Confessions of a Doctor’s Daughter

medical photoWhen I was a kid, even a broken bone didn’t  warrant my physician father’s attention. And bleeding gashes requiring stitches were simply attended to in the kitchen.  All other complaints (obviously not requiring surgery) were highly suspect– with reponses like “hypochondriac” or “psychosomatic” or “let’s cut it off.”

Thus, it wasn’t until my late thirties that I learned to attend to my own needs for rest or comfort when injured or feeling ill.  It was my husband who taught me.  Actually, he did it for me.  Poor guy.  He’s the compassionate, sensitive type who should have never married a cold doctor’s daughter.

Because I just roll my eyes when he’s in pain. Like yesterday.  When the stump of a tree that he was cutting down kicked him in the shin, and he came hobbling into the house. His face contorted in a dramatic show of distress and all I could do was sigh–just as dramatically.

What now?” I ask, perturbed.

(Casey cannot use the chainsaw without crisis. Usually, it ends up stuck in a tree or broken.  Once it “scratched” up his chest.   And now this.   He’s limping.  Just days before we leave for a weekend marriage retreat at a “yoga” center.)

You’ve got to be kidding me,”  I say– or at least I think this loud enough that my disapproval is audible.  “Have you elevated it?” “Iced it?”  “Are you taking Arnica?”

This is the extent of my consideration.  And it doesn’t really count because the whole time I’m oozing “inconvenienced.” We were in the middle of a kitchen pantry renovation which will now be left to me.  And there are 3 extra boys in the house who I’ll now have to supervise, alone.  There are also chores to attend to before we leave later this week and those are now mine as well.

(That is, “if” we leave.  He’s worried that it’s broken.)

Despite the fact that we have treated 99% of our  family medical needs through alternative care under the guidance of our Naturopath (including conception, labor and birth), my husband’s knee jerk reaction, to any health needs of his own, is to seek pharmaceuticals or go to the Emergency Room.

Doctor’s daughters don’t go to the Emergency Room. I try to talk him out of it.  “I doubt you have any kind of break,” I tell him.  Even though that’s exactly what my physician father told me– on two different occasions (at age 4 and 10)–and he was wrong.  He also missed a college case of Mono.

But I’m better than my surgeon father at assessing loved ones.  I’ve never made a wrong call.  Like the time I refused to drive my husband to the ER in the middle of the night when he was hallucinating from fever. I used cold compresses and homeopathics and his temperature dropped in no time without those bright lights and hours wasted in the waiting room of the nearest hospital, 20 minutes away–where they would have been inclined to do a spinal tap to rule out Meningitis.

I’ve refused the ER on at least two other occasions too, and he’s always survived.  This morning I distract him with a healing meditation that invites him to “let go” and “trust” that his body knows what to do.  Three hours later, he’s asking for the ER again.  “What about the meditation?” I say, annoyed with his flimsy faith.

He contorts his face in a demonstrative display of pain and worry,  “I just want to make sure I’m not doing it any harm,” he says, hoping I’ll understand.  But I’m just disgusted–with his childishness and my lack of compassion.   I suggest the chiropractor.

Late at night when he’s sleeping beside me, my doctor daughter’s shield comes down.   I realize that I’m not so heartless after all.   I’m afraid.  My husband’s vunerability threatens my world.  It means he’s mortal and I don’t want to think about that.   I imagine how scary it must have been for him to have a tree hit his leg and I think about what else could have happen.  (I know he has too.)

I want to roll over and place my hands on his shin and tell him I’m sorry for his pain.  But I don’t.  He needs his sleep.  Instead, I  dream of Mountain Lions stalking my family, and I wake to noisy boys again.

24 hours later, we compromise. I let him call my father to check in.   He catches my step mom during office hours.  She’s a nurse, and she tells him the same thing.  “It’s probably not broken.”

Next we try the chiropractor, but she doesn’t have any appointments.  Finally he gets in at the Naturopathic Physician’s office.  He’ll go to the ER if she suggests it.  I offer a half smile.  A truce.  More amused than annoyed with his attachment to attention.  And I stay home.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about myself and greater compassion, it’s this:   When I take care of myself–without the kind of judgment that was dished out in my childhood (like I’ve dished out to my husband)–then I have a lot more to give.  A few hours alone without a handful of boys should make all the difference.  Hopefully, they’ll come home with good news.  I’ll have a warm bath with Epsom salts ready and waiting–and a greater measure of kindness.

Kelly Salasin

(To read Part II of my husband’s hurt leg saga, click here.

To read more about my life growing up with physicians, click here.)


Kelly Salasin

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Look at Kelly Ann’s eyes, aren’t they beautiful!” my father exclaimed after the nap I didn’t want to take.  “Show your mommy. Show your grandfather,” he continued, working the whole nap thing on my tender psyche.

I was confused and pleased and annoyed all at the same time, but 40 years later, I still look in the mirror to check my eyes after a nap.  Are they beautiful?

Funny how little ones resist naps while elders long for them.  After my father’s early brainwashing, I became an expert napper.  In my early twenties, I could sleep anywhere: on a ferry crossing the English Channel, in a train car seated next to strangers, on the lap of any man across the stick shift of my car.

When I was student teaching, I stole naps during recess on the milk-stained circle rug; and after I had a classroom of my own, I took covert naps under my desk on my period off while a colleague taught another group of kids in the same room.

Though the ease at which I sleep has since been robbed by Motherhood, I still enjoy napping.  Come early afternoon, I can drop on my bed and crash for 10– changing my whole life perspective in the process.

When the kids were little, I was a nap junkie.  I couldn’t wait till the next fix, but I never used the whole, “Aren’t her eyes pretty,” scam on them–but maybe that’s because I had two boys—and their eyes were always pretty.

To be fair to my father (which I rarely am), there is something precious about a young child after a nap.  It’s there in the eyes, but it’s more than that– it’s their whole soft, dewy being, as if they’ve been reborn.

My husband and I used to fight over who would be the one to dash to the crib when we’d hear the first sounds of a baby waking.  “It’s my turn.  You did it yesterday,”  we’d argue, shoving each other on our way up the stairs.

Sleep’s a funny thing, isn’t it? I mean people talk about it all the time—how much they need or how little they need, how much they get or didn’t get.  That artist SARK has whole books and calenders and probably even workshops on napping–and my husband’s sister did her graduate work in sleep studies.

As a surgeon, my father was equally preoccupied with his sleep, given how often he was deprived of it by middle of the night emergency calls.  Maybe that’s why he was so obsessed with our sleep.  “Kelly Ann, get to bed,”  was appropriate at age 9 and maybe even 15, but at 18, it was absurd.

I thus  blame my sleep obsession on my father.   Each night before I doze off, I check the clock to calculate how many hours I’ll get—and once I wake, I adjust that time for any middle of the night wakings: my husband’s trips to the bathroom, my teenage son’s heavy feet or my own mid-life hormonal fluctuations.

Ironically, my father now makes fun of me because I go to bed so early. He intentionally phones me really late at night and then leaves messages like, “Kelly Ann, don’t tell me you’re in bed alreadyIt’s only eleven o’clock.”  (To be honest, I’m actually in bed long before 11.)

Since he remarried, my father lives on the edge, living it up to the wee hours of the morning and bragging how he can get by with such little sleep.  He doesn’t eat breakfast now either, and he never notices my pretty eyes.  But I do, and a good night sleep or an afternoon nap are my best friends!

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