The big wait

Imagine being the doctor of a professional football team. You studied at a medical school for years, and now you sit on the bench — match after match — while nothing happens. Of course, because professional football players rank among the world’s fittest people. You watch every game from the sidelines, but you’re bored out of your mind because you have no role to play. And then suddenly, out of nothing — after all those years of watching, a player, YOUR player — all alone on the field — collapses and lays motionless in the grass.

That is the story of Abdelhak Nouri, the 20 year old player from Ajax who collapsed during a match with Werder Bremen in 2017. The medical staff was slow to respond, and initially tried to clear Nouri’s airway, but didn’t check for a pulse (the real problem). CPR and the defibrillator came too late, and Nouri suffered permanent brain damage — his bright future vanishing.

One could forgive the sluggish and errorish medical team of Ajax. There’s chaos on the field, and in the rush of the moment it’s easy to make the mistake made, thinking it’s an airway blockage rather than a heart failure.

But another cynic could point out that is exactly why those medical staff sit on the bench. 10 years waiting for such a moment. 10 years of monthly pay checks. Years of medical training. Years of watching. The friendly chats of all those years. The little helps you provide don’t matter. A player collapses and then you need to be there. And make the right decision.

Would other jobs be similar?

In my work as a marketing planner, the stakes are less high; nobody is suffering permanent brain damage, and ’the big wait’ is less boring. But it’s just as easy to forgive myself and look at the chaos of the moment, or occupy myself with easy-to-do tasks such as thinking about YouTube and Twitter content. But when the big wait stops (such as when the coronavirus forced us to shift all education to online), then it’s time to show exactly what you’re hired for.

And this part speaks to me. It’s ok to make less decisions, be less busy. Make big decisions but make them well. Because if that doctor saves one life every 10 years, that’s a job well done.