Today in the hospital elevator a patient asked me what kind of doctor I am. I replied that I am an infectious disease doctor and the patient replied: "Oh, like chickenpox".
His reply was accurate but prompted me to think about the fact that most of the general public's knowledge of my field has to do not with the day-to-day MRSA, C.diff, prosthetic joint, injection drug use related, and diabetic foot infections I am mired in, but with acute contagious diseases such as chickenpox.
During Ebola and the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic the role of infectious disease physicians and the reliance on our expertise by the media, the public, and colleagues was evident. In the clinical workday of an average infectious disease physician, it can be easy to forget that role amongst the bureaucratic processes, the haggling with cardiologists, the frustration with the hospital pharmacy, and the mundane infections one is consulted on.
What makes it worth it, for me, is that amongst all the ordinary causes of pus and infection a zebra may be lurking and it is a supreme intellectual challenge to spot it. To put it simply, I love solving puzzles.
Chickenpox, thanks to vaccination, has become such a zebra in the America -- so yes, I am a chickenpox doctor.
I wear the label proudly.