You woke up with a pulse today. No matter what else happens, you are off to a good start.

The practice of medicine can be frustrating. If all you had to do was make a diagnosis, remove a tumor, or comfort a patient’s family, though still challenging, the job would be easier.

Some events give context to our day to day challenges.

A “young” friend of mine (he’s 51, as am I) – married, three kids, a defense attorney- was in great physical shape. His life changed when he woke up. Yes, with a pulse. But also with bacterial endocarditis. This unfortunate turn led to more unfortunate turns…a coronary artery dissection, then thrombotic, then hemorrhagic strokes. I visited him in his hospital room. He was on a ventilator with his tongue hanging out. His neurologic deficits were many – including hemiparesis, cranial nerve palsies, receptive and productive aphasia. You get the picture. That was three months ago.

I saw him this weekend. He was awake, conversant, and charming. He joked with a wicked sense of humor. He still had a number of deficits, but, he had made spectacular progress. Beyond any prediction.

I would not be surprised if he drives again, goes back to work, and lives a full, productive life. I am not sure he even grasps what happened to him. He was the protagonist and I was the spectator.

The message: Pay attention when things are going well. Tell people you care about why they are important to you. Lead a life of balance. My friend was lucky enough to get a second chance. Not all of us are so lucky. Make every day count while you can.