Often these people can set their own time schedules and reschedule at short notice.  There are also people who work only when absolutely necessary to get by, usually not declaring income for taxes or social security and certainly not possessing health insurance, knowing (accurately) that they will get care when they get into trouble.

Many of us who live by a regimented schedule also have to be prepared to stop what we're doing at short notice for the sake of our obligation to our profession. Let it be noted that I was called in to administer the first treatment of 1981 at MGH on a weekend when I was on call.  It happened to be to a bag of plasma.  I parked on Blossom Street and went in and waited for the plasma to arrive.  The temperature was well below zero (and lower each time I tell about it) and when I got out to my car it refused to start.  I spent the next 3 hours trying to link up with AAA to get the car towed and was able to retrieve it two days later after "servicing" which in fact consisted of waiting for the temperature outside to go up.  It would have taken less time but I called AA by mistake first, and they wouldn't come out unless they were convinced that I truly wanted to be helped.

This is not to aggrandize what I did that weekend but I did it because I was supposed to do it.  Other people don't seem to be influenced by this concept.  Right now the economy is booming and there should be enough overflow to support the legions of reluctant and partially-educated workers that have appeared, but things change.  Whether the Dow Jones Industrial Average will make it over 10,000 is speculative, but it won't stay up there and one of these days there may not be as much wealth to go around.  But they'll adjust, since they always have.  We'll still go to work every day but we may be impaired by the lamprey-like evolution of the peripheral population, with the oral disc of one or more of these creatures firmly attached to our bodies.  I can only hope mine look like Cameron Diaz.

email: mkatin@radiotherapy.com