By now you are no doubt aware that the world will soon end. And by soon, I don’t mean Dec. 21, 2012, as predicted by the Mayans—rather, July 21, the date the Weekly World News recently reported that the Earth will hurdle into the planet Nibiru, no doubt inconveniencing my son’s tee-ball game and upending my father’s 72nd annual failed attempt at pulling off the white T, black socks, and sandals look at the beach.
The tabloid also reports that Elvis was spotted pilfering a Vegas buffet (photos of inexplicably barren shrimp cocktail containers support their case), a manigator is loose in Alabama (heads up if you’re reading this in Mobile!), and that duck hunters mistakenly shot an angel (bad move angering the angels right before Doomsday).
OK, maybe you don’t believe that the world will end in 2012. But one thing that will end is my tenure as physician editor of The Hospitalist. The date: March 31, 2012. Yes, after nearly five years, I’m passing the baton and moving on before my editing career takes on an overweight, beefy side-burned, flowing-jumpsuit-in-Vegas course of its own.
And after editing and writing columns for 55 issues of the definitive publication in hospital medicine, what question do I get the most?
History Through Headlines
Looking back at my columns, I now see that some themes developed. I touched on disease states (Spanish Flu Redux?), obesity (Fight the Losing Battle), electronic health records (Only Fools Rush In), patient satisfaction (Doctor Remodel), physician burnout (Left Turns), and healthcare reform (Get Well Now). I wrote about the births of my children, Greyson (Lesson of the Titanic) and Kaiya (Undercover, MD), Grey’s trip to the ED (Mind Games & Silence), and the myriad ways my father can irritate from the backseat of a car (Minivan, Major Lesson).
But over the years, I also increasingly wrote about patient safety (Bueller … Bueller?; Handless Employees; Designed to Harm; A Run For Safety), quality improvement (Something Interesting Happened; Quality Defined) and the need for hospitalists to lead these imperatives (Exceed Acceptable; Promise or Insanity?; Subsidy or Payment?; Fiddling As HM Burns).
And along the way, my monologue turned into a dialogue. I remember the first email that proved someone other than my coerced wife read my column. Then again, I shouldn’t have been surprised that my dad emailed to tell me to stop writing about him.
But then it happened again. And again. And again.
I was surprised to hear from so many readers. People wrote that they, too, had embarrassingly misdiagnosed their child’s croup as a life-threatening disorder, were struggling with burnout and balance, didn’t like the new ABIM recognition of focused practice in hospital medicine (Urban Legends; Certified Special), and, in the case of my chair of medicine, that they could not achieve my challenge (Transitions Telethon) to call every PCP on discharge for one week.
Readers wrote that I made them laugh, that a story touched them, or that they were angry. One was upset that I called childbirth a “miracle,” another that I was too forgiving about the new duty hours (Rise of the Napturnist), and my father that I still hadn’t stopped writing about him.
But none of this generated the interest that Hogan did.
What Would Hogan Want?
In August 2009, I wrote The Anvil of Indecision column about my dog, Hogan, and our experience with his incidentally discovered 5-cm lung mass. It was my first personal foray into end-of-life decision-making, and it came in the form of a 10-year-old Weimaraner. Hogan was present for many of the most important strata of my life—his rings counting my single-guy resident days, early hospitalist career, marriage, a few relocations, and the births of my kids. And along the way, he was the one constant, the glue that kept my life together.