I’m not going to lie, this doctor** and parenting balancing act has been hard these past couple of weeks. You have so much invested in both and want to do both well…be a good physician, make a difference in the lives of your patients, be alert and efficient, interact well with your colleagues, and then as a parent and wife you want to spend quality time with both your child and husband, you want to cook dinner, play with your daughter, spend some alone time with your husband, as well as take care of some of the househould duties….both are full time jobs and you want to do both at 100% and yet keep both nicely separated from one another, work at work, home at home. You want to be that strong, calm, put-together woman that has everything under control–after all, doctors are supposed to be strong, right?– and some days you feel like that, but other days you feel anything but that, and the nice outfit and makeup and smile you put on feels like a facade.
It’s been a hard week, on so many levels. For so long, I have felt that I have been doing well handling all the stress, keeping it together, staying balanced, etc, but this past week, I have felt my shell cracking. The long days, the sleep deprivation, the stress of performing well at the new job, of trying to get home and spend some quality time with Addison and Dean, of trying to fit in time to study for an exam I feel very ill-prepared for…it’s all starting to hit me, and amongst all this, what has really affected me the most this past week, though, are the patients I’ve had.
Like on a recent morning. When I opened up the mammogram from two of my patients, my heart sank: they both had cancer, and they are both young. They’ll need a biopsy to confirm it, but there’s no doubt based on the imaging. After each one of their exams, I had the patient get dressed and wait in a consult room, where I then ran into meet her face to face with the nurse in between my other cases. I sat down, told her I was very concerned. I used the “c-word”…I try to be compassionate and comforting but I also don’t believe in sugar coating things and giving false hope in a situation where there’s no doubt what it is..she was like, “ok, what do I need to do next?” I briefly went over the next steps. She was trying to stay strong, stoic, but I could see the fear in her eyes as they started to tear up. I wanted to do more, but I had other patients waiting, so I left her with the nurse, who would go over all the details with her…just like that, in just a span of a couple of minutes, I walked into this woman’s life, told her she had cancer and turned her world upside down, and walked out. I hated myself at that moment, for being the bearer of horrible news and then not being able to do anything for her at that time. I hated medicine at that moment, for allowing me so little time with this patient. I hated that other patients were impatiently waiting to be seen, probably angry at me because of the wait. By the end of the day, I was emotionally drained. There was still so much work to do, but there was a daughter and husband at home waiting for me. I had to let it go and walk out the door, still pick up some groceries, and then try to make it home in time before Addison’s bed time, while still hopefully squeezing in some studying afterwards.
These patients were not the only two patients to leave me emotionally drained. In fact, I have cried over multiple other patients/situations this week… like the other day, I quietly sat by myself in my reading room that evening, tearing up as I read another woman’s imaging. Her cancer had spread. Her condition was terminal. She was 38, with two kids. I did not meet her in person, but the technologist said she was so grateful for all the care she was receiving here. Someone facing death and still being thankful for what she has. Admirable, a lesson for us all.
And then there was another very young woman. Her biggest concerns should be enjoying life, dating, going out for drinks, etc…. I mean, she is in the prime years of her life and should have her whole life in front her her…marriage, kids, a family…instead, there I was biopsying a mass in her breast…the beginning of a very rough road for her. No one should have to go through this.
These cases break my heart. I wish I could do more, but there’s only so much that I or medicine can do for them, which leaves me feeling angry and sad.
In regards to the parenting aspect of this whole physician-parenting challenge, all I can say is that I’ve been blessed with an amazing husband, who has picked up so much of the parenting and household duties for me over the past couple of weeks without complaining or making me feel guilty about it, and yet I can’t help but feel bad. Is this intrinsic to all moms to feel that they should play a large role in parenting and housework? And honestly, it’s not that I feel I should ever be the main parent–we are a team–but I just feel bad when instead of it being 50-50 it’s more like 90-10% right now, but I know it’s temporary. I did the same for Dean last year when he was working at the brewery, but it’s hard letting go.
The one thing that has been a highlight and therapeutic for me this week is getting home in time (barely) to put Addison to sleep. For the past couple of months, she has not wanted to fall asleep in my arms, but she has this week, and it’s the most wonderful thing in the world…to feel the weight of her body on mine, her head nuzzled into my neck, feeling her breath on my skin…me being forced to slow down and sit there, just me and her, quietly. My heart has been so full of love during these moments, and I have cried yet again this week during these moments, as I am reminded of what really matters…. that God has blessed me with a healthy child snuggling in my arms, a loving, helpful patient husband, another life growing inside me, good health, the skills and opportunities to work at a job to help provide for our family….
And here’s the lesson of it all..these experiences with my patients, the anguish I have felt for them this week, the quiet moment with my daughter following the stress and chaos of getting home in time and getting her ready for bed, these moments and interactions that have left me in tears so many times this week, questioning my strenth and fortitude….I am grateful for them because they teach you lessons and make you wiser and ultimately stronger. While I have been shocked at the number of times I have cried over the past several days, I don’t ever want to be immune to emotion…to feeling another person’s pain. How can I be a good physician if I don’t care, if each person with a new cancer diagnosis is nothing more than another “cancer case”. How can I be a good mother and wife and person if I am not grateful for what I have…if I let trivial, non life and death situations affect my stress level so much that they obscure all the blessings I have? I bet that gracious young woman who’s scan I was reading would do anything to only have a job, family, and test to stress about rather than a terminal illness. Sometimes I think we all–or at least I-need to take a step back and look at the big picture, remember what is important, and be grateful for the things we do have : )
**details related to patients have been left out or changed.