It’s been two years since I saw the inside of an operating room. The same is true of the call room.
It’s been two years since I had surgeons, nurses, and patients depending on me to be in a certain place at a certain time to perform as an anesthesiologist. It’s been two years since I donned scrubs as an outfit, and I doubt I’ll ever wear them again.
As FIRE bloggers tend to do, I like to reflect upon my past life in a demanding career and celebrate the anniversaries of my departure date.
August 12th, 2019 was that date for me, so let’s recap the life I’ve been leading for these past two years and the lessons I continue to learn, shall we?
Last year at this time, I rehashed the first year of FIRE for me and my family. It was an eventful one, no doubt.
We started realizing our dreams of worldwide slow travel, spending two months in Mexico before the holidays and two months in Spain afterward. We returned home just as this new, strange virus was starting to become problematic in many parts of the world, including Madrid, which was our last stop. A pandemic would be declared a week later.
We then hunkered down, following guidelines to help keep our family and community safe. It worked on the family side, at least. We’ve had no COVID to the best of our knowledge — we tested any hint of a sniffle — and we’re awaiting FDA approval for our youngest son’s age group to get him vaccinated like the rest of us.
Year Two of FIRE
We had BIG plans for year two, having booked a slow boat, a.k.a. cruise ship, for the fall of 2020 to Shanghai, China with stops in Hawaii, Guam, Japan, South Korea, Beijing, and other ports along the way.
We planned to spend five months hopping around Australasia before returning on another slow boat, this time out of Japan with a stop in Russia.
None of that happened, obviously.
We scratched the travel itch for a few weeks in the fall of 2020 with an RV trip, dragging our travel trailer to state parks in Tennessee and Kentucky, exploring Mammoth Cave National Park and spending a weekend in Asheville, North Carolina.
We also spent a few weeks in Florida in March of 2021, spending ample time at the three Universal Orlando parks when masks and social distancing were mandatory. We returned in July when it was much more hot and humid, restrictions had been relaxed, and the delta variant was taking over.
That second Florida trip was not so great, but we emerged unscathed, and our boys got to attend most of a week of Camp Kennedy Space Center before a vaccinated staff member who had worked the prior week’s camp had a positive test, shutting things down prematurely.
In the spring, our years-long housing search led us to a property on a beautiful inland lake in northern Michigan that would allow us to get down to one home. Within the next year, we plan to build a new home across the street from where we are now; that one will be right on the lake. I hope to have more details to share on our new home build in my Year 3 recap!
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The COVID Conundrum
We made a strong effort throughout the year to stay current with the latest studies on the disease, transmission trends, and updates on vaccine development.
This information helped us make better-informed decisions as to our potential risks. We did our best to engage in relatively low-risk activities while consciously opting not to do the absolute safest thing, which would have been to stay home and see no one until we’d all been vaccinated. That would not have been good for anyone’s mental health.
The biggest risk we took was to volunteer at the first vaccination clinics our local health department offered. My wife and I had been keeping our “bubble” small and spent little time with others indoors before the vaccines became available. That all changed when we helped hundreds of elderly people get their first shot indoors at churches, community halls, and health departments all over a four-county area in northern Michigan.
Granted, we were also able to get ourselves vaccinated at these early clinics, but for the first four to five weeks, we were not fully protected, and we had no immunity whatsoever at clinic number one. Again, we did emerge unscathed and disease-free. Altogether, my wife and I spent hundreds of hours getting thousands of people protected from this dangerous virus, and I actually put needles into people for the first time in 18 months.
The Point of No Return
Choosing to jab deltoids is as close as I got to deciding to return to the medical career I walked away from two years ago at the age of 43.
Two years ago today, I woke up in a call room one last time.
I walked out, closed the door behind me, and never looked back.
— 🅿🅷🆈🆂🅸🅲🅸🅰🅽 𝚘𝚗 𝙵𝙸𝚁𝙴 (@PhysicianOnFIRE) August 12, 2021
In those two years, I’ve gradually let my credentials fall to the wayside. At this point, my BLS, PALS, and ACLS certificates have all expired. I renewed my lone remaining state medical license twice, but I don’t plan to keep it active after it expires in November.
Now that two-plus years have passed since my last anesthesiology work, my understanding is that medical malpractice providers will not be enthusiastic about covering me. I can’t say I blame them. I suspect most of my anesthesia skills would come back just like riding a bike, but if that bike crashes or even veers a little bit out of its lane, the results can be disastrous.
I planned on keeping the ability to return to my former career for a year or two, knowing that I’d be reaching the point of no return (or a difficult and complicated return) right about now. I’ve had no hesitation or trepidation at any point, and I feel completely comfortable with the decision I made.
It helps that I have this blog to give me purpose, allow me to continue helping people, albeit in a very different way, and to provide some income to keep us from actually enacting a retirement drawdown plan.
Why FIRE is Amazing
Last year, I championed family, freedom, and flexibility in my year one recap, and all of that remains true. I’ve spent way more time with my family, have had the freedom to choose how I spend my days, weeks, and months, and there’s a lot more flexibility with those choices than I had as a working man.
In my past life, my sleep was often splintered thanks to the call pager, and I was up at 0-dark-thirty to start work by 0600 most workdays.
For the better part of two years, I felt like I was making up for lost time, getting 8 to 9 hours of glorious sleep most nights.
I’d say that I’m caught up on sleep now. I may have even built up a surplus, if that’s possible.
To that end, I’ve started getting up kind of early again. I recently had the opportunity to hear Hal Elrod, author of The Miracle Morning, give a couple of talks. He convinced my wife and I to give his prescribed morning routine a month-long try.
Now, every morning as the sun is rising, I’m listening to a meditation app, doing a quick affirmation and visualization, exercising, reading, writing, and learning Spanish. In under an hour, I’ve started my day on a very positive note. Two weeks into this, I’m thinking most of these morning habits will stick. Maybe even the early rising part.
Speaking of habits, I’ve found it much easier to make habits stick with a more relaxed schedule.
I mentioned Spanish. Duolingo tells me I’ve got a 660-day streak going.
This is only partially true, since you can use a “streak freeze” to extend a streak if you miss a day. I know I’ve used a few of those, but I’d guesstimate I’ve done at least one quick lesson on 98% or more of those days. Some days, I did dozens of lessons.
Exercise is also a part of that “miracle morning,” and I started a daily exercise routine way back when I was quarantining in March of 2020. I quickly built up to doing at least 100 pushups and 100 situps a day, and that streak has continued for nearly 500 days, no streak freeze required.
I also trained for and completed two half-marathons in 2020. I actually ran three of them, as I turned one of my training runs into my own 13.1 mile race.
I’ve got a foot issue holding me back in 2021, but I’ve been using our new spin bike paired with the Peloton app on a 60″ screen to stay in shape lately. With $10-a-month Peloton credits from a Chase Sapphire card, the $13 monthly charge for the Peloton app is reduced to $3 for 6 or 12 months. These cards just announced a slew of new benefits in mid-August, too.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred is an excellent first (or only) rewards card. $50 annual hotel credit for bookings via the Chase UR tavel portal & 5x points for all travel via the portal. 3x points on dining, 2x on other travel. Flexible rewards good for cash, travel, or transfer to travel partners, great travel protection & new Peloton, Lyft & DoorDash perks! $95 Annual Fee
The Chase Sapphire Reserve offers great travel perks including Priority Pass lounge access, a credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓ and a $300 annual travel credit. When using Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal, get 10x points on hotels and car rental & 5x points on air travel. 3x points on other travel & dining. Elevated Peloton, Lyft and DoorDash benefits. $550 Annual Fee
There’s no way I could maintain these habits with the schedule I used to keep. FIRE had made it easier to follow through with action rather than vague hopes or wishes that I used to have about learning a language or exercising more.
Saying Yes More Often
I’m not exactly Jim Carrey in Yes Man saying Yes to male enhancement drugs when the spam emails arrive, but I have found myself saying Yes to more than I used to. These things that I agree to are more of the experience variety and less of the phallic enlargement variety. Either way, it’s nice to have the time and money to be able to say Yes, whether or not it’s something I need.
I’ve been playing beach volleyball this summer. I probably played volleyball once or twice in the last 20 years.
Do I want to go for a pontoon ride? Yes. Check out a hidden beach or new hike? Yes. Sit in the hot tub at 9 am, go for a walk through the neighborhood after lunch, or have happy hour with our new neighbors? Yes, yes, and yes!
Pre-FIRE, I wanted to do all the things, but more often than not, I wouldn’t be able to. But, like a good Midwesterner, I didn’t quite know how to say No.
Learn Midwestern 101:
“We might be there” – not coming
“I’ll let you know” – not coming
“Hmm not sure yet” – very sure about not coming
“I’ll see if we can make it work” – it will not and not coming
“I’ll think about it” – nothing to think about and not coming
— Midwest vs. Everybody (@midwestern_ope) July 12, 2021
It’s not just local social engagements that have opened up. We can also pack things up and take spontaneous trips. That conference where Hal Elrod was one of several amazing speakers was part of a road trip that we decided on a couple of weeks beforehand. By the way, these events are part of DLP’s Prosperity membership, which is complimentary for Physician on FIRE readers (i.e. you), while others are paying $5,000 a year or more. Check it out if you haven’t yet. I’ll try to make it to a couple of events a year.
We had plans to return to Guanajuato, Mexico this fall, but we’ll probably call an audible and do some stateside road tripping instead. The uncertainty brought on by the pandemic presents certain challenges, but FIRE has us well prepared to make adjustments on the fly.
Half My Life is Ahead of Me
At age 45, I’m only halfway to 90, and given my family history of longevity and current health status, I believe I’ve got a good shot of living at least another 45 years. Do male enhancement supplements also boost longevity? Or is that a different pill? I digress.
Most people have careers spanning from sometime in their 20s to their 60s. Some start earlier, and some work longer, but an average career can be thought of as lasting 40 to 50 years.
Again, I’m right in the middle of that timeframe. The first quarter consisted of 12 years of post-graduate education and training. In the second quarter, I practiced anesthesia for 13 years. I’ve got the entire second half — that is, the 3rd and 4th quarters of a typical career, left to do as I please.
Right now, I’m more than content being a husband, Dad, and blogger. Even with all the extra free time I’ve gained, I find ways to fill them and I’ve always got projects on the back burner. When you move into a dated house while planning to build a new one, there’s always something that could use your attention.
If, at some point, I feel like doing something more, I can still choose what I want to be when I grow up. I’m not saying I want be an actor, astronaut, or auto mechanic, but there’s nothing stopping me from trying. My wife would probably talk some sense into me, but the point is that the rest of my life is a blank slate, and that’s the way I like it.
Two years in, I can say that my retirement from medicine was not an experiment or a mid-life crisis manifesting, but a deliberate choice to live a life of fulfillment and freedom. Yes, the FIRE is still burning strong. I wish you success in your FIRE-building adventures.