Why I changed my mind about Colin Kaepernick, and you should, too.

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I, as an individual, am as pretty WASP-y as you can get. I am white, middle class, Protestant, grew up mostly in the South, and come from a military family – my grandfather was in the Army, my brother was in the Marines, and I have 3 uncles who served in the Navy.  So, when I first heard about and subsequently saw Colin Kaepernick’s response to the National Anthem, it stung. 

Okay, I’m hedging. It more than stung. I thought it was disrespectful and I flat out disagreed with it. 

Yeah, yeah, my family members served to preserve his right of free speech, I get it. Now, I am not in any way going to condone his other choices, but I am going to specifically address his choice to kneel during the National Anthem. I thought what he was doing was wrong.

I now realize I am the one that was wrong, and here is why.

I have written previously regarding my feelings about the current state of our country, working alongside members of law enforcement every day, being married to a black man, and being the mother of two biracial boys. The current level of violence in this country, American citizen on American citizen, is nauseating. And we are scared – black, white, police, non-police. 

WE ARE SCARED. 

For each other, our neighbors, our friends, our husbands, our wives, our sons, our daughters. And we are letting that FEAR WIN. I have realized… even in 2016, we are still very much of country of “us” vs “them”.

I have listened to so many people talk about how Colin Kaepernick is being disrespectful by kneeling. Military, non-military, men, women…. but all mostly white. 

And that got me thinking. I started thinking about race relations in this country, and I started thinking about my own family, and my fears for my children. If I had something to say, once my children started driving and I began to pray for them to come home safely every night… not just in fear of a car accident, but in fear of them getting shot… How could I draw attention to it? How could I get my voice heard? How could I start a national conversation to actually help the situation, and make some progress?

So I had to ask myself, how do “we” (White America) want “them” (Black America) to protest? To show their fear? To demonstrate their pain? 

We complained in the 1960s with sit-ins and boycotts (“they are interrupting businesses”), we judge harshly with riots (“they are being violent”), and the church prayer meetings largely get ignored. So how, in this day and age, are we going to allow a population of people in the United States, the “land of the free” be heard? How are “we” going to allow “them” to start a conversation with “us”?

My guess is, Colin Kaepernick is scared for this country. I know I am. 

As a trauma surgeon, I am the one behind the scenes, with my hands covered in the blood of the injured. Their blood not only stains my skin, it stains my soul

The patients I have lost live forever in my mind. Enough blood has already been spilled onto our streets. With all the violence that is happening, why can’t we prioritize our feelings and support a non-violent means of expression? He is nonviolently expressing his fear, his anger over what is happening by kneeling. He’s not turning his back. He’s not burning anything. He isn’t breaking into a building, or throwing rocks at police. He is kneeling, which is still a position of respect. A man kneels to ask a woman to become his wife. People kneel to pray. And he is bringing attention to an issue that should be in all of our minds and on all of our hearts.

As Americans, regardless of race, we should be encouraging non-violent means of communication, and kneeling during our National Anthem, is one of them. I’m not saying everyone should sign up for the Colin Kaepernick fan club, but what I am saying is that we should stop focusing on the how of the protest and start focusing on the why of the protest. The only way for there to not be an “us” and “them” is to allow each other to not only speak, but also to be heard.  

So, White America, I encourage all of us to put on the hearing aids, and start listening.

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If only we treated our parents like our pets – Death, Dying, and Dignity in America

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otis

Otis was our first baby. He was covered in a caramel colored fur, weighed 150 pounds and was the best Bullmastiff dog anyone could ask for. He protected me from my husband’s incessant tickle attacks and thought that my lap was the best place for him to try and sit.

Two years ago, I was walking Otis and he suddenly collapsed. After an extensive workup including an EKG, blood work and an ultrasound of his heart by the doggie Cardiologist (yes, they do exist), we started him on a new regimen of medications for his heart failure. It cost $300 a month but was worth every penny – almost overnight he was a new dog, back to his usual daily routine and enjoying all the activities he loved most in the world.

About a year later though, he started declining again. His favorite spot to sleep was on the floor, right next to my side of the bed. But our bedroom was upstairs, and he just couldn’t make it anymore. He had to sleep by himself. He couldn’t go on walks. He slowly but surely began to get left out of family activities, and for a dog who was as much a part of our family as a pet could be, this was life-altering. He couldn’t participate in any activity which had previously given him joy. He was becoming more and more isolated, becoming physically separated from the people he loved most in the world.

That’s when I knew – it was time to say goodbye. It still hurts, but I know it was the most unselfish and loving thing I could do – focus on him, his wants and his needs, instead of me and my own.

As a trauma and critical care surgeon, all too often I see families struggle in the intensive care unit with loved ones who have devastating diagnoses and injuries.

Now if only most of us treated our parents and loved ones as we do our pets – knowing and respecting their wishes, valuing the quality of their life over the quantity.

Granted, I never had to ask Otis what he enjoyed in life, what his priorities were or what kind of life he wanted to lead – it was pretty self-evident. Your loved ones are clearly more complicated than that, and that’s even more reason their wishes should be known. Do they want to be kept alive by machines with no hope of a recovery that would allow them to participate in their favorite activities? Or be able to participate in relationships with their family? Do they want you to try everything no matter what the outcome might be? If they cease to enjoy eating and can’t communicate anymore, do they want you to put a feeding tube in them? These are the types of questions and conversations that I implore you to ask and have with your family members – no matter their age, no matter how healthy they are at this very moment, because things can change for any of us… in an instant.

In situations like these, my role as the intensive care physician caring for your family member is to find out what HE or SHE would want if they could speak for him or herself, not what anyone else wants. But I’ll never know your loved one like you do. I don’t know what they value in life, what they hold most dear. That’s why I need YOU to help me help them live or even die in the manner they’d want. Because let me tell you, there are a lot of things I can “do”. But your job is to help me make sure I’m doing these things for your loved one, not to them. I’m not asking you to make a decision, I’m asking you to tell me more about them. You aren’t “turning off” any machines, you’re telling me what kind of life your loved one wants… or doesn’t want, and it’s my job to help make that happen to the best of my ability.

Many of you may already know the answers to these tough questions, but I know just as many of you may not. Nope, it’s not going to be a fun conversation. You’re not going to enjoy it. But don’t let your fear of the conversation prevent you from being able to speak for your loved one because they physically can’t. Don’t let your discomfort then put you in a situation whereby you’re not honoring your loved one’s wishes, simply because you don’t know how they’d want their life to end. The greatest sign of love is selflessness – be selfless enough to have the conversation. Be selfless enough to honor their wishes. And know, when the time comes, you’re showing your love in the most profound way possible.

What makes you a #bettermother?

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Nope, not a better mother than your neighbor, than your friend, or than the president of your local PTA…but what makes you the best mother you can be?  Going even further than that… What makes you successful as a person?  As a human being?

 

John C. Maxwell defines “success” as:

“knowing your purpose in life,

growing to reach your maximum potential, and

sowing seeds that benefit others”.

 

Very recently I was approached by www.inspiringwomeninsurgery.com to provide some words of advice or encouragement, and while my 4 year old was brushing his teeth at night I thought about work/life “balance”, envisioned a set of scales, and came up with this.

Screen Shot 2016-08-10 at 7.28.52 AM

Why am I a #bettermother because I am a surgeon?  Because I know my purpose in life, I am growing and I am sowing seeds.  I know that this mother may be sad that I miss my son’s soccer practices, but I also know there are lots of other mothers out there that are glad I did… because I was able to help their children in their time of need.  And although my children may miss me at times, I know they also gain valuable lessons from my career – independence and selflessness chief among them.  My children always know that I love them, and they are important to me… whether I am sitting at their bedside, or at the bedside of one of my patients.

And no, you don’t have to be a trauma surgeon or work outside the home to be successful, or a #bettermother.  Again, look at the definition.  Nowhere in that definition does it mention spending every moment of every waking day with your child(ren).  It doesn’t mention making your child’s first birthday cake by hand, or becoming Vice President of a company.  Nor does it mention “leaning in” to the point that you are about to fall over.

YOU are at the center of your success, and you have to give back to yourself in order to be in a position to give to others – whether that is your spouse or your children or your community.

An example for you.  The wife of one of my partners volunteers with her daughters’ Girl Scout troop.  This makes her a #bettermother – not because she spends time in an activity that involves her own children, but because she gives of her time to an activity that gives many children joy when other mothers can’t.  Another friend is a #bettermother because she is a Crossfit addict… She is teaching her daughter that strong is beautiful, and physical health helps build emotional health.

Taking time in activities, away from your family, work related or not, that develop your sense of self, fulfill your purpose in life, and replenish your soul is not selfish.  In fact, it is essential to being a #bettermother and a successful human being.

So what makes you a #bettermother?  Is it the 30 minutes you spent exercising this morning?  Or is it the 2 hours over the weekend you took to train for a marathon?  Is it the overnight business trip in another city that allowed you to present a project that will better your company?  Is it the hours you spend volunteering at your child’s school because other mothers can’t?  Is it that extra time you took at the hospital treating a patient who needed you?  Is it the time you spend organizing a book club giving women the opportunity to fellowship with other women, building their support system?

Success doesn’t require a title, or a degree, or a paycheck.  It requires YOU being the best YOU possible.

So take that time to develop yourself, replenish yourself, fulfill your purpose.

Enjoy it.  Own it.  And snap a photo of yourself doing it.  To keep as a reminder – when you are coming home late, or have 18 loads of laundry piled up, or serve Cheerios for dinner for the umpteenth time that week, or in any way feeling like you are “failing”…that you are, indeed, not.

I am a #bettermother, and so are you.

 

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The police lights flashed, and the 2012 Yukon Denali immediately pulled over.

The police officer got out, and began to walk to the vehicle.  As he approached the driver’s side of the vehicle, he saw the large black man behind the steering wheel and moved to put his hand on the butt of his gun.  The driver, sensing the change in dynamic, immediately shoved both hands out through the open window and called out it was okay for the officer to approach the car.

That “large black man” is my husband.

I was just featured in an article in Forbes, and I was chiding Americans for not discussing end of life topics with their loved ones just because it is uncomfortable.  However, I am ashamed to admit that I have fallen victim to this myself.  Dr. Brian Williams, a friend and colleague of mine, recently had an interview on CNN that reminded me of my own failure, because I have not addressed this aspect of my life before now.  And this was consciously done because I found it to be uncomfortable… But no more.

The situation occurring in America now can not tolerate any more non-discussion because the topic is “uncomfortable”… So here we go.

As a trauma surgeon, I have a wonderful and unique relationship with law enforcement. We work side by side, and a day never goes by without some interaction between myself and an officer or detective. We testify at trials and all too often we take care of them when they are injured. I treasure this relationship with the people who keep us safe. It is important to me, and one that I enjoy immensely. However, I know that I live in conflict.

I am married to an amazing man who has been my best friend for the past 16 years.  He happens to be black, and I happen to be white.  Although I know him to be the wonderful husband and father that he is, that he has so many accomplishments both from the football field and now in law school, I also know he is “just” a black man to the police.

I fear for him.  

Right after the shootings occurred in Dallas, I called him with tears in my eyes, and reminded him to be careful.  To make sure his tail lights always work.  To not go a single mile per hour over the speed limit.  To do everything in his power to prevent any encounter with law enforcement…  Because I know that his 6’6″ 300 pound frame makes people, and especially the police, nervous.

When we were in college together, I got sick with a terrible stomach flu, and he took me to the emergency department.  It was 3:00 in the morning because he was in 2 a days for football and we needed to get home before his early morning run.  Shortly after we arrived, another black man, approximately 5’10” and 160 pounds, entered the emergency department with blood on his face and shirt.  Two police officers entered the emergency department about 15 minutes later… One white, and one black.  The white officer beelined to my then boyfriend, now husband and began to question him, while the black officer watched.

Which leads me to my point… How can we make this better?  How can we prevent more innocent lives from being lost-  regardless of gender, race, or occupation? Because yes, All Lives Matter.

It has been a campaign in inner city communities “If you see something, say something”.  This is an effort to encourage community members to tell the police if they see illegal activity, to make their community better.

Well, quite frankly this movement needs to move across not only racial lines, but the Blue Line.  Police shootings should be investigated by an agency other than their own.  When a police officer sees another officer acting in an inappropriate way, or begin to question clearly the wrong black man, they need to be able to say something- to that officer, to their superior, whomever.

Far too many young black men fit an unfortunate stereotype.  We need to educate, provide opportunities and invest in their future so this stereotype no longer exists.

We need to engage each other… Black, white, law enforcement officer and civilian.  We need to have these difficult and uncomfortable conversations, and even more importantly as Dr. Williams so eloquently stated, we need to start Listening to each other, really listening.

I not only see, hear, and understand both sides of the coin, I live them.  I am in pain over the losses that our law enforcement agencies have suffered, as I view them all as friends and colleagues.  I relive in my mind my own patients that I could not save-law enforcement and civilian alike.

And I also fear for my husband.  I fear that one day he will get pulled over, and won’t come home to me.  We have got to start listening to one another, trying to view this situation from a perspective other than our own, and most of all…

The Shooting Has to Stop.

I am the proud mother of 2 boys, who are biracial.  My 4 year old looooves police cars.  Recently we were in Chicago, and these amazing CPD officers (thank you!) happily engaged my child who was so excited to see their vehicle.  They invited him to not only sit in the car, but to turn on the lights.  My son still, over a month later, talks about this day.

It breaks my heart that if things don’t change dramatically in our country, that I will one day have to tell him some things that will change his love for those flashing lights.

Although I have never posted any personal pictures on this page before, and certainly not of my children, I am going to change that today, for a reason.  I want to leave all of us with some hope, an image of innocence…

The image of a little boy in love with a police car.

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To my friends and colleagues in Dallas, to the victims and their families- my thoughts and prayers are with you.

Now, let’s all get uncomfortable, and change the conversation.

Who do you save? The emotional impact of mass casualties.

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A 6 year old boy with abnormal pupils and gasping for breath.

A 26 year old pregnant woman with a gunshot wound to her abdomen.

A 54 year old male with blood pouring from a wound in his thigh.

Now add 43 more patients.

Imagine you are the paramedic at this scene.  Who do you take to the hospital first?  Who do you have to choose to walk past and leave at the scene while you take your patient to the hospital?

Now imagine you are the surgeon.  You walk into an emergency room with blood everywhere – covering faces, limbs, the floors.  There is a cacophony of sound – screams, cries, gasps, whimpers.  Where do you start?  Which room and which patient gets your attention first?  How many patients, calling out to you for help, do you have to pass by?  What operation will you perform and how will you perform it knowing there are nearly 50 other patients needing your attention at that very same moment?  Will you be right?  Will you save everyone you could?

As a trauma surgeon, these are the real types of questions that we are given when training for mass casualty situations.  And although the patient specifics listed above are not from the shooting, these are still the same thoughts that every single healthcare worker and all six trauma surgeons in Orlando right now have had and will continue to have for months to come.

26 operations in 12 hours.  I wish I could adequately describe the inhuman and superhuman effort that this represents from the trauma surgeons at Orlando Health, one of whom has been a friend of mine since high school.  When I first heard the news I immediately contacted him, letting him know I was thinking of him and his team, knowing exactly that this day will never leave him, or any of them.  I have written before describing the multitude of feelings involved when losing a patient… but this is just the tip of the iceberg when discussing a situation of this magnitude.

After the adrenaline surge, after the floors are mopped, the scrubs are changed, and the patients sorted through, they will pick apart this day – every last detail, decision, and action will be analyzed, examined, and questioned – and never forgotten by a single person who touched a patient on June 12th, 2016.

These six trauma surgeons have made a thousand decisions in the past 24 hours – the types of decisions that no one should ever have to make, but are unfortunately faced more and more by those of us in this field.

To the surgeons at Orlando Health – I know you haven’t slept.  I know you haven’t eaten.  I know you haven’t sat down in close to 30 hours.  I know you are mad, I know you are sad.  Stay strong my friends, we are all with you.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the victims, their families, the first responders and healthcare workers in Orlando – #lovewins.

 

 

 

Getting Rid of the Guilt – Yes, it is possible.

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Guilt was not a huge part of my vocabulary until I became a mom.  (Well, if you take out my feelings about my occasional twinkie binge.)  Anyways, I never felt much guilt about how I spent my time.  Didn’t feel guilty about sleeping in… or working out… or having a girls’ night out.  And so on and so forth.

And then I became a mom.  You know, that moment when you get shoved into the most beautiful world – a place more beautiful than you could ever imagine… and then the door to your prior world gets slammed shut and padlocked behind you 😉

To be exact, I became a trauma surgeon mom.  A mom that can work in a week and a half what most Americans might work in a month.  I work crazy hours, am tired almost every single day, and typically I get only one weekend off a month.  Nope, no pity party here.  I chose it and I love it.  But, as I mentioned in the recent Forbes article, try as I might, I just can’t seem to find more than 24 hours in a day.  So what all this means is that it often requires pretty creative scheduling to keep my sanity.  Occasionally I try to arrange my schedule for a random day off, to take my kid to the zoo.  Or I might delay responding to some emails so I can go work out.

However, when I started this creative scheduling is when the guilt started creeping in… becoming a part of my mental vocabulary.  If I were running, I was thinking about all the work tasks I still needed to accomplish.  If I was at the zoo, I was worried about what my partners would think about my random Monday off.  If I was at work even when I really didn’t need to be, I felt like my family was, yet again, getting the short end of the stick.

The workouts stopped being enjoyable, my zoo time was colored by frequent email checking, and I just couldn’t totally relax and be in the moment, in any moment.  And that, my friends, is when it finally sank in… how my guilt was directly leading to my burnout.  In order to actually relax, restore, and repair myself, I need to be truly present and mindful.  Guilt will not let me be truly present or mindful, and I had to get rid of the guilt.

The moment you start feeling guilty about taking time to regenerate, is the moment that time stops regenerating you.

In fact, I was doubly screwing myself.  On paper, I was taking the time to exercise, or take my son to the zoo, or read a book.  However, I was not practicing mindfulness, or allowing myself to truly be present in those moments, allowing my mind and soul to relax, let go, and restore themselves.  Those thoughts of – well I could be doing this, or maybe I should be doing that – instead of fully focusing on whatever activity I was actually doing was completely counterproductive.

Let me ask you a question.

Have you ever felt guilty about brushing your teeth?

Okay, so why not?  Probably because you feel it is a necessity, something you have to do – to stay healthy and keep people from hating to be around you.  Well, why not try giving your restorative time the same respect?  And although I have heard more than one person tell me that “mom guilt” is a fact of life, an absolute, something to just accept, I am calling bull$hit.  Although feelings in of themselves are not necessarily a choice, we choose how we react to and acknowledge those feelings.  Once you fully understand and acknowledge that restorative time is important, you won’t be able to feel guilty about it.  Unless you feel guilty about the time it takes you to brush your teeth.  If that is the case, I really can’t help you… other than I know some great dentists.

So, my challenge for you today, heading into the weekend.

  1. Give your soul the same respect you do your teeth.
  2. Accept that you need TIME to participate in activities that make you whole.
  3. Give that TIME its deserved respect and value.

Go conquer your guilt and stay safe!

An Ode to the Minivan – “Gin and Juice” Version

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I blame my husband.

We had a lovely still “cool” looking Yukon Denali to which I just had to say “goodbye”.  Why is it my husband’s fault you ask?  He’s 6’6″.  And, well, because we found out last week that a car seat will not absolutely, positively, in any way, shape, or form, fit in a seat behind my husband while he is driving.  This would then relegate my three year old to the third row meaning someone (me) would be required to gracefully (insert eye rolling emoticon here) climb back to the third row every. single. time. to buckle him in and out of said car seat.  Oh and yeah, say goodbye to any cargo space for anything other than an umbrella stroller.

Fast forward to two days ago, when my husband walks into the minivan dealership and loudly proclaims,”This must be what a dog feels like on his way in to get fixed.  You guys got accessories?  I mean, if we are going down, we are going to go down fighting!  Chrome wheels?  No?  How about 22’s?”.

For real, peeps.  This happened.  So, we are now the semi-proud owners of a new Honda minivan.  But in keeping with the chrome 22’s theme, I have set the Ode to my Odyssey to the tune of that ever classic, ever catchy tune, Snoop Dog’s “Gin and Juice”.

Enjoy.

 

Rolling down the street hauling 6 kids sipping on their boxed juice

Laid back

With my mind on my ‘mini and my ‘mini on my mind

 

With so much drama in the S-U-V

It’s kinda hard being a mom to at least 3

But I somehow, some way

Keep climbing into the 3rd row like every single day

May I, find a better something for the kids

And, make it easier for me to breeze through

Grocery shopping and car seat swapping cause my hubby ain’t home

I got too many kids just piling junk on

And they just keep bringing more of it home

So, what you wanna do, sheeit

I got a car full of strollers and my homegirls do too

So get me a van with sliding doors

But (but what) they don’t look cool and so?

So we gonna trade my Yukon for this

Mommy up, get excited, let’s all bounce to this

 

Rolling down the street hauling 6 kids sipping on their boxed juice

Laid back

With my mind on my ‘mini and my ‘mini on my mind

When Doctors Aren’t Safe at Work

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I walked through the double doors of the Trauma ICU just like any other morning.  But that particular morning, instead of being met by my favorite nurse or a fellow resident, I was met by two men wearing balaclavas and carrying assault rifles.

This was the first time I realized that maybe I wasn’t safe at work.  I was a second year surgical resident.  Chicago was in the middle of yet another gang war.  We were treating patients that had been involved in this urban warfare, and “credible threats” had been made not only against those patients, but also against the hospital.  The men in the balaclavas were part of Chicago PD, and they had our entire trauma unit surrounded – to keep us safe.  And for that, I am greatly appreciative to this very day.

But that is when it hit me, why does the supposedly safest place, a place where healing occurs, need assault rifles to keep it and its workers safe?

This morning I am met with yet another story of a doctor being murdered at work.  My heart goes out to his family, his coworkers, and New Orleans.  As a medical community we are again brought together – not to celebrate a stunning breakthrough in the treatment of a disease, or a patient success story – but to mourn.

According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), the vast majority of workplace assaults occur in a healthcare setting.  In response, hospitals are locking doors.  Installing metal detectors.  Hiring security.  And allowing those guarding its doors to carry guns.  Is this the right answer?  I don’t know.  What I do know, is that regardless of political affiliation, regardless of race or socioeconomic status or religious beliefs, we have to come together and at the very least, return our safest places in America, our havens from the outside world – schools, hospitals, and places of worship, back to safety.

If we can’t do that, then will any of us ever truly be safe again?

This mother should be ashamed

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As many of you know, “rough” has not been an adequate enough of an adjective to describe the past week for my hospital and my community.  We have lost people who mean a great deal to all of us.

So, you can imagine my abject disgust when I heard about, and then read, this post from Kevin MD – “5 tips for parenting a future surgeon”.  Feel free to read it, or I will be glad to summarize it here.  This was written by an anonymous mother of a surgeon who states, “Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be surgeons” and then proceeds to list all the horrors of allowing or encouraging your child to become a surgeon.  Let me list them for you here.

Surgeons yell a lot.  Surgeons curse.  Surgeons don’t give out praise.  Surgeons don’t get enough sleep at night.  AND because medical school costs money.

Anonymous mother – you should be downright ashamed of yourself.  And let me clearly, and as plainly as possible, tell you why.

Doctors, and surgeons in particular are a national shortage.  Sure, the world existed before surgeons, and the world would exist without surgeons.  But, I don’t think I’m out on a limb here by saying that we save and improve lives daily.  For example, think of the over quarter of a million people every year who need to have their appendix taken out.  Most people think of appendicitis as a fairly benign or mild disease.  However, without a surgeon, and even with antibiotics, a significant proportion of those patients would suffer and potentially die.  This doesn’t even begin to address the other whole host of diseases that we treat and even help cure – breast cancer, colon cancer, gallbladder problems, heart disease, bowel obstructions, and traumatic injuries.  Fact of the matter is, without surgeons, life expectancy would quickly and expediently drop.  But hey, feel free to go around encouraging people not to go into a profession in which the only goal is to help other people.

Yep, medical school costs money.  And yes, the vast majority of us need loans to pay for the education.  But last time I checked, universities, and community colleges, and trade schools also cost money.  And a lot of people also need loans to pay.  Should no one pursue any sort of education that costs money unless they can pay for it in cash?  That seems just slightly elitist from my perspective.

Hmm – okay.  Well let’s keep going.  So, should no mother allow their child to join the military?  I have a hard time believing that someone could make it through any sort of military training much less SEAL or Ranger training without getting yelled at… or cursed at… or sleep deprived for periods of time.

And lady, you want to know why?!  Because what they do, and what we do, is serious.  And some might even say stressful.  Like, you know, life or death kind of stressful.  Handing out trophies is NOT going to prepare someone for those types of situations.

I am not excusing abusive behavior.  What I would like to ask is what kind of training do you want your surgeon to have?  Being told they are right when they are wrong?  Not learning to perform under some semblance of pressure?  Because let me tell you how that will end up – with you on an operating room table and an incredibly unprepared surgeon looking down at you.  Good luck with you on that… let me know how it turns out for you.

Just for the record, my parents are kinda proud of me.  They think the fact that there are people living today, waking up and going to work, kissing their loved ones goodbye because of me, is pretty cool.  But hey, if you think your child not getting yelled at is more important than that… well, I have heard it “takes all kinds”.

My real advice to you?  Go find a surgeon, and hug them.  Because they chose to go through years and years of rigorous training all to help you.  And although there may not be a real trophy at the end, keeping people alive seems to be reward enough for most of us.

A Surgeon’s Survivor’s Guilt

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My heart tells me I lost them.  My brain tells me I never had them to lose.

One of my mentors has said that all trauma surgeons have their own personal graveyard, filled with patients we couldn’t save, and families’ hearts left broken.  A truer statement has never been said, and this weekend, this trauma surgeon’s graveyard has increased yet again.

The feelings that accompany this increase are always varying and deep.

There is anger.  True wrath.  When the hell are we going to figure this out?  When are we going to stop shooting one another?!  When are we going to learn that drinking and driving can be deadly?!  When are we going to start respecting ourselves, our bodies, and one another?!  When are people going to stop paving a path of destruction for themselves and others that is wide and immeasurable?!

There is sadness.  Sadness over the pain and the fear that my patients surely felt.  Sadness over the waste of life that we witness.  Sadness for the families left behind, in a new world they never anticipated.

And yes, guilt.  Guilt over being able to go home, when our patient couldn’t.  Guilt for leaving the hospital to enjoy my family knowing another family has just been destroyed.

This weekend was a particularly rough one for myself, and the hospital at which I work.  Although to most people around the country, it was just another act of violence, to myself and our community, it was felt deeply.  Every person in our hospital was stung, upset, and shocked.  Everyone knew what happened – I received touches on the arm, knowing hugs, and reassuring smiles.  They knew I did everything humanly possible even when the inhuman was needed, but that knowledge is a poor salve against this type of wound.

So please, if you know someone who works in healthcare – give them a hug, a high five, or even a thank you.  I have said before how we all take you, our patients and communities, home with us at night, but please also know that our lives are never the same either.  Every patient encounter alters us – sometimes subtly, and sometimes drastically.  We are changed, and we never forget.

Stay safe.