Lift

Bomber

There are times when the anxiety overwhelms. Pressure on my chest. Can’t breathe. A dysphoric and irrational sense of impending doom falls like a curtain, separating me from the rest of the world.

I need to move, to escape. 

But I can’t. 

Why? Why now?

It comes in phases. There are times when I fly through the day, a smile inside and out. I feel the joy. I am the joy.

And then? The darkness descends.

You aren’t good enough or smart enough. Someone is going to figure it out. Then everyone will know your secret. You don’t belong here.

I can’t focus. I type words that aren’t right and don’t make any sense. I cannot follow the conversations people try to have with me. My brain is paralyzed. No. My brain is in overdrive running from one imagined catastrophe to the next. I cannot sleep because I cannot make it stop.

“Doc, it’s like you know me. How do you understand it so well when I am not even sure how to describe everything?”

Because I am you.

Sometimes there is good reason for it, an event which serves as trigger. Like a supoena to testify in a patient’s lawsuit against an multi billion dollar international corporation. Sometimes there are dozens of good reasons for it. Being on call, stressful patients, behavior issues at school with my kids, extended family conflict, pressure from the suits, my virtual desktop at work is overflowing, the WordPress app reader is frizzing out again and I am missing posts, … Very often, though, there is no good reason at all.

It is then that the pill calls to me.

Die to live another day…

I keep a bottle with my name on it. Not to literally kill myself. Just to make life easier. Kill the anxiety. End the suffering. A pill a day to make the anxiety go away.

But I am a coward it turns out. I am not good at taking pills. I try to do other things. I take a hike in the woods. Being among the trees often helps. Instead, I get a bad case of poison ivy. I try attending an opera, but I can’t enjoy that because of the itching from the poison ivy. I buy a new skirt but it doesn’t fit because of the steroids for the poison ivy. I want to hug my kids…. hugs from my kids often helps… but good squeezes set off the itching again.

All I can do is laugh. There is nothing else left to do.

Suddenly I am rising up out of the abyss. 

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Name Dropping

Interior, B25 Bomber
“Do you want to put on a flight suit?”

My daughter nodded, a grin starting to form. She had not been one bit happy about being dragged to an air show.

“They didn’t make flight suits that fit women so the ladies had to roll up the legs and sleeves to make them fit.” She zipped up the suit, then rolled up the cuffs. “Come on, I’ll show you how to fly!”

She helped my daughter scramble up the wing and into the cockpit and proceeded to explain how the instruments worked, letting her use the pedals and rudder.

“During World War II, women flew planes like this all over and in some cases taught the men how to fly…”

It was a fascinating thing watching the change that come over my daughter. She held her head higher. She seemed more confident. She positively glowed. It was a striking transformation.

The key?

Her brother was not getting to do this.

I used to think that girls just needed the same opportunities as boys but I am thinking that is maybe less true. If her brother had been there he would have commanded all of the attention. She would have faded to the background. She needed her own opportunity, her own experience. My daughter needed the woman in the B-25 bomber to pull her to the side specially and tell her that she flew in this plane all the time, that girls, that women, CAN do amazing things.

This post was going to be about how grateful I was for all of the women in the world who take the extra time to help girls understand their history, to understand science, to help them reach their dreams.

And then the Boy Scouts announced girls could join up.

Now, I’ll be honest. I know the Girl Scouts are not all about cookies necessarily but that is what the world knows them for. I never wanted to be in the Girl Scouts as a kid. I didn’t want to have to compete at selling cookies. I wanted to do what the Boy Scouts were doing, having adventures, learning survival skills, but I never wanted to join the Boy Scouts because… boys… ick.

As a parent I have not enrolled my kids in either scout program. I simply don’t have time to be jetting off to two meetings and doing camp outs and projects for two different organizations. So, on some level I see the appeal, having both kids in the same program. But girls need their own space to feel special. Too often they get lost in the male crowd. They need mentoring from strong women.

All of this begs the question, what is wrong with being a girl? Why do we have to be more like the boys? Why can’t we be successful and adventurous in our own right? Why do we have to join the boys?

Why do we have to sell cookies?

I don’t think girls who want to join the Boy Scouts are bad but part of me feels the “allowing” girls thing is a bit insulting and maybe a bit embarrassing. Come, girls, join the BOY Scouts! Is being a girl such a shameful thing? Is being different bad? For all of the emphasis on cookies, perhaps the message is that Girl Scouts have missed the point. They are no longer relevant. 

Princess Panties

Doors at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC

“Mommy! You’re wearing princess panties?!??!??” My daughter’s squeal of delight reverberated off of the metal walls of the stall. 

She stared in awe.

The overly crowded movie theater bathroom seemed to fall deathly silent in an instant.

“Shhhhhh!”

“Mommy. They are so beautiful! I want some.” She reached out reverentially to touch them as I hovered over the toilet seat doing my business. I swatted her hand away.

“Not until you are much, much older.”

We washed our hands then headed back out into the hallway where her brother and her dad and the dozens other men were standing, waiting on their female companions.

“Daddy! Daddy!” she called loudly as she skipped happily over to him. “Did you know Mom is wearing princess panties?”

So much for the element of surprise.

And from that moment forward, my lacy underwear was known as “princess panties.”

The Twelfth 

World Trade Center

“Mommy, why are there so many police everywhere?”

I looked around. She was right. They stood on every street corner it seemed, decked out in bulky bullet proof vests. New York City, more than any other city in the world that I have visited, possesses a very visible police force. No longer simply protecting us from each other, they stood ready to protect us from them.

Did it make me feel safer? 

Yes. Yes it did.

I grabbed my daughter’s hand as we crossed the street with the crowd of other people. The Empire State Building rose up in the distance. 

“Are you going to take your kids to the 9/11 museum?”

They are six and seven.

“No. They aren’t ready for that yet.”

I’m not ready for that yet.

I dropped my purse and camera into a bin and wiggled out of my jacket, sending it and my ball cap through the scanner then stepped through the metal detector. The security guard nodded silently. We were free to move on to the next staging area. 

“Mom, why is it that everywhere we go here is like the airport?” my son asked.

In truth this was the forth scanner we had walked through on this trip. Long lines made longer by strict security. Stress. My kids felt it. So did I.

“Some years ago there was an attack on two tall buildings here in New York. They collapsed and thousands of people died. There are people who hate Americans and want to hurt them so the police and all of the security measures are trying to prevent something from happening like that again.”

Watching the towers collapse over and over again on the news feed at the clinic between patients, the world shifted. It wasn’t until the next day, as the dust was settling, that it became apparent just how much it had shifted. 

My kids seemed to take in the information and I braced myself for more questions, for fear, or even tears from my daughter, but there was nothing. 

Nothing.

This is their world. They don’t know what it was like before 9/11, a world where simply being American carried with it a certain degree of power and respect. They didn’t feel that shift. They will only know a September 12th world, a world where they are targets. 

Missing Out

IMG_1621
“Why can’t I go?” I held the paper clutched to my chest. I’d earned a trip to a church summer camp for free. My ticket out of my own little hell for two weeks. I needed this. Never had I been allowed to go to camp. Up to that point I had been led to believe it was a money issue.

Please let her say yes, God. Please, please make her say yes. I promise to go to South America to do mission work when I grow up if you will just let me have this one thing!

My mother stood silently, her face turned away. 

“Mom! Why won’t you answer me?”

Her body stiffened. 

Finally, her back still turned to me, she answered:

“Because I never got to do something like that.” 

And then it dawned on me. My mother, my own mother, was jealous of me. Jealous of this opportunity. Was there more to it? Probably. But there was an undercurrent of envy and that was what I latched onto.

I judged her harshly.

How can you be jealous of your own daughter? What kind of person does that make you?

It struck me yesterday, listening to my son and daughter practicing on the piano, that I am envious of them. I am jealous that they get the opportunity to have piano lessons from a real teacher. I am jealous of my son’s spelling and math ability, how easily music comes to him. I am jealous of my daughter’s artistic creativity, her ability to easily make friends, and her extensive glitter pen collection. What I could have done with even a couple of those glitter pens back in the day… 

Even now I don’t understand all of the reason behind my mother’s refusal but I did learn an important lesson. I learned I could survive without church camp. I also learned, and a great big wave of relief washes over me even now when I think about it, that God did not *want* me to serve as a missionary in South America. 

Whew.

So where am I going with all of this?

Envy was a surprising emotion to recognize in myself and I find it embarrassing to admit. It snuck up on me. Since I am not a particularly unique person and I am living on this planet with billions of other not so unique people, I expect this means that other parents also experience jealousy when it comes to their kids. I wonder how many?

We all want to believe that we are somehow better than our parents, though, don’t we? 

And yet we aren’t.

I expect that maybe even more than my kids’ glitter pens and the piano lessons that I am most jealous of their youth…. those unexplored futures, the potential looming ahead of them. I wonder if this is simply because I am an older parent, or if younger parents feel this acutely, too.

Ultimately, I don’t intend for jealousy to motivate my saying “no” to things in the future… except maybe if my daughter wants to go out for cheerleading.

Stretched

Dinosaurs in the American Museum of Natural History

“I want to change doctors.”

Reviewing her chart before entering the room I could see that she had been asking for this for months. The medical assistant had warned me that she was going to bring it up again.

“Why?”

“Well, I never get to see her when I need to. She’s always out or I have to see the nurse practitioner because she’s too busy. Besides, you were the one recommended to me by several coworkers but you weren’t taking new patients.” She stared at me, accusation in her voice. 

“Well, the reason I stopped taking new patients is because the ones that I did have could not get in to see me when they needed it.”

Some days I have open slots that don’t fill. It makes me antsy but I try to remind myself that not overloading the schedule ensures that people can get in if they need to. I want to be able to see them, have a relationship with them, even if it hurts my bottom line. THAT gives me joy.

“….But you should also know that I have kids. Sometimes they get sick. Or I get sick. Or some other emergency pops up…”

“Well, she doesn’t have kids. At least not that I know of.”

In truth she is undergoing a fertility work up, hoping to have kids but it was not my place to tell a patient this without her permission. A woman should have the right to have a child if she wants one, shouldn’t she, even if it inconveniences others.

I agree to take her on as a patient. The very next day:

“Uh, mom?”

“Yes?”

“I just puked.”

The smell of vomit began to waft through the car. I cracked a window.

“Block my open slots until I can get to the clinic and see what is going on.”

“You don’t HAVE any open slots.”

As my daughter retches again into the plastic sack I know I don’t have a choice. They will all have to be rescheduled. There is no one else that can watch her.

“He’s going to have surgery. I’ll need to be out for at least a week….” 

It makes me nauseated to think about it, rescheduling that many people, but it just cannot be helped. 

He needs me.

No doubt someone, somewhere is asking to change doctors. Knowing that bothers me on some level but being a mom also brings me joy. My kids deserve a mom who can be present for them. It strikes me that this sort of issue is unique to female physicians. It is partly why we make less money. It is partly why we don’t hold as many leadership positions as our male counterparts. 

I choose my kids. 

I choose my family.

Meanwhile, I am sitting in a hospital room with my laptop, trying to do as much as I possibly can from here.

That doesn’t make me better. Or worse. Just different. 

Or maybe the just same. 

Getting the Worm

Flowers in the NYC Metropolitan Museum of Art

“Mommy? Can I go potty?” 

Her voice pulled me out of a deep sleep in the midst of a nightmare about a movie set with Nicole Kidman and a patient who ran a telephone ministry dial-a-prophetess line. The movie was to be a psychological thriller. The prophetess had just robbed me of money and souvenirs I had pilfered from the set. I am not sure what a dream like that says about my life right now…

“Sure, baby. You don’t even have to ask, you know.” I have lost count of how many I times I’ve said this to her. 

“Ok!” 

I heard her skip down the hall to the bathroom. I glanced over at the clock. 3AM. I would have groaned out loud but that would have taken too much energy.

A minute or two later…

“Mommy, I wiped but I didn’t flush because I didn’t want to wake anyone up.”

“Thanks, sweetie. Go on back to bed.”

“Ok!”

And I heard her skip back down the hall to her bedroom.

Sleep? For me, it was gone. Just like that I was turned into the early bird. Too bad I don’t like worms.

A Supporting Role

Bridge in NYC

“She just won’t eat healthy stuff! If I give her a cupcake and some broccoli she always eats the cupcake.”

“Think back to when you were eleven. If you have a cupcake and some broccoli in front of you, what do you pick?”

He shrugged. “The cupcake.”

“Right? Me, too. We’re not idiots. We pick what tastes best to us. As kids that’s the sugar. So you cannot put them both in front of her and expect her to pick the broccoli. That’s just cruel. She’s eleven. YOU have to make that decision for her until she is able to make it on her own and that is not going to be for a great many years. Get the cupcakes and junk out of the house. She is beautiful no matter what size she is but you and mom both have diabetes so she is at higher risk herself. Be the parent. Don’t sabotage her. Help her learn healthy habits that will last the rest of her life.”

We had this conversation every summer for five years running. Each year the same thing, like it was her fault. But this time? This time, somehow, was different….

This time he listened.

What made the difference? I don’t know.

It gets discouraging, saying the same things over and over again. There are days when I open my mouth to say, “Stop smoking!” for the millionth time and wonder if there really is any point. You never know, though, when the seeds you sow will fall on fertile ground and take hold. 

The First Lady

Liberty's torch

I put the baby to my breast. She ate greedily. 

So tiny for such a strong suck.

He had not come home yet. He did not know that she was a she and not a he. He would be angry, I knew. Would he let me keep her or would he kill her as he had the other three? Would he beat me as he had before?

Look, she is so beautiful, so perfect! Why can’t you love her?

Why can’t you love me?

The midwife busied herself quietly putting the room back in order. 

He would never pay for a doctor or a hospital. Not for me, he said. I was not worth it. 

A woman. 

A girl.

Someday I would leave him. I would run away. Far, far away. But to where? And they would find me, wouldn’t they? They always did. If I was lucky, they would shoot me where they found me. If not, he would be allowed to stone me to death. He’d like that. Then he could take a new wife. Someone who would give him boys. He never listened to the logic of genetics, that the determining X or Y chromosome actually came from him and from not me. My education, my past… it meant nothing to him. 

Neither did my future. 

No. I will outlive him. I will NOT give him the satisfaction.

The little one scrunched up her tiny baby face and yawned. Enough eating for now, she seemed to say as she looked directly into my eyes and grinned a lopsided baby grin. Then she drifted off into a peaceful slumber.

Born on Independence Day. If I were going to name her I would name her Liberty after the giant statue they tore down decades ago. No woman will stand as a national symbol, they said.  

Now she was gone.

Just like my own Liberty. 

A Mistaken Identity 

Hudson Bay clouds

My heart sank into the floor.

“You did what?”

“I gave the wrong immunization! I didn’t look close enough at the orders.”

The baby ended up getting a double dose of one of the routine childhood vaccinations because my medical assistant gave the wrong combination vaccination and overlapped. It was not a terrible error, as far as medical errors go, and would not cause harm but try to convince a parent who has gone through multiple miscarriages and IVF to get this one beautiful baby boy. It was not a phone call I looked forward to making.

I could ignore that it happened, sweep it under the rug so to speak. Make it disappear. They would never know….

Still it had to be done. They had the right to know. So I did it. I called and explained and reassured. They seemed to take it very well at the time, or so it seemed.

I see FOUR generations of this family. 

Four.

Or rather, saw. 

They left my practice. 

To be honest, if it were my own kid I would have probably not been nearly so nice about it and I would have also taken my kids elsewhere. I am not upset at this family at all. It hurts but I totally get it. 

Trust is gone.

This was the first time an incorrect pediatric vaccination was given by a staff member to my knowledge in my practice. Fourteen years. That means nothing when it’s your kid. One mistake. Made by one of the best medical assistants we have, the absolute last person I would have expected to make an error. She will carry that one around for a very long time. 

So will I.

We can learn from every mistake, can’t we? 

If I told you I had never made a bad call or made a mistake myself I would be lying to you. There is no perfect doctor. Sometimes we lie to ourselves. Sometimes we lie to other people. That is how we keep going each day. We are not perfect. I know each and every mistake I have made over the years and they play in my mind over and over again, their faces pop out at me usually when I am already upset about something else that is unrelated. 

See? You suck, you suck, you suck! 

Why does our brain do that to us? Kick us when we are down?

Sometimes it is hard in the aftermath of a “mistake” to clear the mind and keep focused. There are other patients to see, my family to take care of. Still, I also need time to grieve and process. To forgive myself. To forgive others. I need people around me, my family, to let me do that without trying to “fix” me. Eventually my mind will settle down and move on.

Because life goes on.

It always does.