How to Save a Life

And I would have stayed up with you all night–Had I known how to save a life.

The Fray, “How to Save a Life”

The tenth season of Grey’s Anatomy premieres tomorrow night.   For the cognoscenti, this means we will find out what happened after the cliff hanger of last season:  Will April really leave Matthew at the altar, for her first love plastic surgeon Jackson?  Or will the handsome paramedic who loves the doctor unconditionally and quite unbelievably without ego issues, win his lovely bride?  After all, he organized a flash mob for his proposal to her.  He deserves his beautiful red headed pig farming sweetheart.  And why do I watch these things?  Is it because the women wear makeup and heels and do their hair and the men are so very handsome and no one looks tired, and lives are saved quickly, with great valor. As Hemingway’s Jake says at the end of The Sun Also Rises, “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”

The song, “How to Save a Life” by the Fray, was used in an episode of Grey’s second season, and afterwards became an anthem for the show itself.  My favorite rendition is a home video with a hand held camera, of the actual cast singing the song at a benefit—you can view it here:   Yes, I know they aren’t “real” doctors. But I suspect that if you act like a doctor for ten years of your life, it might be hard in the end to tell the difference.  The emotions are all right out there, in the video and in the show.  And that’s the real answer to why I watch Grey’s Anatomy—I get it all out in front of my own television set so I don’t have to do it in front of my patients.   I don’t think it’s helpful to have your doctor cry while she is giving you bad news.

Friday, February 28 will be my last day at work.  I am officially retiring, at age sixty. My staff and my patients have been asking me why for several weeks now.  They make very complimentary proclamations like, “But you look so young!” and “But you’re so GOOD at what you do” and “How can we replace you?”  The answers to these questions are “thank you,” “thank you,” and “No one is irreplaceable.”  The truth is that I feel like time is running out.  I have had some extremely joyful experiences over my last thirty two years in Radiation Oncology and I have witnessed some incredible success stories, many of which I have told here.  I know that miracles DO happen.  But I have also seen some terrible things, and there is not a doctor alive who would say that we don’t take our failures personally.  We do.  What I have come to realize, at least for me, is that the sad times are not getting easier as I am getting older.  Facing the deaths of loved ones this past year–patients, relatives, friends and pets—has left me with an acute sense that the clock ticking in the belly of the crocodile is ticking for me, and  I am no Peter Pan.

So I will leave my practice in the best of hands, and I will read and I will write and I will travel and see more of my children and all the other people I care about.  There is a line in “How to Save a Life” which goes, “And you’ll begin to wonder why you came.”  There is one thing that I am certain of, when it comes to my career.  I will never ever wonder why I came.


    1. Congratulations on a long, successful career and on your wisdom to know when retirement is right for you. Fill it will fabulous new experiences, but don’t forget to “schedule” time for rest, reverie and some mindless TV.

  1. Retirement well-earned. And I have every confidence that you will not waste yours.
    Congratulations & Best wishes!

  2. Congratulations! Get that bucket list out and get busy! I want to see every United States President’s Library some day. 3 down and 39 to go!! Make a new memory every day. Rejoice in the moments and reflect on your wonderful successful oncology memories!!

  3. Congratulations! You have worked long & hard throughout your career. You helped & changed the lives of many, including me. I have learned so much from you & am grateful to have been a part of it.

    Enjoy your last day tomorrow. I don’t think the tears will be spared by anyone.

    I used to think retirement should come at a time when I was too old or sick to work. I have since discovered that I am busier than ever and loving every minute! Prepare to enjoy the adventure. Life is in session!

  4. How blessed I am to have found you before you retire! Will the diaries go on? Will we hear from you? As a writer on the patient experience, I enjoy and value the contact with the angels of medicine. Thank you.
    Margaret Fleming

    1. I second this thought, I am grateful to discover your blog. Congratulations on your retirement, best wishes to fully enjoy the years ahead.

  5. Thanks to all of you who have written in. I am so glad you’ve enjoyed reading my little essays. Yes, The Crab Diaries will go on. There are many stories still to be told. They come to me at odd times, and I have to write down the idea or I will forget it quickly. I do plan to stay involved in medicine, and of course there are those pesky dogs, kids and horses to write about. Again, thank you. M

  6. Congratulations! I hope your free time brings you satisfaction, creative outlets and fulfillment in new areas of interest. I’ve been asking “when will I know” and the response is always “you will know”. A toast to you and to knowing when it is time! Love Crab Diaries so hopefully, you will continue to write but would understand if you were ready for something completely different. Follow your heart.

  7. Can’t say that my jaw didn’t drop when I read you were retiring…I have loved reading your posts SO much. But I am glad to know that you will continue blogging away. Congrats on your retirement…like my daughter said when she was much younger…it’s like a sad/glad feeling. Enjoy!

  8. Congratulations! You are wise indeed! I need to wait a bit more than one year in order to have Medicare so I will be happily jealous for you! :>)

    1. Ginni, insurance is always an issue. I will continue to pay my insurance through COBRA for now, but at some point I will have to “unretire”–I’m pretty certain of that! M

  9. Wise to recognize the ticking clock. Enjoy your time–play, read, have adventures, just sit around. This is your time to do what you want when you want it. 2 1/2 years to go for me and I am looking forward to it.

  10. Wonderful post. Wonderful blog. And now, with the luxury of time just around the corner, you will finally have the chance to open other doors without completely closing the first. Congratulations on respecting that ticking clock! I wish you a future well spent with family and friends and pets and adventure…

  11. Wow! I am so happy for you in this new phase of your life! But, now I won’t see you at our meetings, will I? We will have to make more of an effort to keep in touch. Is riding on a Mardi Gras parade on your bucket list?

    1. Elly of course you’ll see me! I have to get CME credit to keep my license! But riding a Mardi Gras float is definitely high on the list. How bout next year? M

  12. Contratulations! Great choice. I didn’t see this blog post until now because I was on a seven day retreat. Catching up today.
    All the best,

  13. God bless you for all you have done; for all you have given and continue to give…

    I too have a pressing feeling that time is flashing by too quickly and I must make a change very soon; the environment I work in is toxic; far too stressful.

    Best wishes as you turn the page; begin new chapters…

    I am usually a bit embarrassed about sharing that I watch Gray’s Anatomy (for some strange reason, it just feels right on a Thursday night, It’s “my show”, as simple as that, “my hour of the week”; not sure how long they can keep it up but for now, it’s my show…and I will watch them try to save a life, maybe even their own.

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