Quitting Time


Amommasview asked if I had ever come close to quitting medicine and if so, what made me keep going?

The answer?

I have come very, very close to quitting only once.

I was in residency and an attending physician made a bad call on a patient. This attending then asked me to do something that I knew was wrong, something that would make the patient’s condition worse. When I refused and explained why, he told me that he would get me fired from the residency program. 

There was only three months to go before graduation. 

The patient died that night. 

It is one thing to make a mistake. It is entirely another to try to make your mistake someone else’s. 

Over the following days, the man jeered at me in passing in the hallway. He told everyone who would listen that I was responsible for the death, telling the most outrageous lies. At grand rounds presentations he would move from across the room to sit next to me so he could mutter insults at me under his breath.

It was several weeks of full on nightmare. 

When the review process was finally completed I was informed that he would not be allowed to operate without supervision for a couple of months and that I was in the clear, vouched for by the critical care team and other physicians who were present. I was commended for maintaining my cool. What I really wanted, though, was an apology but I never got that.

She probably would have died anyway, they kept saying.


Still, the experience was harrowing enough that despite the vindication I was ready to throw in the towel. I had lost fifteen pounds and countless hours of sleep. I told myself that I would run across pricks like that for the rest of my life, but I did not want to have to do it ever again when someone’s life was at stake. 

I sat down and wrote a resignation letter but I never sent it.

So why didn’t I actually quit?

Because I was not going to let that sorry S.O.B. have the satisfaction of running me off. I was going to make sure he saw my face every damn day of residency until the day I graduated. I made a point of sitting by him at grand rounds. I didn’t mutter insults. I didn’t have to. He knew the truth and my very existence served as his reminder that what lived at his core was a coward. 

I carried a lot of anger for years.

Now that I have more than a decade of wisdom and experience since that incident, I can look back and understand that he was operating out of fear. His whole career was on the line. He had a family to take care of. Rather than responding with integrity, he did what he did. It was wrong. What he did was very wrong but I can understand now that it was not about me, it was about his fear. I was just handy. 

And so I learned from this experience, as Marcus Aurelius once said, “The first rule is to keep an untroubled spirit. The second is to look things in the face and know them for what they are.”

Maintain your own integrity. 

The truth always wins. 

Anger is one thing but choose not to hate. Don’t it for them. Do it for yourself.


146 thoughts on “Quitting Time

  1. Quite a story ! It struck me that what you wanted was that apology that never came . It never does . I once heard the saying : never let anyone rent space in your head . I guess we just have to go on —– luckily you had the patients / sorry — patience to get through it .

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The truth does not always win, Alas, but in the end it will prevail. You did well.
    I almost “quit” twice. First time was in Senior High school. The math teacher had taken me as his personal target, and told everyone I would never graduate. It cost me blood, but I did. To his face.
    Second was in the Army. The captain did not like my arguing stupid orders. His. My point was, I’m a draftee, a corporal, if I believe the order is stupid, I will obey the order but say it is stupid. Captain didn’t quite like that and made my life miserable for a year. I almost deserted. I swear. But I would not give him the satisfaction. And finished my military service. Honorable discharge I guess Americans would call it. πŸ™‚
    Again, you did well. A doctor has to say no, when s/he believes something is wrong. Human lives are at stakes.
    Ye be good naw.

    Liked by 1 person

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