Titles don’t equal wisdom

What do you call a doctor who got D’s in medical school?… Doctor.

“Well, Sergeant. I don’t know what’s wrong with you. But you’re young. You’ll get better.” Those words will echo in my head for the rest of my life.

The phone call I had two years later with the same Air Force Major who said them to me was even more astounding. He was the only podiatrist on base and had been “treating” me for what he considered phantom foot pain.

“I told you, Sergeant. There’s nothing we can do. You’re still young, though. You’ll get better.”

“You’ve been saying that for two years, doc,” I replied. “You need to do better than that.”

“How dare you talk to me like that! I’ve been practicing medicine since before you were born.”

“Well, I’m not getting younger and I’m not getting better. So I don’t think your strategy is working.” With that I hung up on an officer for the first and only time in my military career.

I immediately told my boss, expecting the backlash to be enormous. It wasn’t though. My boss directed me to the patient advocate at the base hospital (affectionately know as the “medical hobby shop”). The advocate sent me to a civilian doctor who actually cared about her patients. She diagnosed me with tendonitis in my right foot. After some rehab and custom orthotics, my pain subsided and never returned.

Hope isn’t a strategy, neither is denial

Those who haven’t known me more than 15 years hardly believe that I was once an avid runner. Considering that I probably wouldn’t run now if I was literally on fire, that’s understandable. But I was. And I was fast.

Reminiscing about that time in my life now, I think it’s actually when I became a writer. My regimen consisted of 5-10 miles a day with a long run (13+ miles) every weekend. It was my time to reflect and process. It also destroyed my knees. But I digress, this story is about my foot.

In high school I stress-fractured my left leg running. That injury was compounded by a foolish altercation with a kid I thought was my friend. It was a distinct kind of pain you don’t ever forget. When I felt it again in my base dorm room at age 23 the memory flooded back. I crumbled to my knees to let the pressure off and then crawled to my phone to call my supervisor. I let him know I would be heading to sick call (you don’t get to just call in in the military).

The night before, a buddy and I had been lifting weights at a gym roughly eight miles from base. I had reluctantly ridden with him in his Mazda Miata, protesting the whole time because neither of us were having a midlife crisis. I might well be coming up on one now, but I still don’t like Miatas.

When we finished the workout I felt great and told him to head back without me. I was going to run home. He shook his head in disbelief, but got in the tiny car and drove away. Everyone knew I was serious when it came to running.

That night I made great time. I was back on base in just under an hour. I showered, ate some fried stuff with four bean salad at the chow hall, and was in bed before 8. Less than 12 hours later I found myself at sick call explaining to a med-tech that I believed I had stress fractured my foot. Her response?

“That’s not possible.” I’m guessing that since I didn’t have one, she felt validated.

Thus began the saga

Initially, my doc friend did typical thing and issued a PT waiver so I wouldn’t have to run. It killed me not to, but by the end of six weeks my foot actually felt a lot better. Then I ran for ten feet and it all came rushing back.

We played that game for a few months until I earned an MRI. The airman running the diagnostic checked me in, strapped me to the table and inserted half of my body into the magnet tube. Then over the speaker I heard a crackle and a question.

“Uh, Sergeant, could you remind me which foot hurts and where?” I imagine I made the kind of face some bosses do when they’re upset (The kind where their lips shrivel up and resemble a cat butt more than a mouth).

“It’s the right one,” I said as I rolled my eyes.

“Could you show me where it hurts?”

“No. It’s in there,” I pointed down the tube.

“Just show me on your hand.” I obliged, realizing it was futile to explain to him that hands and feet are different. And so, I was given the world’s worst MRI. Even my doctor admitted it wasn’t readable. But he couldn’t order another one, because… you guessed it… he didn’t know what was wrong with me.

I was young though…

Thanks for sticking around for the moral of the story

Although I’m sure you get it, the message here is simple. My problem didn’t go away on it’s own. Whatever you’re faced with probably won’t either. Whether at work or at home, it’s tempting to turn a blind eye and hope things will get better. But, as we all know, hope isn’t a strategy. Action is.

Whatever it is that you’re facing, look it straight in the eyes. Stare it down and take a few deep breaths if you have to. But then do something about it. If you’re afraid of making a wrong move, just remember that no one ever got anywhere by not moving.

And don’t wait for someone with more experience to tell you how. There are plenty of experts out there who don’t know the difference between hands and feet. There’s also plenty who don’t realize that problems don’t go away because they’re young.

Hi. I’m Jason. I’m the author of the book A Practical Guide to the Safety Profession: The Relentless Pursuit from CRC Press. I’m excited to get to share it with you all and hope it will be as valuable a tool to you as it has been to me. There is no other safety book out there like it. That’s not me being arrogant and assuming you’ll love it. You might not. But at least we’ll be able to have a needed conversation about the change needed in the safety profession. It is available now! Email me at Jason@relentlesssafey.com

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