On Wednesday, May 9, 2007, Kenneth L. Noller, MD from Boston was sworn in as the 58th president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. During his inaugural address, he reminded the audience to be cognizant of our past, the long hours spent in training, the long hours many of us still work, especially those practicing obstetrics, and the fact that many of us have “put our families second” to care for our patients over the years. But, he also called upon us not to live in that past and to embrace the opportunities for change, now and in the future, to bring balance to our lives and, by demonstrating that as a possibility, to encourage bright, young men and women to consider OB/GYN as a career. He also reminded us that “our specialty is unique, it is the only gender specific medical specialty,” of the “great privilege we have to care for women,” and of the great privilege we must honor and accept in our continuing role as the “champions of women’s health care.”
Today is Mother’s Day. The week’s end rain finally stopped and the sun came out and since it is supposed to remain sunny for the next several days, I decided to ride my motorcycle to the hospital. I love riding my motorcycle to work early in the morning. There is usually no traffic, the sounds and rhythms of the engine and the morning light have a soothing effect on my psyche, and the necessity of remaining focused on the task of riding (in the constant vigilance required for self-defense!), always clears my head and prepares me for the work at hand – in this case, the next 36 hours of resident supervision and other patient care activities. While riding, though, I did take the liberty of letting my thoughts wander back to some of Dr. Noller’s words and to thoughts of Mother’s Day.
Dr. Noller not only said that we have often “put our families second,” but that this was “as we should have.” I was taken aback by this statement at the time, and still do not, entirely, agree with it. I know my wife often feels that I have put the family second, but I have a different perspective. I guess I have always looked at my patients as my ‘extended family.’ Rather than putting one above the other, I have tried to handle both as equals, with the ever challenging task of ‘setting priorities.’ My patients don’t always come out on top in those decisions. There have certainly been times, especially, when I was ‘the only show in town’ that the family responsibilities were temporarily placed on the back burner, but today, that rarely occurs. There have also been a few instances, even in recent years, where it was apparent that the faith and hope the patient placed in me as a provider were as important to the pregnancy outcome as any clinical skills that I brought to the table, not because I thought I could handle the situation better than any of my colleagues. Anyway, those were my first thoughts.
Next, I thought of my own mother. It is only with the clarity of age and my own life experiences that I have come to comprehend just what a remarkable person my mother was (and still is). As we were growing up, my mother was THE steady and constant influence in our lives. Although not a ‘single Mom’, between my father’s work during the day and his college classes at night, she was certainly the prototype for the same! There were six of us kids; I was the oldest. Although we did not have much in material terms, we didn’t know that; we had enough to eat, some clothes on our backs, and a wonderful church which was the circle of our ‘social’ activities. We were happy and we did have our dreams.
Then, during my sophomore year in high school, my father at age 36 started having seizures and was eventually diagnosed with a brain tumor. Between the tumor and its treatment, my father lost all capacity to work, to think analytically, and to take reasonable care of himself. My parents’ hopes and plans (my father was in law school at the time) for the future of our family were dashed in the blink of an eye. My mother had to go to work, pay the bills, help with homework, play chauffer for the three oldest children, and nurture the 3 youngest (my youngest sister was only two at the time). Somehow she juggled all of that and managed to take care of my dad, wash clothes every day, and rarely failed to have something prepared for dinner each night. Despite very hard times, she was always there for me, my brothers, and my sisters. We all did hang together, but she was the super glue and by her example, all of our lives were enriched. It is with great regret and not just a little embarrassment that I didn’t appreciate at the time the sacrifices she made for us.
I have learned that it is much too easy to take for granted the folks in our lives whom we see every day, and the situation with my mother was just that. She did so much for us and never once asked for anything in return. She ‘lost’ her husband, my father, at a young age, she stuck with him for the ten years that he lived after the diagnosis of his brain tumor, she never remarried, and she remains in the little house in New Jersey we moved to in 1956 (now living with my youngest sister and her family). In 1969, I left for college and in all the years since then, very little time has been spent with my mom; and, the many years have gone by much too quickly. Although every Mother’s Day is special, for some reason this year, I feel the need to let her know that I love her, I think of her often (even if I am not very good about calling), I thank her, and I know the contributions I have made to the lives of so many other women and their families over the years would not have been possible without the work ethic and the life’s lessons she taught me. Have a great Mother’s Day, Mom! Please come visit us soon…