Wednesday, August 6, 2008
Lucky Mother of Daughters
Being a mother of daughters provides excellent cover for rereading the classics of childhood, to see if they would appeal to my children. Although the girls are now somewhat out of range, reading sci fi, feminism, and Dostoyevsky, I still enjoy the guilty pleasures of the Little Princess and Little House on the Prairie. This week, I fell into Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom (Louisa May Alcott). I hadn't really reflected on these as a physician before, and I was struck by several thoughts. In the modern age we tend to forget the catastrophic role of illness in many lives, since few of our patients come down with "malignant fevers" or die of sudden injury. But to those patients who are afflicted (lovely Victorian word), the experience is as devastating as it ever was. Conversely, the role of the doctor who can be trusted to know what to do is extraordinarily valued and important. To be a doctor is a burden, without doubt, but it is also an enormous privilege. And the guilt we feel not being with our children as much as women in some other professions may at times conceal or be compounded by the guilt that comes from our enjoyment of our professional work. When I am arguing with an insurer, or dealing with a messy and uncertain medical situation after hours, I resent the demands of medicine, but when the door is closed and I am deep into session with a patient, I imagine it is like being in the middle of surgery. There is no where else, including home, where I would rather be. Accepting that half measures in two demanding arenas adds up to more than one whole life has helped me navigate the shoals of combining medicine and motherhood, even when the tide is ebbing and the sailing requires some tricky maneuvers to keep the ship afloat.