My wife, who worked side by side with me as a nurse practitioner for over ten years, is my proofreader. She actually worked as a proofreader for a small New England weekly newspaper many years before I met her. She is also my best friend and my sounding board.
My first version of the previous post on this blog didn’t meet with her approval. She pointed out that my narrative sounded jaded and encouraged me to come back to it on a day when I was less tired. I gave the post a few days rest before revising it and felt better about the second version.
The other night, as I was describing a difficult day in the office with a schedule that didn’t make my job easy to do, she reflected:
“You treat your patients better than you treat your staff, or your family sometimes, for that matter”.
I looked up from my dinner plate. She wasn’t joking.
“You can be such a healing presence for your patients”, she said, “but you have a tendency to turn that off in dealing with the rest of us. You could be more healing in all your relationships”.
I thought of what she said. She was right, of course. I can be hard on myself and on those around me. I tend to think of us as working only for the patients or some abstract ideal of perfection rather than also with each other.
How many times have I simply told my wife or my children that their symptoms – sprains, migraines or bellyaches – will go away without offering a fraction of the support my regular patients get in the same situations? And how many times have I been less attentive to their worries and heartaches than I should have been?
I realize my loved ones get less care than they deserve, because “I already gave at the office”.
Do I really think I have a right to switch off my healing presence? I don’t mean that I or any other physician should try to work longer hours or take on more patients than we are able to take care of. What my wife made me think about is my whole way of being:
I always wanted to be a doctor. Now that I am one, I am a doctor every moment of my life. I am not a husband or a father or a pet owner just certain days or hours of my life. Neither one of those roles is “just a job”. Neither is being a doctor, particularly in specialties that profess to treat the whole person.
Obviously, I am still working at it. I’s my New Year’s resolution.