Jenny: I can't do this anymore. This is crazy. I don't want to live like this. I just can't.We all know what the right answer is here, don't we? We do. Leo knows, too - but instead he gives her the honest answer.
Leo: I'm sorry about the anniversary. I just...
Jenny: It's not the anniversary. It's everything. It's the whole thing.
Leo: This is the most important thing I'll ever do, Jenny. I have to do it well.
Jenny: It's not more important than your marriage.
Leo: [emphatically] It is more important than my marriage right now. These few years, while I'm doing this, yes, it's more important than my marriage.Every time I watch it, this scene brings me to tears. This time, though, I watched it while I was doing the dishes at 10:30 at night on a day when I'd missed dinner with my family because I was at work until nearly 8:00 PM. That's not unprecedented; I'm lucky that it doesn't happen very often. One of the reasons we put off having kids was that I knew I would have a hard time leaving work at work during residency to be fully present for a small child. Sam was in graduate school at the same time and it was even more difficult for him. For many years, I was Jenny in that scene - I was afraid to ask Sam if his work was more important than our marriage. I was afraid he would say it was.
And now? Now I am almost always home for dinner, but I know I'm preoccupied with stress about work and thoughts about patients. I have to say "no" to my kid every third Saturday because I'm on call and I can't commit to whatever it is she wants me to do. There are a lot of mornings when I don't hear what's said to me because I'm in a fog from multiple overnight calls. Am I behaving as if my work is more important than my marriage? If I were answering honestly, how would I answer that question?
Overall, of course I would say my marriage is more important. Sam and Eve are the center of my life; I adore them and I want to be with them. I want them to be able to depend on me. In any one moment, though, I make choices that clearly put my work first, and those moments add up.
There's an episode of M*A*S*H in which the members of the 4077th invite their families to a party in NYC. Hawkeye assumes his dad won't leave, because he won't want to leave his patients. The elder Dr. Pierce writes back that of course he will go; "Yes, I'm attached to the patients I've brought into this world, but I'm more attached to the son I brought into this world." Hawkeye, brushing away tears, says "Funny, I always thought they came first."
I don't want my daughter to grow up thinking my patients come first. I want to show Sam and Eve now, in the moment, that they are important to me. And I want - I need - to keep the sense of myself that is only satisfied when I'm doing my work the way I know it needs to be done. Is my work more important than my marriage? No...and yes.