10 things a doctor’s spouse wants you to know

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1. This is a calling. Physicians do not typically start out undeclared, drink through a couple of semesters and randomly apply to med school. For many, they started dreaming in grade school. They started pushing themselves for straight A’s in third grade, fought for valedictorian, turned down frat party invites to study, and then essentially gave up four years of their lives to med school incurring an average debt of around $200,000 upon completion just to go further into residency training.

2. Speaking of debt. Yes, they are blessed with a good income. But do you realize that the average physician makes $90 an hour? Fast food workers are lobbying to earn $15 an hour without any specialized training. Who do you want to do your quadruple bypass in the future? The one who served you those tasty but deadly burgers or the one who devoted years of their lives and hundreds of thousands of dollars into education and training?

3. Gallows humor is a thing. It seems so out of place and so insensitive, but please try to understand. After your physician and nursing team have cried with you and patted your hand after losing a loved one, they have to walk out of the room and put a smile on their face to be a positive force for the patient still fighting for life in the room beside you. This takes such an emotional toll because they experience loss several times a day or week. They can not take the time we take to mourn. They must be skilled in compartmentalizing these emotions and moving on to the next task – the living. So if you hear them joking and laughing at the nurses’ station just after you have experienced the most heart-wrenching moment of your life, remember, this is their way to cope and try to think of the next patient’s loved ones hoping for a smile or encouraging word from that physician about to walk thru their door.

4. And since we brought up coping mechanisms — enough with the tee-time jokes! Why did your doctor only take 10 minutes with you in the exam room? Rushing out to the golf course? Headed to the spa for a mani/pedi? With current health care regulations, your physician now must spend more time on a computer entering in your health information than on your actual physical examination. There is no time for chit-chat or small talk. There are 20 other people in the waiting room, and if employed by a system, most likely there are quotas to be met. Many physicians have fallen victim to the rules and regulations written by those with business and law degrees.

Without proper documentation, they are left wide open for irrational lawsuits, get behind on their notes and billing, and they are suspended. Most of this data entry gets pushed back during the day so that many spend extra hours in the evening catching up instead of heading home to their families. So if you see your physician out on the golf course or bump into them coming from the spa, congratulate them on taking some much needed and therapeutic me-time. They golf, fly, show horses, go shopping, get massages and blow off steam — just like you do. Let them do so without guilt or snarky comments.

5. OK — this one is for me. Please don’t corner my spouse in the grocery store/church aisle/Mexican restaurant to talk publicly about your health problems or your aunt’s health problems or your husband’s bowels or — gasp! — vaccines. My spouse eats, lives, breathes medicine. He is also adorably polite. But if we are enjoying family time, please don’t bring it up. This goes for you, too, other medical people! There’s nothing like meeting co-workers for a social event, and they all start talking medicine immediately. Stop it — this is my time!

6. The only one responsible for your health is you. Period. I’m not even going to explain this.

7. They really do care. They are not trying to harm you. There are no big pharma payouts coming our way. They are doing their best to provide the most current modern medical treatments and interventions. Medicine is constantly evolving, but always at the center is a possibly burned-out physician that still cares.

8. At any moment, physicians are either the most self-confident narcissists or the most indecisive, self-deprecating, empathetic people on the planet. Sometimes they are both at once. The best way I can explain this is to think of a basketball star. They have to strut out there, knowing what they are capable of and believe that every shot is a given based on years of practice and dedication. Take a charge, take a foul, hustle, they’ve got this and will go undefeated this season — except life sometimes happens. They are human, they make mistakes and bad calls, and there are other players on the field. But in the physician world, sometimes the other player is death. And death eventually always wins.

9. Death. We are put in this world to live, and we are put here to die. We all die. There is no amount of modern medicine that can keep people alive forever. And when a patient comes in, completely lacking mental capacity, body failing and frail from old age or disease, and the battle is lost — loved ones or the state demand “heroic efforts” to sustain this “life” a bit longer, then my physician spouse comes home practically in tears from the hours of torture he was forced to inflict on this poor soul — who will eventually die regardless of these efforts. CPR breaks ribs; it collapses lungs, it is horrifically brutal. On a vibrant, healthy life, it is a miracle. On a dying and frail body, it is torture. We all die. Allow them to die with dignity. Rescue the healers from inflicting forced torture. Medical teams are legally obligated to do this unless someone speaks up. Talk to your loved ones and make decisions now. The damage it does to the physicians is irreversible.

10. Apples. Suicide rates for physicians are at an all-time high. There are many speculations as to how and why. Toxic training programs, unrealistic expectations, undeniably heavy workload, so much pain and suffering without end, the list goes on. Generally, in the United States, the rate is about one doctor a day. We need a new saying in this country, and I will start it now, here. Instead of “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” we need to open our eyes. A doctor a day takes his own life. 365 apples or 365 doctors. Maybe we should all take an apple with us to our next appointment and tell our physicians that we appreciate them, we care, and we would gladly trade an apple for our doctors. We need them, and they need us.

Charity Williams is a physician’s spouse.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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