What really matters?

Time to share one of my own failures for the week…

For two days this week, I was a student in an Advanced Traumatic Life Support (ATLS) course. The name itself describes what the ALL-DAY 2-DAY course is all about. I took the pretest the week prior, without studying, and only missed a few questions out of 40. A few days later the book arrived, and I quickly perused (as in 10 to 20 minutes for a 366-page textbook – there were lots of pictures) the material. The classroom was full of active duty and reserve physicians, nurses, and physician assistants from various specialties with an array of experiences.

I think we all knew the course would be challenging, especially the final written exam. But with a score of 70% needed to pass the written exam, it seemed that most people would find a way to pass it. We would not know the results until the next day.

Around the same time that I was finishing my test, a Navy colleague and friend of mine,  named James, who I had spent a grueling internship year with (working 80, 90 and sometimes 100 hours per week – although you can only report up to 80!) would say his last words and take his last breaths. A tragic TRAUMATIC accident involving a helicopter rotor blade was evolving as I and another friend were commuting home from our course. Obviously none of us in our circle of friends and colleagues was aware of this. It was not until the next day, while I was seeing patients during a robust morning clinic, that one of my faculty members pulled me aside and asked if I had heard the news. I still had 3 patients to see. Time felt like it stopped. I had just lost our adopted grandpa 10-days earlier. Now this. Being a physician can cause you to become immune to your own emotions sometimes, but on this day, I was feeling everything.


Over the next couple of hours I would finish up my clinic, make a phone call to my wife, gather my things and then jump in the car with a friend. The hospital was not that far away, but it felt like an eternity. Friends, family, and colleagues filled the conference room in the ICU. One very young lady passing through came up to me and a few others in the hallway and said:

“Whoever you are here to see, I pray that they survive, because my brother just died.”

It did not take long for me to see that the situation was grim.

While at the hospital I was informed via a text message that 55% of the folks in my ATLS course did not pass the written exam. I was pretty sure I was one of those.

And the next day I would find out that I was indeed one of the failures. But as you can see, failing the ATLS exam was no big deal. I would have 60-days to retest.

My friend had no chance to RETRACE his steps. A man who loved what he did everyday. A man who joined the Navy to become a doctor for the RIGHT reasons, not just to have medical school paid for (a sad but true reality for many). A man who was SIGNIFICANT.

Over the next several hours many friends and family would continue to pay their respects.

These past few days have brought many things to the forefront. Myself and many of my friends involved have realized that life is truly precious and that you never know when it will come to an end. That one of the only things that really matters is the RELATIONSHIPS that we create with others.

I challenge you to pick up the phone and make a call this weekend to a friend or family member that you have not spoken to in awhile. Invite a friend or two over for dinner. Enjoy that time together. Don’t keep putting it off. And don’t just TEXT them, actually use your voice. I am sure they will be happy to hear from you, and you will be too!

One thought on “What really matters?”

  1. There is nothing as great as a true relationship with another. When there is fear involved, there is no true relationship. It is up to ‘the other’ to void fear. To void fear of rejection. To void fear of wrong timing. It is easier to not enlist or not confront than to risk rejection. I want to call and make contact, but I might intrude, interrupt, or cause inappropriate actions. So what can or must I do to overcome fear? Courage.

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