My country rotation as a medical student was overshadowed by a heated argument between the general practitioner and his wife. She was sacrificing her life in this “hole of a place” and angrily stormed out to visit her children in boarding school in the city. Decades later, I now understand the frustration and challenges of rural general practice for a doctor, who is also a mother:
Being ignored in the street by the sister of someone I reported for child abuse. Remaining professional when my child was victimized at school by one of my young patients. Being called out to a cardiac arrest in the middle of lunch with best friends, and leaving them to babysit my children. A knock at the door at 2 a.m. by a tearful, teenage boy, who requested the morning after pill for his girlfriend, as the condom broke twenty minutes before, and “her father would kill him.” Listening to my baby screaming for a breastfeeding while I was resuscitating a choking child, who was rushed to my home by his frantic parents. Having my supermarket shopping prolonged by a patient who asked my advice about his hemorrhoids. Taking my children on a long-awaited outing and stopping at a motor car accident, where instead they were entertained by fire engines, police, ambulance and a helicopter unsupervised in the back of my car. Stopping at the next accident and praying we wouldn’t know the family this time. Un-bandaging my neighbor’s hand at my kitchen table at 11 p.m. and finding that he amputated his finger when he fell off the haystack that morning (“Well who else was going to milk the cows?”). Trying desperately and unsuccessfully to resuscitate a teenage boy after an accident in the main street in front of his mother. And having to counsel a community’s grief when I felt I couldn’t contain my own.
Then I remind myself of so many other stories of courage and resilience in the face of chronic illness, child abuse, family breakdown and death. These are mostly the rich images of people from very diverse walks of life, who have taught me what my life career requires of me beyond my work.
Receiving a letter of thanks from the abused child, now a thriving adult. Catching a glimpse of my neighbor on another lonely drive home from work — the 70-year-old farmer riddled with arthritis throwing hay off the back of his driverless truck which was chugging across the paddock with a brick on the accelerator (the day after being discharged from the hospital for repair of his amputated finger). Sharing a tearful moment with the courageous mother who lost her son years ago in the main street accident — and fully understanding what a privilege it is to be a doctor.
And because parenting is more difficult and wonderful than any of this, it is also experiencing the joy of watching my 18-year-old son (who had previously noted that I am an overly anxious, aging woman with a weird sense of humor and a big ass), saying to his career advisor: “I want to be just like my mum.”
Leanne Rowe is a physician in Australia and is the co-author of Every Doctor.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com