Sunday, February 12, 2012
Doctor Versus Daddy
Even before Elise came early to bless our lives, Jess' pregnancy proved to be hard for me in terms of separating my role as husband from doctor. Jess would always have questions-- is her swelling normal, description of different pain should we have, etc. I would try to answer what I could, and sometimes have to reinforce that my OBGYN rotation in medical school was several years ago, and that I just didn't know the answers. As Jess's pregnancy began having complications, the questions became much more frequent, and my inability to have the answers also became more frequent. "Are these blood pressures OK?" "What does it mean that the protein in my urine increased so quickly?" "How long before I will have to deliver?" "Will our Little Lady be OK?". I felt powerless, both as a physician and as a husband. The person who is supposed to have the answers and know how to guide his patient/wife is unable to do so...
Following Jess's transfer to St. Vincent Women's Hospital for her high risk pregnancy, and what appeared to be a time of relative stability: protein in urine seemed to be leveling off, blood pressures were regulating, and Jess was "tucked-in" for a nice long stay to cook up Baby Olsen, I felt that returning to my hospital work at Schneck would benefit me the most-- help relieve my partners who I know are pulling double duty during this period, help take my mind off the moment-to-moment issues surrounding this high-risk pregnancy, and also try to get some quality rest and chores accomplished at home.
My return to work was extremely challenging. I am very lucky to be surrounded by so many people who wanted nothing more to be supportive and who were genuinely interested in how Jess and I were doing. As a professional, you want to be able to separate what is happening to you personally as you try to treat those who have similar calamities and personal tragedies occurring, however, this feat became harder and harder after I would be approached by nearly everyone in Schneck asking "How is Jess doing?" Each time, I would start to picture my wife, there without me at an unfamiliar hospital, teetering on the brink of possibly having to deliver a very premature baby. I became overwhelmed, and I began closing off to the people around me. I remember telling people "She's fine for now-- but I'm trying to not to talk about it." I felt awful... People who wanted to be nothing more than supportive were being brushed aside because I couldn't focus, and I couldn't not picture the worst possible situation every time I was asked.
As I rushed up to St. Vincent's when Jess had called me with the ominous finding of "reversal of umbilical cord flow," my brain was flooding me with images of the struggles and awfulness that may be in store for us with the imminent delivery of a 25+5 week baby. The ventilator, the frequent blood sticks, the blood pressure issues, the nutrition issues, NEC, chronic lung disease, intraventricular hemorrhages, devastating neurologic injury, etc. etc. etc. I was haunted and emotionally overcome, and I soon found solace in a friend of mine from residency training who was able to talk me through this barrage of images and start me on the path of becoming a dad in this situation... not a doctor.
The struggle of doctor versus daddy is still ongoing. It has been immensely helpful to receive Facebook messages, emails, and texts from others who have gone through very similar circumstances. It was also helpful to hear such things as "let the NICU doctors worry about the daily ups and downs-- the blood gases, the laboratories, the ventilator settings, etc"-- my only worry needed to be learning the role of supportive and loving father that I needed to be to my daughter. My daughter-- it is still so foreign and just strange to say those words and picture that tiny little baby in her isolette and understand that will be someone who will provide me with years of worries, years of ups and downs, years of joy, and years of love-- but I am getting there... and I know that she will too... I am her daddy!