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
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.