Thursday, March 6, 2014

Circling the Wagons

My first response when I hear or read any story that involves a medical professional is to immediately (in my mind) come to their defense. It is a reflex, and there is so much defending (and supporting) to do.

I read this article this morning and was reminded of something a wise uncle once told my husband. I have to paraphrase because I heard it from my husband a long time ago and he is obviously not around to ask at the moment. It was something like "if you assume that 9 out of 10 people you come in contact with are struggling, most of the time you will be right". 

We all have difficulties and challenges in our life that we don't share and people can't see. Some are emotional, financial, physical, mental, any number of issues impacting us all in different ways. We all carry something. Some people are better at masking their struggles than others. But mask, or not, most of us are dealing with something that feels too heavy to carry at times.

The short story is of a family that was staying at a nice ski resort in Colorado and their young baby was up several times during the night crying, disturbing a neighboring skier who felt it necessary to write a scathing letter to the family and leave it anonymously when they checked out. They probably patted themselves on the back for sticking it to them as they pulled out, congratulating themselves for inflicting pain on another person commiserate with the pain they felt at being woken up in the middle of the night. Tit for tat, and the last word. Maybe it made them feel better. But who can possibly feel better by making someone else feel bad? 

I have kids. I have been that family in that room, or airplane, or store. It is exhausting and embarrassing, and there really isn't much you can do about it.  Unless as some commenter's on the original post suggested that you just keep your children hidden and away from the general public so as not to chance disturbing anyone else with sounds they don't want to hear or sights they don't want to see. 

The original post is really a response to the letter by the brother in law. He wasn't there. But he defended his sister and her husband and their young child. If only each of us had a family member willing to speak up for us. I want to shake his hand. Why did it hit me so?

Because the family with the crying baby was a neurosurgeon and his wife and their young child. I know exactly what they were doing there. I've been there. In fact I was at a conference with my husband that same weekend, and thought they were talking about me only I didn't bring the kids and didn't get a nasty letter. But it could have been!

Going to a conference associated with a nice resort is one of the only chances a couple or a family in medicine get to spend time together. We don't have evening hours, holidays, or full weekends on a regular basis. Most years he doesn't even use all of his vacation time because the stream of sick people doesn't care that you have plans or need a break.  When my husband is in town, day or night, he is thinking about his patients or preparing for a case or studying because it never ends and he never knows what is going to come through the door tomorrow. It is a daily exercise, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

The closest it gets to time off is when he is able to leave the city and the hospital behind. This family was trying to carve out a little time for themselves and the only way to do it was to go together. Even then he was in meetings, but they were together in an unfamiliar place trying to reconnect in the off hours and maybe extending their stay by a day to really relax and unwind. Conferences at ski resorts are the best because the meet early for a few hours, break for 5-6 hours in the afternoon to ski, and then resume in the evening after the lifts are closed. It's a great conference to take families to.

The mention of profession (the husband is a neurosurgeon and the wife is a lawyer, now a stay at home parent) only added context to the story. What most people don't understand is that the life of a surgeon is a consuming life, not many people can fathom what that means or care to. Somehow there is a perception that because some one is paid for their sacrifice, it can't really be a sacrifice at all.  They prefer to call us "entitled" or possessing a "superior view of yourself" as one commenter on his post did. 

The life of a parent is also a consuming life. There are no days offs, no breaks from parenting. Your children look to you and watch your every move. They rely on you for their nourishment, affection, approval, and feelings of self worth. I don't intentionally mean to make other people uncomfortable, but we have to leave the house. The best way to teach your children how to behave in public is by taking them in public. It can be a painful experience at times, but it must be done.

Its easy to pass judgement on people, and I'll try to be gentle with the writer of the letter. Who knows what they were going through. Maybe this was their only in vacation in 10 years (we've been there too). Before you condemn first seek to understand. We could all use more kindness in the world. 

I feel so bad for the writer of this article because the comments have been so nasty, but he is a classy guy. And my heart breaks for this medical wife who was already hurting from the anonymous letter and now gets to read people's opinion about what she should have done: stay home, disappear, hide. I hope she doesn't read them.

I can only imagine this woman, once a professional lawyer now a stay at home mother and wife to a busy surgeon, is trying to do the best she can and the last thing she needs is to be judged by people who don't know what she is going through. Making the transition from career to motherhood is hard. Having a newborn is hard. Being a parent for the first time is hard. Being married to someone with a demanding schedule is hard. Balancing the demands of a family unit is hard. It isn't easy for anyone regardless of what your spouse does for a living.

It would appear that she has an amazing family who is supporting her and doesn't really need my commentary, but from one wife and mother to another: Don't listen to ugliness, there are more of us that are with you than against you. 

Thanks for making the past Medical Monday so successful! It was great getting acquainted with so many new blogs, and to see those who have been with us from the beginning. There were some moving stories, pictures, inspiration, and helpful advice. It was a great week. It's not over either! The link will be active until Friday at midnight. 


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