This autumn was resplendent in its exhibition of the most extraordinarily vibrant and most exquisite display of blazingly bright, colourful foliage. It was simply breathtakingly beautiful.
The autumn has always elicited a touch of gentle melancholy in my heart, even at a very young age, but this autumn is likely to etch itself in my memory as one of the most poignant one of my life. I am about to face my own extinction…
Earlier in the year, after some soul searching and deliberation, I made a decision - with some regret and reluctance - to retire from professional life at the end of this year. It was not an easy or light-hearted decision, even though I am way past the official age of retirement. In a way it was forced upon me by the introduction of highly questionable, extremely ill thought out and restrictive bureaucratic legislation, affecting all health professionals in this country. In short, it restricts clinical freedom, whilst imposing yet another layer of burdensome, expensive and unnecessary administration. At this stage of my life I don't want to know it, have no inclination to accept it meekly and to comply, but I am too old and too tired to fight it. So, after some 42 years in my own practice and well over fifty years in dentistry, I am about to bow out of professional life.
Neither physically, nor mentally was I quite prepared for retirement yet. Given a choice to continue unhindered by the new legislation I would have happily carried on for another few years. But it is not to be. Without compliance I would be in breach of the law. I find it richly ironic that over fifty years of experience has to come to an abrupt halt - in a so-called free democratic society – at a stroke of a pen by a government besotted with power and control.
I do accept the need for change by evolution, when change is really needed, but changes by decrees quite frankly irritate me to the extreme. I grew up under two tyrannical regimes and already seen far too many unnecessary and damaging changes that benefited no one except the “Masters”. You could say that I am allergic to needless changes.
However, the whole of Europe seems to be in the grip of powerful and muddled political and legislative control freaks (the vast majority of whom profess to be “Socialists”), hell bent on regulations for the sake of regulations and on the building of a new Pan-European Empire, where everyone will be pushed to march to the same tune.
I sincerely fear for the future. Not mine – my future is already in the past – but for my kid’s and my grandchildren’s.
Of course I accept that everything in life – good, bad or indifferent – must come to an end sooner or later and although I deeply resent the way retirement was forced upon me by circumstances, I also realise that age has caught up with me. I am way past my sell-by date and perhaps it is not a bad time to call it a day now, before I reach the stage that I could inadvertently make a serious professional mistake.
I have been extremely fortunate in my professional life, especially so in the last twenty or so years, when I have been able to carry on with my practice more on the basis of a self financing hobby, rather than on a commercial basis. Not many of my colleagues can claim such luck, or would even wish to, as financial rewards for ones work is considered to be high priority by the vast majority of the population and professional people are not exempt from such aspirations. I am not going into details why I chose the way I conducted my practice, but I wish to make it clear that my way of practice was not supported by substantial independent private financial funding or fortune. In fact, whilst the majority of my colleagues can retire on a very comfortable pension, by comparison my pension can at best be called very modest, at worst… paltry… I am not complaining though. I had a happy practice and a happy and stress free professional life, where I felt at ease with my patients, who in turn also felt completely at ease with me. In fact I often jested that dentistry gave me a very good excuse to avoid hard work.
It is, perhaps, because I had such an easy going professional life that I am now filled with apprehension and a sense of loss giving up the practice. I am told that one should look forward to retirement with pleasure and keen anticipation. Maybe this should be the norm. I look at the prospect of retirement with the apprehension of a man who is about to have his limbs amputated. I have been running my own practice for over forty years now and counting my training years I have been involved in this profession for over fifty years. That is more than half of an average lifetime. It is not easy to give up over fifty years of professional discipline, learning and expertise in exchange of slow decay. But perhaps the most difficult part is saying good-bye to so many people who were all the focal point of my life for such a long time. Most of the people I am forced to say farewell to have been my patients since the beginning. Some I have seen growing up from toddlers into mature adulthood, others I’ve seen aging from young adults to elderly citizens, I have known them in good health and in illness, I have known some of them fighting against overpowering odds. I have seen them smile, I have seen many cry over the loss of a close relative; a child, a mother, a father, a spouse, a sibling lost. I have listened to many stories of success, triumph and many stories of tragedy.
I had some patients cry on my shoulder, I wept with some of them, consoled, encouraged, nagged, and sometimes even scolded. They were not “just my patients”. They were far more than that. They were my life’s blood…
I have been also extremely lucky with my assistants. I have two delightful ladies working with me on a part time basis. One of them started with me over thirty-four years ago and the “junior” over twenty-two years ago.
They too are more than “just assistants”… They are friends, confidants, people I could trust with my life.
I know their families, watched their kids grow up, achieving success. I’ve seen them laugh and seen them cry…
I very much hope that I will be able to keep them as friends, that I do not as yet have to say a final farewell to either of them, but of course I will not see them around me at work; helping me, telling me off, mocking me or smiling benevolently upon hearing me cracking the same old joke or telling the same story for the fifth hundred times… Of course I shall miss them… I’ll miss them very much; they too became part of my life…
It isn’t the case that upon retirement I am likely to sit down and do nothing. I have many interests – some say too many – and I will pursue many of those interests. I also have many family obligations (nobody except I who says too many!) and those obligations will undoubtedly keep me busy. They have been keeping me busy for many years.
But I honestly doubt that anything will be able to compensate for the loss that will come with retirement.
Retirement will not just mean giving up a carrier. It means giving up my patients… my routine, my entire way of life… in many ways it means giving up my life… It means facing my own extinction…
© P. J. Oszmann (2003)