Coping With Mixed Emotions

Have you ever noticed that some people would rather deal with a complicated mathematical equation than confront emotions?  I notice this every day.  Doctors, professors, and scientists can be the least emotional creatures on the earth, but it does not have to remain this way.  Today I am dealing with many emotions.  Simultaneously, I feel happy yet sad, accomplished yet behind on so many projects, and eager to push forward while remembering all of my past experiences.  Tomorrow begins another hectic academic year for 500 or so medical students.  Interns and residents have already moved into their new roles.  I love the newness of the academic year.  This has always been my favorite time of the year.  I have learned that I am my best when I am mentoring young doctors.  I feel lost when nobody needs me to explain a concept or demonstrate a procedure.

I am at a crossroads in my life for so many reasons.  All three of my children are going to high school now.  It seems like I was just struggling through my fellowship at Johns Hopkins and nursing my youngest child.  My mentors encouraged me to ‘go through the hardest parts’ of my career.  They reminded me that somebody needed to address the gender disparities in medicine, and my mission statement claimed that the mission was mine.  Many of those mentors are either deceased or have Alzheimer’s.  I cannot tell you how I felt when the senior physician at my undergraduate university came to my sleep disorders and chrono-biology clinic for a consultation for insomnia.  Now in the early stages of dementia, he was delighted when I told him that he treated me for my allergies.  He said, “Wow.  You remember me?”  He must have been kidding.  He was responsible for the health 30,000 undergraduates.  Everybody knew him, but it appeared to me that he felt insignificant.

I just had a milestone birthday yesterday.  I had a lovely day and I am still happy.  My first child will graduate this year and is eager to attend college 3,000 miles away from me.  (My daughter in California means that I would have to carve out some time to visit at least every 6 weeks.  The world is so different now.)  I am eager to start this academic year, but I must admit that it feels different than most.  I have given many speeches on balancing professional life with motherhood, but I struggle.  I hate the thought of being a hypocrite, so I am sharing this bundle of emotions with my audience.  If you are a medical student or resident, and are struggling to have time to pet your dog or play with your toddler, be encouraged.  It may be tough but you can do it.  I long for the difficult days again.  I miss the days when I dragged into my house after long shifts and my children ran to hug me, then went back to play with their nanny.  I was not trying to be fancy.  Daycare was $165.00 per week, per child in Philadelphia.  It was most economical to give a weekly salary to a hard-working lady.  We lived in a huge, old brownstone.  Being a creative type, I decorated one of the extra bedrooms with the best furniture that Philadelphia yard sales could offer.  We had young ladies from every corner of the world come to live with us and help with the 3 T’s, as we call them.  I most admired the ladies from Jamaica and Trinidad, who had husbands and children at home.  They were so motivated to work, that they came to America to work.  I miss those ladies.  They were so kind to my babies and they could cook!

Now my children are driving, catching buses and trains alone, and other activities that do not require Mom.  Their schedules are so busy I have to mandate a game of cards or Scrabble on Saturday nights.  Our favorite time is Sunday.  This is the one day we have to enjoy worship together and have a Texas-style country meal in the heart of the East Coast.  I suppose I have been nostalgic enough.  I just wanted to remind you all that it is healthy and necessary to experience the whole gamut of emotions.  The next time you feel this way, do not fight it.  Let the emotional moment happen and then get back to the task at hand.  We can accomplish all of our goals together!  Consistent lectures will resume this evening!

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