Taking care of patients is a great honor

As my husband and I try and make a long term financial plan for paying off my almost $200,000 in loans from medical school, I sit here wondering, why did I pay 200 grand so that I can get peed on, pooped on, bled on, screamed at and sworn at? I’ve delivered a baby without gloves on (it was an emergency).  I’ve been kicked so hard I almost fell off the bed.

In one hour this fall, two patients in our women’s emergency room looked me in the eye and screamed “F*&^ you!”  That occurred at 2am, probably on a Friday, after I spent all night running a busy emergency room rife with women with ectopic pregnancies, miscarriages, wound infections, pelvic inflammatory disease, cancer and all other varieties of disaster.  And I’m sure I often deserve a giant cursing out, you see I’m not always the most lovely human on the planet, but I can assure you that I did nothing but ask both those women simple questions that set them off.

Why did I sacrifice my twenties, my weekends, holidays, and sleeping at night to take care of screaming, crying women? I didn’t have a bridal shower, because I only had one weekend off in the six months before my wedding. My husband got of work early for Valentine’s Day and surprised me at home, so we could actually share the dinner that I was going to leave in the fridge for him before I had to run to the hospital.  I’m working at a job that pays less than medical school costs and without my husband couldn’t pay it back.  The interest rate alone is 6.8%, accruing thousands of dollars a month.

The funny thing about all of the drawbacks to being a doctor is that, I’ve never been happier.  Really.  Obviously I’m a little sick, but that’s ok.  I can’t remember a time that I’ve felt so proud of who I am and what I do, and I enjoy going to work almost everyday.  Even on the most horrible, body fluid filled, back straining day, I go home with a sense of satisfaction.   I’ve never been so determined to learn so that I can take good care of people.

I don’t have to sit at a desk or sit in long meetings.  My office is the hospital floor, labor and delivery, clinic and the emergency room.  I’m on my feet.  I get to learn how to operate and perform all kinds of procedures.  I get to meet amazing people every day, and I get to work with all sorts from medical assistants, nurses, OR techs, medical students, other residents, fellows, attendings, patients and families.  I get to teach and learn at the same time.   I have an amazing group of peers going through the same thing that can find humor in just about anything.

Taking care of patients, becoming an intimate part of their lives and their bodies, is a great honor.  And I exaggerate saying they all scream and cry.  Most, even though they have little and are often sick, are some of the most amazing women I have ever met, stoic and strong.  When a patient looks at me and says “thank you doctor”, at least for that moment I think I might be part of something good.

I recently got into a heated discussion with the anesthesia resident during a long surgery.  He told me that his dad, also an anesthesiologist, always wished he hadn’t gone into medicine.  This resident said that he wished he had gone into investment banking because one of his best friends already has six houses at age 32.  I told him that I loved being a resident and enjoyed taking care of patients, and that even though I have debt and might not be rich I live a very comfortable life.  He told me I would change my mind, especially once I have kids.

I can understand why any parent who has gone through the gruel of medical training wouldn’t want their kid to endure that amount of stress.   But I can tell you for sure that I didn’t make a mistake getting peed on, pooped on, bled on, screamed at and sworn at.  There’s no better job for a science nerd and adrenaline junky.  Becoming a doctor isn’t the easiest way to get rich quick, but if my kid wants to go through all of the same pain I have, I’ll tell them to go ahead.

Elizabeth Breuer is an obstetrician-gynecologist who blogs at OB Cookie.

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