I’m lucky enough to love my job. Sure, there are politics—red tape, entitlement, insurance muck to slosh through. But most days, I leave the office genuinely thankful that I’m able to do this.
I have big dreams for my patients. B.I.G. (hopefully ending better than the one & only Notorious). But I also have a family that I adore. The truth is that the smiles may come from my patients, but the substance comes from my family.
My age is a touchy subject in my line of work. I feel it my responsibility to seem mature, knowledgeable. But then again, certifications, letters-after-my-name, & ALL THE SCHOOL LOANS kind of prove those things. I get asked a lot. Apparently some think that I graduated from high school at age 11.
When the question is asked, though, I reassure them that I am old enough to have completed my training. The truth is that I want to throw my hands up & prompt a pop quiz about the first line antibiotic for pneumonia or the molecular pathology of diabetes. I am more comfortable there, in the land of blissful academia. I am more comfortable where someone asks the question and, if I did the work, I know the answer. I’ll write you an essay, draw you a picture, or make you the best goddamned color-coded notecard you’ve ever seen. I’ll even use sparkly gel pens if you ask.
But ask me to hold your hand & sit in awkward silence because you just found out your marriage is broken or your father has cancer or your grandmother is suffering? That is the hard part for me.
I realized, not too long after starting work in the “real world”, the post-residency world where neurosurgeon’s call you by your first name & medical students cower in fear of your evaluation, that I was bad at the in-between. I love this job because I get to solve problems; I struggle when I have to sit through them with you.
The hard truth for me is that both aspects are part of my job—the solving & the sitting. The former is the science. The latter is the art.
I’m slowly learning the brush strokes, the color-mixing, the medium to work on. I’m slowly learning the hand-hold to console, to lean into the emotion instead of pushing it away.
And perhaps the most important part of what I am learning is to leave work at work. To close the office door & shut the laptop to just be done. The science is easy to leave, the sentiment drags behind like muddied footprints on a clean floor.
They say our visual memory is like a rolodex of cards—ready to be accessed, spun, at any time. Every so-often a smell, a look, a sense will trigger a memory of a patient or experience. Most are pleasant & evoke feelings of bravery & peace. Some are not, though; some are bitter & course, grating away at the joy that hangs just overhead.
We’ve discovered the difficulty in the constant grating recently. My husband switched jobs, which is what prompted our move. New field, new perspective, new hope.
We are taught that our jobs matter almost as much as our lives in this country. And as an unfortunate consequence, the lowly janitor (who is really not so lowly at all) feels like his life is worth nothing because of his title.
In Mrs. Hays fourth grade class, as part of our Medieval Social Studies unit, we held a royal knighting ceremony. Our parents made food & set out crockpots & snack trays on top of the paper tablecloths we handcrafted. We made a crown, a scepter, & a long purple cape. And, when the time came, the knight of our school walked in, ready to be given what was royally due. Our Janitor got royal treatment that day. He already knew each of us by name--& from thenceforth we got to call him “Sir”. He was a knight in shining (paper) armor, after all.
The symbolism was lost on me in fourth grade. It now brings me to tears.
So the last will be first, and the first will be last. (Matthew 20:16)
The irony does not escape me that my mind is most comfortable in the pretentious world of academia & my heart is brought to tears at the very thought of it.
As much as hand-holding & sitting through it is part of my job, as much as the diagnostics & the competency is part of my job, learning who I am holds an equal place of priority. Who I am to my patients. Who I am for the unacknowledged important. Who I am with my family.
Sparkly gel pens, pharmacology, & ambitious dreams aside, work for me needs to be something in which I can recognize the value of people & help make them better. It is also a tool with which I can teach my kids about the world. So that they can make it better, too.
- Be present at work. Be present at home.
- Dream, plan, create—but savor these years of youth & the beauty of your children at this age.
- Stop working—in every sense of the word—when it is time. Stop working to seek approval. Stop working toward worldly updates on Facebook or the Nightly News. Stop looking for eye-candy; stop searching the outside world for self-worth.
- Work because I can and because I love it, but remember why God gave me that work to begin with. Don’t let the red tape become the Red Sea, partible only by miraculous intervention.