Friday, September 2, 2011

It's Complicated

My son glances up at me with those stunning brown eyes as his fingers pull at the sides of my pant leg. His head plunges downward and he clasps his hands behind his back. He is working up the courage to ask. His feet sway side to side. I know what's next....daddy, can I come with you to the hospital?

My heart sinks and then bounces back into my throat hampering my voice. How do I explain to a seven year old and keep him from becoming enamored? Should I tell him being a doctor is not just about pagers and fancy phones? Blue tooths, reflex hammers, and pens with shiny pharmaceutical logos?


He is shimmying back and forth in his booster as I turn down the car radio to answer a page. How do I explain my life's work? The all consuming task that has swallowed my youth. Ground me into pieces and spit me out...ragged and torn.

What do I tell a little boy about uncertainty? About the irrational complexity of the human body and the self inflicted torture of those who willfully try to master it. Or of consequences. Could I explain how it feels to be responsible for the loss of anther's life?


As we enter the hospital he marvels at the balloons in the gift shop. For him, the wards are a carnival of grandparents with kind words and smiling nurses offering sweet treats. But does he see the beaten and haggard bent over their rosary beads in the ICU waiting room? Or hear the mindless hum of the ventilator? Or notice the fetid smell of sterility that permeates the hallways?

Can I explain to him that a doctors career is series of battles which are all inevitably lost. And that victory occurs in crowded exam rooms were quiet desperation is met not with miracles but humanity and humility. A kind smile, a generous hand, and a partnership built on difficult decisions.

How...I ask I protect him from a profession fraught with such difficulty?

How do I elevate him to a life that offers so much?


jimbo26 said...

With respect : he's seen the good , now let him see the bad.

Maggie said...

The doctor's life is a series of encounters, yes. But, battles? and always lost? I guess it depends on what you're trying to do.

My mom never expected her doctor to prevent her from dying; she knew that nobody gets out of here alive. What she did expect -- and received, from a doctor who is still referred to as Beloved Tim Thompson around our family -- was kindness, respectful collaboration, relief of pain when possible, restoration of function without too much suffering.

From my perspective it looks like a doctor's life is a series of interactions, a series of opportunities for communication, even communion, with other humans who may be at moments of crisis in their lives. The 'battle' is not lost if the only 'win' is that your patients know you are listening to them, and that you care.