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Ya Gotta Love it or Leave it…

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I have thought about this for a while.

When I started in this career, I was still romancing a further doctorate in my dreams.

I came from a family of PhD’s, at a Big 10 university, so it was kind of expected …

To become a doctor.

As life has it’s upsides and turn abouts, perfusion didn’t fall into my lap, but it did pop up as an early morning phone call- informing me that yes, I had been selected to enter a program.

So goodbye to 2-man beach volleyball in San Diego, adios to the roommates and most excellent weekend parties, don’t even think about having a 9-5 job, and say hello to your new life… Total immersion.

I was totally clueless about perfusion- even after I began classes. I had seen 3 open hearts in my life- but as aggressive as I am, I liked what I saw.

In terms of skill sets, it was a perfect match of the symmetry I had developed in the Navy as a hospital corpsman, the no-nonsense approach to not accepting anything but the intended goal (patient care) and the business of keeping people alive.

I was smart, organized, and passionate.

All of which are prerequisites to the profession. But as much of “all that” – that I thought I had, I was totally stupid and undereducated, and in hind sight, I feel I was very lucky to be accepted into any program.

Med School Would Have Been Easier For A Guy Like Me …


It’s NOT How Smart You Are, but how quickly you think on your feet, and respond to pressure. In this day and age, you don’t need to memorize anything as far as the practice of medicine goes, as long as you have internet access and a smart phone with the right apps.

In the military, there are NO excuses. You show up- and make it so. Anything less is not only indefensible, but it represents a clear violation to a promise you make to your patient.

In perfusion, I make that promise every day.

So the years wound down. A solid progression of perfusion in every shape way or form. Did the chief thing, the information systems thing, alot of teaching at every level, and was pretty fair about not being compensated for what I felt was a level of education and a knowledge base that anybody associated with a heart program should have access to.

And then I hit a plateau. A point where you are simmering in steam, but not quite cooked yet. It was a discussion I had with a colleague / boss named Greg, who in front of a hospital (it was a contract thing) told me that I wouldn’t be working there anymore.

It was absolutely crushing. The experience I had gathered there over almost 6 years was extraordinary- the effort in place had never been less than 100%. The politics were the typical immature crap we see day in- and day out- from divergent physician groups back stabbing one another on a fairly routine basis.

It was a bad fit- and time to move on…

It sucked.

But my initial reaction to losing that position was unanticipated. I heard myself saying things, that in all honesty I had not scripted in my mind before.

I said to Greg, that being a perfusionist was a privilege.

Something extraordinary that I had somehow through the grace of God, somehow had been allowed to be a part of. I had tears rolling out of my eyes, that totally freaked him out. I wasn’t crying because of the job, I was crying because after all that time- I realized how much it really defined who I was. It surprised me.

That was when I became a perfusionist.

And as I spoke, I realized how true those word really were. That the trust and pact you make with a patient, hospital, physician to be allowed to have so much control, to be respected enough to be COUNTED ON every single minute of every single case, was not something easily earned, and equally not something to toss away in an ambiguous flurry of life changes.

I kind of figured it out in a checkout line at a grocery store. It was a matter of how I looked and perceived myself. Anyone going through that line could be a secretary, banker, engineer, or god knows what- but what they didn’t do the 6 hours before, was have a person’s (or baby’s) life in their hands for that duration, and successfully keep them alive.

Anybody can type on a computer- but there are so few of us that can do what we do. Now THAT is a profession to proud of ! That- to me- is a privilege.

There is no slam dunk in this profession.

There is a cognitive simplicity when you are on pump, that no one else can share but a fellow perfusionist. You are simply there. In tune to the complete definition of the parameters of life, and the ultimate destination for the patient.

The fact of it is, that the moment you are least prepared, is exactly the time fate may choose to slap you in the face.

There is no check list that can ever predict the course of a pump run, but there is a level of professional maturity that will separate you from the chaff. It’s not the patient’s name that remains important, It’s the fact that there are so many names- that you lose track of every life you have helped to protect.

Now THAT is what makes a perfusionist.

The individual that can run down the entire medical history of a a patient they had a few days or weeks ago, but will never know the name.

It’s what we do- every minute of every day.

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