DOCTORS STRIKING. Nurses striking. What's happened to our relationship? Why don't they just come right out and say it, tell us to ourpatient faces that they don't care for us anymore? Perhaps we should have realized what was going on when they stopped coming by the house . . . and then when they wouldn't answer our calls on Wednesday afternoons. Still, there are times when we need more than just a couple of aspirin and a good night's sleep - so how can they keep walking out on us like this?

There's no question that many people do take offense at the idea that those who are supposed to care about our health and safety - be they doctors, nurses, firefighters or police officers - could refuse to perform.After all, will there come a time when doctors drop their scalpels in mid-surgery and hit the bricks? Will patients in intensive-care units be left lying there untended while the nurses ring the building with protest signs?

We've yet to hear a responsible doctor or nurse advocate any such move; nevertheless, the prospect repels, frightens and infuriates people. But is it sheer greed that is causing this behavior? Or might it really have more to do with where people see themselves in relation to others, and how important they want to feel? For example, we detected little sympathy for the recent strike of doctors in this city - yet there seem to have been some public support for the striking nurses.

That may be because nurses tend to be thought of as "rank and file," and doctors as "executives." Behind their grievances and demands, though, are quite similar desires for recognition as "professionals," with voices in policy decisions affecting them. Thus it was salaried doctors, working for a giant pre-paid health-care plan, who struck - doctors who were working as employees and who felt that their employers were asking them to perform in ways they considered in conflict with their professional judgments.

As one of the doctors explained, "I was feeling very insecure in negotiating as an individual for my future status. I think that was probably one of the major reasons (for joining the union). I would feel more comfortable than with an individual contract." Moreover, the number and percentage of physicians who work as employees is likely to grow. And regardless of how many of them actually form or join unions, the likelihood is that there will be an increase in organized activities in many "professional" fields. To understand this phenomenon is not necessarily to condone it; yet to ignore it - or to believe that simple legislative restrictions on such activities will put an end to them - is unrealistic.