Thursday, January 28, 2016 8:38 PM

Exiting, not ending

But healthcare stood ”special” on its head. One moment, you’re climbing rebar in the skeleton of the Community Regional Medical Center trauma stack. A decade later, you’re landing on the foggy deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln off San Diego, blogging about nighttime landings as well as what goes on in the sick bay. Always, you’re explaining what a safety-net hospital is to lawmakers who want to cut your budget. And then it turns personal. Pacing a waiting room as grandkids are born. Squirming in a hard plastic chair as a MRSA-infected loved one slowly heals. Waking up -- after hospital staff have saved your life.

So, 30 years in the news biz gave way to 15 years with Community Medical Centers, most of it as director of public affairs. And, in February, I’m  entering a new specialty – quasi-retirement. I suppose we all have Photoshopped visions of retirement – geysers of grandkids, sleeping till the dogs wake you up, traveling till cash dries up, cussing at a golf club and relieving a nightstand of the weight of unread books.

Me, too. Retirement creates a tidal wave of reflections and waves of “thank you’s.” At Community, I found my home among administrative and clinical staff who’ve passionately put service to others before their own needs. That flat-out truth always pumped me up as I took our story to the Fresno County Hall of Records, Sacramento and Congress. I injected it into tours, op-eds, congressional testimony, endless coffee meetings and, as my boss John Zelezny would put it, chats over the fence with neighbors. I hope I did some good; I know I was pain-in-the-tuckus ceaseless.

How would I compare advocating for Community vs. being a reporter/editor in the mass media? Both require ethics, intensity and relentlessness.  Community immersed me in the complexity and sometimes incomprehensibility of America’s so-called healthcare system. Unlike the news biz, where often the storyteller touches down lightly and moves on, it’s impossible not to be transformed and energized by the layer upon layer of both constant and ever-changing medical need.

If politics is solving Rubik’s Cube with a hammer, then healthcare is about putting all those pieces correctly back in place.  We are a nation desperate for education and revitalization on so many levels – and we only seem to fit healthcare into general discussion when it’s personal, costly, chaotic and confounding. Everyone owns a piece in solving this enigma – patient, caregiver and bureaucrat.

When I phrased my future as “quasi-retirement” that equates to staying engaged as an advocate and communicator –  as a consultant and John Q Public.  To all my colleagues who infused me with their wisdom, humor and caring -- and with apologies to Winston Churchill -- this isn’t the beginning of the end, but rather the end of the beginning.