For the last 15 years, Dr. Maggi has taken care of African women who need help in one of the poorest countries in the world: Sierra Leone.
In this episode, you’ll hear the heartwarming and heartbreaking stories from his new book, Basta!: A Doctor’s Story of Giving Back.
Listen in to Dr. Maggi to learn:
- The three principles to living a fulfilling and rewarding life
- How to find happiness by giving back
- Why America’s health care system is driving away potentially good doctors
What made you want to write about your experiences as a doctor?
I loved practicing medicine. I would wake up at 3:30 or 4:30 in the morning and couldn’t wait to go to work because I enjoyed practicing.
Don’t get me wrong, from a financial standpoint, it was very rewarding but the most rewarding aspect was helping people and being able to give back.
If I saw someone in distress, even if they were in financial distress, I had the ability to help them out. To know that I had the ability to really make a difference in a person’s life was incredibly rewarding.
I practiced obstetrics and gynecology. Generally, I operated one day a week electively and the rest of the time I would see patients in my office.
My patients were anything from very young teenage girls to 89-year-old women. I saw the whole spectrum of people, but I was well prepared.
I really enjoyed building rapport with my patients, especially with pregnant women. It was so rewarding and you really just feed off of it. It brought me a lot of happiness knowing I was able to help people.
But getting back to your question of why I decided to write the book.
One of the big things was greed. It was greed in big business getting involved in medicine, medical doctors becoming greedy, the cost of pharmaceuticals, the insurance companies getting in the way, and the litigation involved. All of these things took that away from my ability to practice medicine. After a while, you start to look at patients more as a possible litigant than someone who needs help.
I was going to title my next book The Wedge because there’s a phenomenal wedge that has developed between doctors and their patients over the years.
You have all these external people out there making it more difficult for you to do what you want to do as a doctor. It sounds selfish but in my book, I say, “I truly feel like medicine is a unique profession and a calling, you’re called to do it, you’re called to help your fellow man.”
But all of these external forces were working against me and taking my calling away from me. Eventually, I got bitter and really frustrated, and I looked for a way to express that frustration.
What was the moment when you felt most frustrated as a doctor?
I’m a bit of a workaholic. I mean, I love to work, I really do, but it got to the point that I didn’t take much time off.
Anyway, I remember taking my first vacation after about three years in practice. I was driving home from Colorado through New Mexico when I got a call from my wife.
She said, “I’ve got news today. One of your patients died.” I said, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” It turns out one of my obstetrical patients died from anesthetic. I left her in extremely good hands with a very talented doctor, but she had an epidural anesthetic that went high and paralyzed her breathing; she had a cardiac arrest and died.
As soon as I got off the phone I cried, and I still do. I drove home, took a shower, put my clothes on, and drove 65 miles to meet this patient’s parents who were very hostile. They kept asking me why I wasn’t there.
I have two daughters and a son, and I realized if I had a daughter that died in childbirth I’d be devastated.
But you know, I kept thinking back to what one of my medical school professors used to say, which was, “If you see enough patients during the course of your career, you’re eventually going to lose one or two. There are people you’re going to save that you shouldn’t save and there are going to be people that die that maybe shouldn’t die.”
That’s part of practicing medicine, and that’s why a lot of people don’t go in to it.
But the death of this particular patient was the start of pure litigious hell that lasted 11 years.
The trial lawyer called me everything under the sun, told me how bad I was as a doctor. I knew I wasn’t but I got so frustrated by the number of times I had to cancel appointments with my patients because of depositions and other court matters.
That experience really made me almost want to quit right then and there.
It’s terrible that the system drives good people out of medicine, the people that really want to help others.
“In my book, basta means enough. That’s what my grandfather used to tell my dad when he was working too hard; enough is enough. You can only sleep in one bed at a time, you can only wear one pair of shoes at the time, and your stomach can only hold so much.”
So when my dad said, “Son, basta, you had enough of these folks, you need to get out of medicine,” I took his advice, but I didn’t fully leave medicine behind.
Can you tell us more about your new book, Basta!, and who it’s for?
It’s for all ages and all walks of life.
It’s not just about medicine. Sure, it’s about my experiences as a doctor, but it’s also about my grandfather coming to America from Italy in 1905, and it’s about my dad losing his mother in childbirth when he was only 6-years-old. Really, it’s about the principles that have been passed down from my grandfather to my father and on to me; principles that just aren’t taught in America today.
“I am not saying I’m perfect, because I’m not, but I often think about the things that my father used to say to me growing up. The first was, ‘Freedom is not free, you need to remember that son.’ The second was, ‘Always tell the truth, because if you tell the truth, you never have to remember what you’ve said.’ and finally, ‘Son, always do the right thing. You don’t change right, you change wrong.'”
There were other principles he tried to pass on to me as well, but I would hear these things over and over again which really drilled them into my fabric, into who I am today.
Unfortunately, I see people becoming more and more self-absorbed in today’s world. People are about themselves, they spend more time looking at pictures of themselves than they do giving to others. It drives me crazy.
If we’re going to keep this a free world and be productive in society then we have to get out and do hard work.
In that vein, I ended up traveling to Africa about 15 years ago now and that’s where I’ve really re-directed my efforts. I’ve gone 44 times and it’s really been amazing, I talk a lot about my experiences in Africa in the book. I love how I can do so much over there and get very much the same results as I do in America with so little cost.
If I had to sum up my book, I’d say it’s really about those basic principles that my father taught me and that he got from his father, principles that I think are largely lacking from today’s society. The book is essentially a retelling of how those principles impacted my life experiences as a medical practitioner, but above all, it’s about giving back.
If you had to pick one idea from your book to share with listeners, what would that be?
There are so many of us that spend a lot of time and money pursuing happiness, but as I’ve learned over the years you don’t pursue happiness through drugs, alcohol, tobacco, sex, economics.
“Happiness is a byproduct of what you do, and that’s what I’d like readers to take away from my book.”
Can you share a practical joke or two from your time as a doctor?
I’ll share one with you today. I actually have several but you’ll have to read about them in the book.
There was a lady around 80-years-old at the time who came to see me with a huge mass, she almost looked nine months pregnant, so I examined her and did a brief ultrasound in my office. I was 98% sure it was benign but we needed to take it out regardless.
I get her in the operating room and we remove a massive cyst. It was larger than a basketball.
Anyway, I get her into the recovery room with her whole family there and I go off to do my rounds after telling everyone how well the surgery went. Then I went to the nursery and grabbed a baby.
I took it back to the recovery room and said, “Look what I’ve found. This is what I got out of surgery!” and that just broke the ice immediately.
The patient’s children were really worried about malignancies and complications with the surgery, so that really helped to ease their fears and put a smile of their faces.
What would Dr. Darius Maggi’s parting advice to aspiring authors be?
I would say do your homework and get it out there.
For me personally, writing my book has been very therapeutic. It’s been very, very cathartic.
I know I can’t change the entire medical profession in America with one book, but at least I can say that I tried. I’m proud of the way I’ve practiced medicine over my career, and if this book can inspire one medical student to re-think some of their assumptions then I’d say it’s a success.
No Barriers: Erik Weihenmayer