A Tale of Two Doctors

I would like to end this week of talking about time with a modern day parable, adapted from a story I heard years ago.

Once there were two doctors, Dr. A and Dr. B. Both were highly intelligent and skilled and each cared deeply for the wellbeing of their patients.

Dr. A absolutely loved his job. He would come in early and leave late and all the while would be at his patient’s beck and call. His bedside manner was impeccable and he was dearly loved by all of his patients. When Dr. A had to go home, he would often leave his cell phone number with his patients in case they needed anything.

Dr. A was so devoted to his work that he rarely had time for anything else. He would eat food on the go or not eat at all. He was so fully devoted to his patients that he even came in on his “off” days, just to make sure everything was O.K. Every once in a great while, Dr. A would run into his long-time school mate Dr. B.

Dr. A harbored a certain level of distain for Dr. B that is hard to explain. Dr. B appeared so lazy and disconnected from his patients. While Dr. A was scarfing down his cafe food in 10 minutes, Dr. B took an entire hour to eat food that he had prepared at home. When Dr. A was in the midst of hurrying from one patient to another, Dr. B was taking a forty-five minute break to go exercise. Dr. B never came in on his off days and only rarely gave out his cell phone or house number. Whenever there was a family emergency, Dr. B would rearrange his schedule. Whenever it was date night with his wife, Dr. B wouldn’t make appointments and would decline to see anyone else. Dr. A saw this as totally unprofessional and frequently reminded his wife and children of how important his job was and how these people needed his help. Whenever someone needed to be seen, Dr. A would clear his schedule of any and all previous appointments so that he could meet with the person. Dr. A felt superior to Dr. B in almost every way.

There was just one problem, Dr. B seemed to be just as good of a doctor looking at the patient’s recovery. Even though Dr. B was there for fewer hours, he was fully present. He wasn’t distracted by the previous patient or the one coming up. He cared deeply for his patients and gave them his full attention.

This carried on for several years, each doctor doing their own thing until something dreadful happened – they each lost a patient. Dr. B took it very hard, he hated losing patients, even though he realized that some people were simply beyond his help. He grieved for several days, but with the help and support of his family and friends he soon recovered. Dr. A, however, was devastated. He constantly bemoaned this loss and saw it as a personal failure. Not wanting to wrestle with his inner turmoil, Dr. A through himself into his work with even more vigor. He worked longer and harder hours, trying to prove to himself as much as others that he was still a good doctor.

But the pace was unsustainable and shortly thereafter, Dr. A burned out. He left the medical profession condemning it as too taxing, consuming and invasive. He switched careers but frequently battled frustration and un-fulfillment.

Dr. B continued his work as a doctor, retiring only after giving 50 years of his life in service to others. Over the course of his career, Dr. B saved hundreds of thousands of patients and was instrumental in the training and education of a new generation of doctors. His legacy survives him in his students and patients… and he never did miss a dinner date with his wife.

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