It’s another cold, windy, winter day here in the Great Lakes state. From my kitchen table I can see the snow drifts pile up against an old oak tree. There’s a baby swing still hanging from the lowest branch. PalKid hasn’t been able to sit in it for years, but for some reason, I’ve never bothered to take it down.
Yesterday around five a.m., a small voice woke me up.
“Daddy, I can’t sleep.”
“Come on in bed next to me and you can stay here, just be quiet, honey.”
A few minutes later: “Daddy, I don’t feel good. I have a headache. Can I have a cold cloth?”
Mrs. Pal called me at work later to tell me PalKid had a fever of about 102 and was feeling miserable. I ran into a colleague today at the hospital and he told me, “You’re only as happy as your least happy kid,” and that seems about right. Last night was rough, and that cute little voice got me up at four this morning. She was feeling miserable, and after getting some tylenol in her, she asked for a cool bath. A few hours later, I was on my way to the hospital, not for her thankfully, but to see patients.
My new practice uses a hospitalist service, so I’m not the one taking care of my patients in the hospital anymore, but I still like to check on them once in a while when time permits. The new practice is very, very busy, which is great, but there really isn’t time to round regularly. I did manage to visit a couple of folks today (and missed a few also…sorry). I got a big hug from one patient, and nearly cried. I was happy to see he was recovering nicely after a big scare.
Someone asked me this week how I deal with giving bad news, with maintaining a clinical distance. I have no idea. Much has been written about this, but there is no right way to deal with these boundaries. Being a physician is a privilege, and a strange one. It’s a bit like being a writer, inhabiting lives that aren’t yours, being privy to the private dialog of others, to their happiness and tragedy. Sometimes it hurts. Sometimes it is ecstasy. Rarely is it simple.
But for today, at least, I’m mostly a daddy taking care of a sick kid, bringing her ginger ale in bed, enjoying a smile meant just for me.