Thursday, March 2, 2017

Being the parent of a patient

Over the last few years, I've been frequently been the patient thanks to infertility. Being a patient who is also a doctor has certainly felt unsettling at times, but over the years I got used to it. I couldn't really ever turn off my doctor brain sitting on the exam table, but I tried to listen thoughtfully to my doctors and their recommendations. Infertility treatment involved a lot of discomfort and heartbreak, and over time dealing with those issues almost became routine. Normal.

Then my child had a serious medical issue requiring surgery. And everything I thought I knew about being "on the other side" went straight out the proverbial window.

I'm not going to describe her medical issues; I want that to be her story to tell, if and how she chooses, when she is older. She continues to receive excellent medical care, and I will be forever grateful to the many doctors, nurses, patient care techs, physical and occupational therapists (I'm sure I'm missing someone, but I'm ending the list here for brevity's sake!) who are caring for her. It's certainly true that her surgeries and care thereafter couldn't have gone better. Life is slowly starting to get back to whatever constitutes normal as a working physician parent.

And yet, I can't seem to get back to normal myself. The level of emotional fatigue that I'm still experiencing is outside of anything I've previously known. As much as I'd like to just sweep these feelings away and resume daily life, they don't seem interested in going anywhere. I wish they weren't as demanding of my energy, but they're definitely quite settled in.

Part of me feels like it would be a betrayal to all that has happened to just pick up and get back to "normal." Part of me is afraid to let go of the constant vigilance that accompanies having an ill child. Part of me is unsure that I'll recognize myself in the mirror if I dared to really look, now that we're hopefully through the worst of this experience.

So, for now, I'll just keep plodding along. Maybe this reality is destined to be my new normal; maybe these feelings have taken up permanent residence. I'm just going to allow them the space they need.

Their continued existence would certainly be a small price to pay for my child's well-being.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Inspiring family physicians on social media

In my last post, I mentioned "articulate and inspiring family physicians on social media." I thought I'd take a break from my current post arc and share who some of these amazing people are, both family docs and those who advocate for Family Medicine:

Dr. Mike Sevilla @drmikesevilla
Dr. Ranit Mishori @ranitmd
Dr. Andrew Morris-Singer @AMorrisSinger
Ms. Molly Talley @mollytalley
Dr. Bich-May Nguygen @bicmay
Dr. Carla Ainsworth @SeattleFamilyMD
Dr. Pat Jonas @apjonas
Dr. Kenny Lin @kennylinafp
Dr. Mark Ryan @RichmondDoc
Dr. Jay Lee @familydocwonk
Dr. Jen Brull @mrsbrull
Dr. Kim Yu @drkkyu
Dr. Heather Paladine @paladineh
Dr. Emily Lu @dremilylu
Dr. Anne Montgomery @AnneMont
Dr. Glen Stream @grstream
Dr. Reid Blackwelder @blackweldermd
Dr. Robyn Liu @rliumd
Dr. JL Richardson @drjfpmd
Dr. Torian Easterling @KTEGlobalMD

Please check them out! If you're not on social media, please know that Twitter is more than the US president's rants and what your favorite celebrity ate for breakfast. There's a vibrant medical community on Twitter that's well worth a few minutes of your day.

I am 100% sure that I have missed some worthy individuals, so please add them in the comments section below.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

My baby's doctor is not a pediatrician

"Who is your baby's pediatrician?"

I was first asked this question 12 weeks into my pregnancy by my OB's intake nurse. I have since been asked it countless times - when I arrived at the hospital for my delivery, as we were leaving the hospital with our new baby, and then every time we have taken her to specialist appointments and hospital admissions over the last few months.

My response has been the same every time: "Our family doctor is..."

I don't think any of the people asking me this question intended any offense. I know that, for many people, "pediatrician" = "doctor who cares for children." And, yes, pediatricians are doctors who care for children.* But family doctors care for children, too. The automatic assumption that my baby's doctor is a pediatrician is part of the image problem that Family Medicine still has. It seems that most of the lay public - and, frankly, much of the larger medical community as well - still doesn't know who we are and what we are qualified to do as family physicians.

I've written about this issue before, but nothing has changed regarding our national specialty organizations' efforts in the last four years. Certainly there are many articulate and inspiring family physicians active on social media, but that channel reaches only a relatively small segment of both the medical community and the lay public.

The US will not achieve an accessible, high-functioning healthcare system that delivers equitable, high-quality care without Family Medicine as its foundation. If people don't know who we are and what we have to offer as a specialty, if people don't know that family physicians' patients live longer and better at less cost, how can we possibly be a part of the national conversation about healthcare?

Maybe each of us, as family physicians, needs to launch our own mini-public-relations campaign. First and foremost, our patients must know that we are family doctors (not just a "general practitioner" or a "PCP"). We need to get involved in local medical organizations and make sure primary care's voice is heard there. We need to share our passion for our specialty with anyone who will listen.

I will start by affirming that my baby has a family doctor.

* Pediatrics is a specialty with board certification and its own rigorous training. I suspect many pediatricians would take some offense at the assumption that any doctor who cares for children is automatically a pediatrician. For the record, I have nothing but the utmost respect for pediatricians.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Pregnancy after infertility and loss

I just about stopped writing while I was pregnant last year. Sure, I kept writing professionally. But this blog, and the fiction I had been working on - nothing. Nothing for 9 months. I didn't mention my pregnancy on the blog, and I barely did so on other social media channels.

When I think back to why that might have been, I remember that writing requires recognizing the truths within yourself. There was a truth within me that I did not want to face during my pregnancy; I was terrified that I would lose my baby. I am a board-certified family physician and intellectually knew better, especially once we passed the first trimester. But I did not trust my body to care for my baby. I kept waiting, day after day, for something bad to happen. Once it was obvious I was pregnant, family, co-workers, and even patients gushed with happiness for me. I tried to match their jubilant tone, but it was always fake. I had trouble bonding with my unborn baby and resented the discomforts of pregnancy.

I can't blame you for thinking that the above paragraph sounds impossibly irrational. Looking at it typed there, it sounds impossibly irrational to me. To be honest, I'm ashamed of those fears. I feel guilty for not enjoying my pregnancy the way I was "supposed" to. After all, pregnancy after years of infertility should be cause for a grand celebration, right?

When I reflect on the five years of reproductive failure that preceded my pregnancy, though, the irrationality begins to make some sense to me. Cycle after cycle, year after year, our hope eroded away. When we did achieve pregnancy, miscarriage followed. I was conditioned to expect failure.

Pregnancy does not cure infertility. I still had to wrestle with feeling defective as a woman; I still had to reconcile those years of disappointment and heartbreak with the reality that a healthy, viable baby was growing within me. It was only when my OB laid my newborn child on my chest that I felt joy and hope again. (And, please know, I did feel and am still feeling a lot of joy now!)

I debated whether to share this post after I wrote it. But I'm certainly not the only person who's experienced these feelings during pregnancy, and it would have helped me to see stories like mine. I also hope that we, as physicians and healthcare providers, will allow our patients the space to experience their pregnancies authentically regardless of our personal feelings or society's expectations.*

I feel a complicated web of emotion around motherhood and how I got here. But I keep telling myself that here is a pretty fantastic place to be, all things considered. Our baby is a miracle and every day with her is a gift.

And that's more than enough for me right now.

* This hyperlink is to a post that contains explicit language. It is a raw and honest piece that includes f-bombs and frank anatomical references. If that won't offend you, please give it a read.