How Becoming a Dad Made Me a Better Doctor
A few weeks ago I was up all night working in the Emergency Room. One of my patients was a twenty-four year-old young lady being seen for severe right lower abdominal pain. She rated her pain as a 10 on a scale of 1-10. This is not out of the ordinary. I have seen many patients with abdominal pain. Her mom and dad came with her, and this was also not unusual. Often parents accompany their grown children to the Emergency Room. I noticed the parents interacting with their daughter with compassion and tenderness. This is also common; parents tend to be nurturing.
What was out of the ordinary for me was that I had just become a new dad. The way I saw this patient was different than before. I entered medical school in 1998—for twenty years I have interacted with patients. Now, as a new father, it seems I have a deeper compassion for my patients. Each one is someone’s sweet child.
One of the most tender moments I experience is holding my son Danny on my chest. He could be crying, or perhaps he just woke up from sleep. It is intimate having him there. At only a few months of age, he surrenders to his dad, flexing his knees into his chest, and laying his head on my shoulder. There I feel every breath and every little movement as he snuggles in. There, my heart is totally taken by the beauty of the moment and by this new way I experience love.
How does that relate to my patient with abdominal pain? In my mind’s eye, I saw this young lady twenty-four years ago, as a little baby only a few months old. I could see her being held the same way by her parents as I hold Danny now, on my shoulder, in the most gingerly, quiet, serene way possible.
That night in the ER, I delivered the best care possible to that young woman. But when I smiled, when I talked to her and her parents, when I gave them their options, when I persisted to know the diagnoses—I did it not just because I cared about my patient, or just because it was the right thing to do. I gave her my best that evening for yet one more reason—I was caring for someone’s precious child. I saw my son in her, and that’s all I needed to see to deliver the very best care a doctor can give.
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