It’s a good day to be thinking about gratitude. I just got the results of my Pediatrics boards and, mercifully, I passed. Like many things in the life of a working mommy, the whole boards process felt fragmented, stuffed into the crevices of an already packed schedule. I studied in stolen hours, early in the morning, late at night, during E’s naps, during quiet moments on call. There existed the dream of reading the textbooks cover-to-cover, mastering the seemingly random landscape of dysmorphisms and eponymous genetic syndromes, committing to memory, not for the first time, the detailed physiology of the nephron. Instead, I did as many practice questions as I could and read all the explanations and made a stack of index cards that I only had time to review once before the test. Studying certainly helped, but what carried me through the process were my patients, the hundreds of people whose stories constitute my fund of knowledge. The symptoms they had, the way their bodies looked and felt under my hands, the labs and images I reviewed in an attempt to understand them, the medicines we prescribed, the way things turned out. All the babies whose birth weight I guessed just before putting them on the scale. All the toddlers who scribbled, babbled, stooped, and recovered during their well-child visits. How do I remember Hurler’s syndrome? I remember A, from my first year as a clinical student, and his mother who carried him everywhere in her arms even at the age of seven, because she could not afford a wheelchair. In the boards review study book, they used phrases like “coarse features” and “macroglossia,” but I just remember his face, whose beauty became more apparent to me over time, and all the grief and tenderness in his mother’s voice as she sang to him, more effective than any medication at calming his agitation. I can only hope that what I have given is somehow proportional to what I have received.
The medical path – and especially the parent-in-medical-training path – has been much harder than I expected and when I reflect on this path I chose, gratitude isn’t always right there on the surface. But when I opened the Boards score report, it was right there. I looked up from the computer and the first thing I saw was my spouse. I thought to myself, “How can a person be so steadfast in the support of another?” I am in awe of it. I was the one who first brought up the idea of having a baby in my last year of medical school, before starting residency. I spelled it out to her over the Formica table in our then-kitchen – how we would have an infant while I was taking 24 hour calls and working long days, how it would be an insane juggle. She said, “That seems like it’s going to be really hard.” But it felt like the right time. We gambled and got a jewel, our daughter E, who is infinite light and delight. But it has been harder than hard. Over the last three years my spouse has done breakfast, drop-off, and pickup almost every day, dinner and bedtime too many days, whole weekends, whole weeks, whole months, sick days, unexpected call-in days, holidays. She gives our daughter what I wish I could be giving her when I’m not there, and so much more. She gracefully bolsters me in my mommy role even though I spend less time with E, when I can imagine a different person laying claim to the “parent-who-knows-more” position. She keeps us well-fed, keeps our household functioning, and through her eyes, I feel beautiful and powerful every day. She does all this while navigating her own full career as an artist and teacher. She has sacrificed some of her own creative and career advancement over the past three years so that I could forge ahead. I know it is painful for her at times – not what she signed up for, even though she did (good love isn’t as simple as they say) – but her loyalty and support just keeps shining and it lights my way and keeps our family warm.
So there are many layers to the gratitude I am feeling on this, the first day of the rest of my professional life. Gratitude to my patients, who are my teachers, who have accepted my inexperience and given me the gift of their trust and allowed me to participate in their lives in a profound way. Gratitude to my spouse, for EVERYTHING. Gratitude to my parents, which is a whole essay in its own right, the YEARS of patient attention and thoughtful decision-making, late night high school research paper crisis management and SOS babysitting saves, self-sacrifice and deep concern for my well-being. Gratitude to my friends, who have stuck with me through long silences. Gratitude to my colleagues and attendings, for saving my ass and helping me find my voice and for caring so much and taking great care of patients and teaching me by example. The African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child” has become so cliché at this point as to have almost lost meaning, but I’m thinking today about the village that raised me, and no words of gratitude are adequate. I will have to thank them by trying every day, with the best of myself, to be of service to the world.