I've always looked young, and received countless remarks to the same as a medical student. The comments were made in a marveling or appreciative way, but as a novice struggling to project confidence and professionalism, I didn't find them helpful.
Of course, it became much more tolerable a few years later when I was twenty-eight and being taken for twenty-two. And then I had three children, and I'd been in practice a few years, and comments on my age trailed off. One day last year a patient said to me, "You must be about my age - from 1974?" and I was shocked that he had nailed it. Shortly after, for the first time ever, I asked my hairdresser for a cut that would take a few years off. Now I have bangs.
Then last month my patient, a widowed Iraqi refugee with three teenaged daughters, asked me through the interpreter, "As a woman, how do you be strong, but kind and loving and forgiving at the same time?" She looked at me expectantly; she wanted an answer. And I recognized that this was less a patient asking a question of her doctor, and more a woman asking a question of another woman. I was moved that she would think I had any advice to give her. I am fifteen years her junior and certain that my life has not required the strength and forgiveness of me that hers has asked of her.
As I offered my ideas on the subject, I wondered whether the twenty-five-year-old me - ten years ago - would have had anything to say. I doubt it. In fact, I seriously doubt that anyone would have asked my fresh-faced self such a question in residency or early practice.
It is a rare moment when I acknowledge that there may be advantages to not being or looking twenty-two. If my aging suggests to patients that I have lived even a little, and have learned something from it, I am grateful for it.