Cold Iron Truth

Zeus’s thunderbolt and work-life balance


Like most of you, I had always thought I was invincible and would live forever, but the kids had gotten out of the house (at least for now) and Medicare and Social Security were looming, so it was time to redo the will and think about estate planning. And then I met Zeus’ thunderbolt!

Dr. Brett M. Coldiron, a dermatologist and Mohs surgeon in Cincinnati.

Dr. Brett M. Coldiron

For the last couple of years, I had been getting dizzy when pulling weeds, and 2 months ago, felt like I had been hit by a truck. One hour of yard work and I had to lie in the grass and pant like a dog, or pass out. My internist and I both had COVID-19 on the brain, but all tests were negative; however, the chest x-ray showed atelectasis. What? So I had good and bad days, and noticed that my pulse was 150 when I climbed two flights of stairs. Finally, my wife insisted I get an EKG, which showed atrial flutter/fibrillation and a new right-bundle branch block.

I was ruled out for infarction or a pulmonary embolism and after 6 days on heparin, confirmation that I had clean coronaries (yes, statins should be in the water), and no atrial clot, I got to meet Zeus. They all say, “oh you won’t remember it” or “it won’t hurt.” But let me tell you, the closest thing I recall to having 200 joules shot through you from front to back is being kicked across the milk barn by an angry cow. I hollered, I don’t recall exactly what, but hey, Mr. Sinus Rhythm, my new long-lost friend was back.

I feel great again and have since had an ablation (no big deal, but they poke a hole in your atrium!) and have been fitted with a sleep snorkel, and can once again work all day in the yard.

Personally, meeting Zeus has changed my perspective on life, retirement and estate planning, and personal perspective on work. I highly recommend the book, “Wealth Planning for the Modern Physician: Residency to Retirement.” It is a pretty easy read and an eye opener. If taxes increase, and I don’t see how they can’t considering pandemic expenses, careful planning will be more important than ever.

After careful consideration, we are going to give most of our money to charities (institutions my wife and I we figure we owe a debt), such as colleges and residency programs. I am also going to make an active effort to cut back on work I don’t enjoy (goodbye endless committee meetings!), though I do enjoy my patients very much and will continue to practice. I relish the conversation and interaction, but hate the human relations part of practice management. I’m not much of a golfer, but enjoy gardening, writing, and public speaking. I love my children a lot, but I am still waiting for them to make their personal orbit around the universe so they can come home and be close again. We may also build a house in Florida with a terrace where we can garden without the deer’s help.

There was a recent survey that showed a lot of physicians are reconsidering their practice environments amid COVID-19 and as many as 5% considering retirement. This pandemic is going to put a lot of pressure on smaller practices to close or consolidate, which I think is a bad thing for physicians and patients. It is also the wrong time for physicians to be retiring when 10,000 baby boomers a day are turning 65, and some of them will need thunderbolts like me.

I also enjoy writing this column and sharing my life with you. It is an incredibly special thing to be able to openly share one’s loves, fears, and hopes with colleagues. So keep practicing, remember not all hoof beats are from COVID-19, try not to spoil the kids too much, keep one eye on the calendar, and beware Zeus’ thunderbolt!

Dr. Coldiron is in private practice but maintains a clinical assistant professorship at the University of Cincinnati. He cares for patients, teaches medical students and residents, and has several active clinical research projects. Dr. Coldiron is the author of more than 80 scientific letters, papers, and several book chapters, and he speaks frequently on a variety of topics. He is a past president of the American Academy of Dermatology. Write to him at [email protected]

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