My preschooler has a new obsession with The Wizard of Oz. Saturday mornings are movie time at our house, and our TV-hungry child (I maintain fairly strict television-viewing rules during the week) is always eager to choose a movie to enjoy. For several weekends, she wanted to watch Dorothy explore the wonderful world of Oz. I suppose she was practicing for Halloween since she made the decision to be Dorothy and had cast her baby sister as Toto.
I enjoy the classic movie, too, and the other day something struck me. When I heard the faux wizard command, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain,” I couldn’t help but think of my husband.
Sometimes I want to say just the opposite: Please pay attention to the man in the white coat. He’s not a wizard. He’s a human being. He has a family at home, including two little girls who miss him terribly. He’s committed to being a physician, but there’s more to his life than his work.
Oz’s great wizard wants Dorothy and her gang to see him as all-powerful, a superhuman. But I want people to see my husband (and all physicians) – even when he’s in his scrubs or in a pristine white coat – as a person, not some omnipotent, omniscient god.
I know some doctors might not seem compassionate or caring. I’ve encountered a few doctors with less-than-ideal-bedside-manners of my own, but I’ve also had great doctors. And I know my husband is one of them.
I don’t write about his chosen profession much for various reasons. For one, it often doesn’t seem like he’s a real doctor yet even though he technically has the initials MD behind his name. He’s training to be a radiologist and it’s a long haul. He sold cars for a year between medical school and college and that’s the most income we’ve ever seen. We’ve been through four years of medical school. One internship year. Just over two years of residency. Now we only have two more years of residency and a one-year fellowship left to tackle. That’s 10 years of training. I don’t mention this to complain. I just don’t think a lot of people realize how long it takes to become a doctor, especially a specialized one. I know I didn’t.
Is there light at the end of the tunnel for us? Definitely. Are we extremely blessed? No doubt about it. But are there some challenges we’ve faced and are yet to face during this long training period and beyond? Yes.
In fact, one of my greatest challenges as a wife of a doctor is to be understanding when my husband calls while we’re sitting around a set table with the dinner staying warm in the oven waiting for him to come home so we can eat together as a family. “Go ahead and eat without me. Something’s come up. I’ll be late.”
I turn to my 3-year-old and relay the disappointing news. Her face drops. She misses her daddy. I miss him, too. But people are depending on him – not only patients but other physicians and health care providers. He’s a real team player, and I’m always so proud when we go to social functions and people come up to me and say that my husband is one of their favorite people to work with, that he’s not only bright but dedicated and kind. (He’s also very private and modest and is going to kill me for writing that, but as his wife, I get certain bragging rights.)
Still, the unpredictability of his schedule (and we’re lucky because radiology happens to be a much more family-friendly specialty than many others) can be tough on a family.
As an aside, I suspect this is a challenge any woman who is married to a hard-working man faces. When Dave is MIA for long periods of time, I often think of military wives and how much respect I have for them. Not only are their husbands often gone for months (sometimes over a year!) at a time, but their spouses are also risking their lives. Talk about sacrifice!
Just as we should always extend our gratitude to military families for what they do for our country, I ask that the next time you or a family member sees a physician you consider that he or she is not only serving you or a loved one, but he or she may have a family waiting for their mommy or daddy to return home.
And please don’t forget, that as much as we’d like them to be, especially when we’re hurting or watching a loved one suffer, doctors aren’t wizards. My husband tells me over and over that despite all the advancements and cutting edge technologies, medicine is often not an exact science. And just like people in all professions, doctors make mistakes.
I recently saw the following headline for an article: “Should You Trust Your Mammogram? “ It went on to say that even good doctors make mistakes, and I thought, “Of course they do,” but when their mistake means they miss cancer, people get angry and want to point their finger at someone. I don’t blame them, but the truth is mammograms can be very difficult to read, especially if doctors don’t have a baseline image to compare it to. Believe me, doctors don’t want to miss cancer. They want to save lives first and foremost, and they’d rather not get sued.
But despite their best efforts, yes, good, even excellent doctors do sometimes make mistakes. And even good doctors may seem distracted at times when you wish you had their full attention (maybe their wife just called to say she was having contractions five weeks before her due date; I made such a phone call when I was pregnant with my second child).
As a woman who just happens to be married to a doctor, all I ask is that you pay attention to the man or woman behind that curtain of medical professionalism. When you strip that doctor of his white coat, scrubs, scalpel, stethoscope, etc., he’s just like the rest of us – a human being trying to do his best. When my kids and I look at my husband, we don’t see a doctor. We see a dad, a tickle monster, a late-night snacker, an avid reader, and the man we love.
Congratulations to my own Dr. McDreamy and a new chief resident! I love you and am so proud of you.