Some Days Five Goldens Are Not Enough

These past two weeks have been particularly difficult ones. Two Friday nights ago, Barb and I attended a wake for the wife of one of my friends who is an OB/GYN physician at SFH. Only 44 years old, her valiant but unsuccessful fight against breast cancer left her two preteen children without a mother. Watching him stand there alone next to the casket, while the line of his friends snaked around the room waiting to speak to him, was made all the more difficult by the fact that mother’s day was only two days away. Having lived through the joys, as well as the hard times of having teenagers, it made me wonder how he would shoulder that responsibility and burden without the nurturing influence of his heroic wife.

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An almost impossible task in my mind, and such a loss for his two children.

Then in the office this week, it seemed that the social and family issues I was called upon to try and help with, far outweighed in numbers the medical issues. Multiple failed relationships, abuse: physical and mental, depression. suicide of a family member, along with the fall out on families dealing with alcohol and drug abuse issues took their mental toll on me. Most patients no longer have a long term relationship with their primary care provider, and most do not feel comfortable discussing intimate issues with their church leadership. So the OB/GYN serves the role the prior two used to fill.
While the uneducated person might think my specialty is a happy one, the dark side to happy newborns and moms is the daily occurrence of miscarriages, fetal losses, and imperfect or handicapped babies. On the GYN side, cancer, infertility, the implications of sexually transmitted diseases, and the ravages of aging in general add to the toll on a provider. You provide advice and comfort where you can without really any formal training. You listen, give a hug, but a little piece of you is burned up in the process. Only behind the next exam room door is another patient hurting and lost and with another unique story all her own. Somedays those filled rooms seem endless.
An added burden is that most people are clueless about our schedules. Criticized for my being behind because a patient set her tennis time too close to her checkup, I didn’t have the energy to tell her the patient ahead of her needed an extra ten minutes because she had just lost her spouse. Or the first patient of the morning coming in forty-five minutes late and not caring that her demanding to be seen will cause a ripple effect that affects everyone else after her. The patients that treat their visit here like just another fast food stop in their busy days are blessed without knowing it. They have their youth and their health, and forget that those have passed for others farther along on the same path.
People are way too self centered to my liking. The belief in a being greater than ourselves seems old fashioned to many. As a result, too many live selfishly in the moment. There are no rules anymore, and very few follow any values of substance. The country music group Heartland said it succinctly with their new song “Built to last”. “Nothing is built to last, The world is made of paper and glue, disposable honor, and replaceable truth.” Forgive me for sounding a bit like Andy Rooney on 60 Minutes. It has been that bad a week.

Lastly, most people view “Mother Nature” as a benevolent earth mother that does only good. I have a different view. She is a black she wolf with no regard to what is fair, just, or good. She shows no favoritism with whom she destroys, and if you aren’t vigilant she will take the largest piece of you she can. One’s only hope is keeping up with preventive health visits and good luck. When you reach my age and do what I do for a living, you develop a sense of vigilant awareness. Wisdom is too presumptuous a word, suspicious awareness is more like it. For often, behind even a minor complaint could lurk a life altering illness.

Coming home after a long day, Barb and the dogs greet me at the door. Pound for pound I don’t know anything that has more goodness than a golden retriever. Barb asks how my day was. My stock answers are: “the usual” or “busy”. I can’t remember the last time I said “it was a good day”.

Then I try to recharge my batteries to face the next day’s challenges by decompressing with the love and affection of our dogs. Only some days, five golden hearts don’t evenly balance out the misery of nature or the suffering caused by the human failings that I witnessed in the office. I don’t know how many more it would take..