Just Plain Foolish

Just a chance for an old-fashioned, simple storyteller to say what needs to be said.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Humanity and health care

My sister is going to nursing school, and that's meant a lot of sacrifice for her. She just barely made it to my dad's welcome home party earlier this summer. In fact, the day before the party, Mom had been mourning the fact that it didn't look likely that J. would make it until after everything was over. Luckily, at the last minute, she managed to convince the guy who arranges shifts that she *really* *needed* to go home for this one.

I'm from a medical family - my dad's a doctor and my mom's a shrink - so I know the kind of hours our medical providers put in day after day, week after week, year after year. I can remember my dad leaving the house in the wee hours for medical emergencies, and my mom coming back to the house, only to drink a cup of tea, eat her cold dinner and go to sleep. And now my sister, coming in from the halfway house where she works, drinking plenty of caffeine so she'll be awake for dinner.

When the whole family went on an extended vacation, my dad used to bring a phone and one of the early laptop computers, just in case one of his patients needed him. I used to object loudly. One of the things I like about my current job is that I can balance it with a healthy home life. I don't know a single health care provider who can say the same thing, except one nurse who made conscious choices that have limited her career mobility, but freed up time for her as a person.

This is extremely dangerous, not just for our health care providers, but also for anyone who needs medical care (that is, all of us.) While popular culture portrays doctors as uniformly rich with plenty of leisure time (at least to judge by the assumptions people make when I mention my dad's profession), how many have the time and rest to enjoy the fruits of their labor? As we were packing up from our stay at the cabin earlier this month, my mom was already making plans to stop in at the clinic on the way home. And of course, when they're working exhausted, people make mistakes, get curt, lose empathy.

I wonder whether the nurse who had my brother in law leave the surgical clinic before he'd recovered from his anesthesia had a vacation this year? Last year? I wonder how many other children of medical providers remember time spent with that parent as an incredible, rare treat. I think about my dad's residency, when he was so tired he would fall asleep the second he could get some time to himself. Our neighbors from that time remember him asleep more than awake, including once when he fell asleep on their couch instead of ours.

And I think about my husband's cousin, married to a doctor still going through his residency. She is pregnant with their first child, working with the difficulties of pregnancy while her husband is worked beyond any reasonable limit. I hope that we can learn that doctors are people too in time for this kid to know his or her father as she grows.

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