For the last three decades, early July has had a special significance for me. On July 1, 1987 I silently recited the ancient prayer written centuries earlier by Moses Maimonides and reported to work for my first day as a medical intern at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Those first weeks as an “Osler Marine” were challenging and exhausting (we worked 36 hour shifts every other day). But those weeks were also richly rewarding, both professionally and personally (it was during those first few weeks that I happened to mutter something in German under my breath and attract the attention of a very special critical care nurse 😉
Considering how much my life changed in that first month of medical practice, it’s not surprising that I tend to get a little nostalgic in early July. I had always envisioned that I would spend my career in academic research and teaching, but it didn’t take me long to realize that I really loved being a clinician more than anything else, and that I wanted to live and work in a smaller rural community. Five years later we moved to northern Minnesota and never regretted that decision. Over the years, I have been fortunate to work with some amazing providers, nurses, and support staff, and also very privileged to provide care for some of the kindest and most appreciative patients imaginable. It has been a labor of love, and I am truly a lucky man.
Last year July 1st came and went and I hardly noticed; I was too sick from my recent chemotherapy and radiation and to stressed about my upcoming surgery to be nostalgic about anything. I was in survival mode. But this year is different. Although I have vowed to continue living fully in spite of my health challenges, and I have been blessed with some amazing experiences over the last few months, I have also learned (sometimes the hard way) that there are many limitations to what I can still do. Unfortunately, some of the skills and capacities I have lost are the same ones that are required for me to safely and effectively continue to work as a physician. I also have come to accept the fact that maintaining my health will take almost all of my time and energy. I am fortunate to have responded to treatment as well as I have so far, but those life sustaining treatments have taken a tremendous toll on my body. And I realize that my battle may be far from over; this race is a marathon, not a sprint.
This July 1st (29 years to the day after starting my internship) I made the difficult decision to retire from active medical practice. I will continue to live my life as fully as my health allows, and will enjoy spending more time with family and friends, but will always mourn the premature end of a career that brought me great happiness and gave my life so much meaning.
I am not aware of a traditional Jewish blessing for retirement, and I have had a difficult time finding words of praise for a life cycle event that was neither anticipated nor welcomed, but it is a time of transition and transformation nonetheless. Some Jewish theologians have likened retirement to the “Shabbat” of life, a time of rest and heightened spirituality. I prefer to view it as a new beginning. I am not sure what joys and hardships await me in the coming year, but I am grateful to be here to experience them firsthand. Blessed are you, Eternal God, Sovereign of the universe, who has given me life, sustained me, and helped me to reach this moment.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם שֶׁהֶחֱיָנוּ וְקִיְּמָנוּ וְהִגִּיעָנוּ לזְּמַן הַזֶּה.