My father was born in Detroit in 1925, a depression era child. He was the only child of a dominating mother obsessed with her son becoming a doctor. My father did not have an easy life, but he had a knack of always making good with what he had. And so he took on the journey of being a doctor with complete dedication and devotion. He worked in a Packard plant to earn money for college. He was one of the smartest in his class and secured a residency in Los Angeles. From there, he joined a group of physicians that started the first HMO in the area. He was well liked by his colleagues as well as patients and eventually became chief of internal medicine at his hospital. Beyond his accolades, he exemplified the true spirit of medicine, of committing himself to helping patients improve their health, patients that had the most challenging of long term illnesses like diabetes, hypertension, lung and kidney diseases. He worked long hours, then came home and spent most of his night in his den reading medical journals. As his daughter, I felt jealous of all his time away from me, but as I grew older, I was in awe of his capacity to help people. Unfortunately, towards the end of his career, his group was bought out by a bigger group, then an even bigger group whose main interest was making money. They had no room for a 60 something year old, old fashioned doctor who spent time with his patients and gradually pressured him into retiring. It was a sad ending to my father’s full career. It also coincided with the beginning of my medical career.
The youngest of three, I am not only the daughter of a doctor, but a nurse as well. Although I was determined not to, I was the child that followed in my father’s footsteps like it was a magnet drawing me in. He didn’t talk much about his work at home, but I remember the gifts he came home with from grateful patients. And when I visited him at work, his patients couldn’t wait to tell me what a great doctor he was. I suppose unconsciously this all sunk in and my path was determined, not only to go to medical school, but to return to Detroit to go to the same medical school as my father.
Once I started my clinical rotations, I knew immediately I wanted to go into obstetrics and gynecology. I saw the field of women’s health as not just taking care of a patient, but the influence one could have by taking care of the caretaker of the household. Teaching a woman how to care for herself, could also show her how she could teach the others in her house to to care for themselves and so on and so on. Thus, we have the ability to plant a seed of health care in each patient we care for. That is so powerful.
Thus began my search for a residency in OB/GYN. I looked in the metro Detroit area, but also in my home state, California. For whatever reason, the gods saw to it I stayed in Michigan and I matched at a small hospital program which became my home for many years. Sinai hospital was actually opened in the late 1940s for Jewish doctors because they couldn’t find employment elsewhere. Over time, it attracted a slew of doctors from all sorts of backgrounds, but always kept its small, family feel. It truly was a perfect match for me as I found the family I needed to make a home there.
At Sinai Hospital, everyone was on a first name basis, from doctors to residents to nurses to ward clerks to janitors. Patient care was a group effort and everyone helped whether it was “your” patient or not. If a physician saw you might need help, they were just there, no questions asked, gloves on ready to assist. For me, it laid the groundwork in working collaboratively with others as well as instilling that it takes a village to practice medicine and everyone is equally as important. In my senior year, I was selected to be chief resident, both an honor and a lot of work. A true highlight was being chief surgeon for my chairman’s wife c-section, not only being trusted whole heartedly, but also to be the first to hold his baby.
Once I finished residency, I joined an all male group that was well respected in the community and my practice immediately flourished. As the only woman in the group, I was sought after. “I’ve always wanted a woman doctor that could really understand me,” was a common greeting. Through the years, I cultivated my practice, tilling the soil, watering liberally, and patiently waiting for the flowers to bloom. I began seeing whole families, sisters, cousins, moms and daughters, and seeing friends of friends, coworkers, partners. I could walk into delivery rooms and see multiple people there that were my patients too. Soon patients were coming back to have their second or third baby. And as time went on, the ultimate sign of trust, my patients brought their teenage daughters I delivered to see me.
In my many years of practice, I have been let into the most intimate moments of my patient’s lives, and shared in their secrets, heartaches, joys, losses, victories. I have given them space to share this without judgement, while I hold their heart gently in my hands. At times, I see them at their most vulnerable and I have to delicately tease out their underlying emotional issue from their physical symptoms. It takes time to cultivate and nurture the patient physician bond, a bond that must be held as sacred.
But also over these same years, there were missteps along the way. Times I misunderstood what my patient was trying to tell me, didn’t or couldn’t take the time to hear them correctly, or just couldn’t connect with them how they wanted. There were times of weariness from being up too many hours, weariness of the soul, weariness related to my own life. I have seen babies die, moms die, and many more on the brink of death. I have seen marriages die, families die, and many struggle to live. The long hours, sleepless nights, emotional burdens, and time away from family can all take its toll not to mention expectations of doctors from patients, litigation threats, insurance issues. The support systems available for physicians are bleak and not highly respected. And now, nearly 25 years into my practice, I feel disheartened and worn out. I understand my father’s last years more and hope to not repeat history, but instead, find my passion again through writing.