And you thought you had a tough day...

What jobs are the most stressful? Who comes home with the screaming meemies at night?

If you think you've had a hard day, chill out. At least you lived to the and of your day, and probably you didn't kill anyone doing it. Here, according to no one's survey but my own, are some thoughts on who really has it tough.

Air traffic controllers: These folks play three-dimensional chess. They juggle incoming and outgoing flights, working in a miles-wide three-dimensional chessboard of time, distance, altitude and speed. Hundreds of lives, and hundreds of millions of dollars in aircraft, depend on their decisions. Hundreds of people may die in seconds if a controller makes an error in judgment.

The military: I'm not talking about routine assignments and the "chairborne" rear area types who may spend an entire career smelling no other powder than that in a woman's bedroom. The folks I write of personally killed other people by use of a knife, rock, bare hands or firearms in the sort of personal confrontations where second place means dead. They didn't strike for higher wages, as the air traffic controllers did some years ago, nor are they the types to trumpet their complaints to the media.

Most just want to forget. Some can't. Twenty-four years after he won a Medal of Honor in World War II, Audie Murphy still slept with the lights on and a loaded gun by his bed. To find others who can't forget, visit any veterans’ hospital psychiatric ward. Unlike most other jobs, those who flub up in this job don't get fired. They get killed.

Cops: Another fun job. They get to prowl mean alleys, poke around dark warehouses, and hope the occupants of cars they stop at 4 a.m. do not have guns. They get to wrestle mean drunks, or break up domestic fights and hope neither party attacks them. If they were setting job conditions, most would demand to be off duty on nights when the moon is full. Like their military counterparts, an error in judgment can leave a cop dead wrong. If his judgement is good but his luck runs out, he can end up dead right.

Doctors: Physicians spend years of intense competitive study to get into their field, then discover a certain number of people are going to die no matter what is done for them. After all, doctors and patients are only human. The result is that some doctors gobble more pills than their patients. Doctors hit the bottle, the pill, the divorce courts and the psychiatrists' couch in numbers far beyond percentages of other professions. Physicians also have a far -beyond average suicide rate.

Emergency room workers: How would you like to spend a happy eight hour shift watching a parade of broken bones and bleeding bodies, smelling charred flesh and listening to death rattles and hysterical relatives? E-room types really don't look forward to traditional holidays because they often have to work them. They know that during holidays, people find more time to damage, dismember or dispatch themselves.

School teachers: Daily they get to look over 30 or more kids in class and try to teach them what their parents didn't -- honesty, courtesy, manners, and the value of knowledge, sex education. Teachers also get to unlearn students of whatever they've learned in streets or alleys. They also get to face a lawsuit if they touch momma's little darling.

Farmers: Isn't it fun worrying about the market, the weather, the economy, the availability of Polish soybeans months before planting, and then continue to worry about then all the way through harvest? It's great sport to worry about why market prices are down and the price of everything else is up. Thinking about whether his farm will be one of thousands that fold each year, and seeking employment at the factory of his choice also help to make the farmer's life blissful. He wonders if he went on strike if he'd get the sort of hours and paychecks that aren't good enough for most of the rest of us.

Next time you see one of these folks, tell him or her you appreciate them. You might even want to shake hands with them.

If their hands aren't already shaking too much.

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