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.)

Mid-Life Fantasies (& Stop Signs)

Today, I caught myself in what must be a “mid-life” moment.

It’s hard for me to accept that I’m old enough or pathetic enough to fit this stereotype, but there I was chauffeuring my kids around town, while daydreaming about my neighbor.

The crazy thing is that I’m not particularly attracted to the guy; I’m just bored and forty– wiped out from a decade of mothering and the complacency of a stable, happy marriage (not to mention wide hormonal fluctuations.)

Why is that man holding up a stop sign, Mommy?”

An inquiry from the back seat puts me behind the wheel of the mini-van again. I press on the brake while internally chastising myself for the whole imagined affair.

How did I become so cliché? I can’t be one of those desperate housewives having mid-life fantasies (it’s bad enough that I AM a housewife.) I used to be so cool, so original. I went to college in London, backpacked through Europe, ran a restaurant at twenty. What’s happened?

It’s a rainy day and a Monday at that, so the boys and I have head out early for our “Mommy and Me” dance class downtown. I’d been waiting for years for my youngest to be old enough to enroll in this highlight of the parental week. Stopping for the road crew in West Brattleboro ate up some of the extra time so I didn’t even complain when a utility truck passed us, knocking over a traffic cone, and delaying our passage even further.

The construction worker holding up the sign in question assessed the situation without a moment’s hesitation– jogged across the wet road to the fallen cone, kicked it into the air, and with one fell swoop of his work boot, set it back into place. Just like that!

What style! I thought, as he returned to his post. What self-assuredness! Before he could turn his sign to “Slow,” I was off on another fantasy, hoping that as I drove past, there was actually a decent looking younger man under all that bright yellow gear.

Mommy, why did that man kick the cone in the air?” comes the question from the backseat, derailing another imaginary affair.

Although I truly adore my husband, what I miss most in him is the type of competency and confidence At every turn, I am greeted by his fumbling… buying a used lawnmower that only works once; taken by surprise by meetings, appointments, and events that he writes on little pieces of paper and never looks at again; unable to open the refrigerator and come up with something for dinner– beyond ordering pizza.

I know that I should be perfectly pleased with a man who loves me and who helps with the kids and the home, but I still want the cool, smooth stuff. Is that too much to ask– at my age?

When I really think about it, I used to see my husband like that, only he wasn’t a husband or father then, he was just a guy, like the cone kicker.

I can picture him the morning he arrived at the staff orientation, almost eighteen years ago, and smiled at me, his new boss, across the span of a banquet table filled with new waiters and waitresses.

How he, just shy of twenty, carefully balanced confidence with humility, charm with sincerity, flirtation with tenderness– and thus was the first, in a long line of hopefuls, who knew how to take on my fierce independence– allowing the little girl inside to soak up his love and attention.

Only last night, with a child wedged between us, my cool guy brushed his clunky foot against my shin in a romantic goodnight gesture gone awry– scratching my knee with his jagged toe nail in the process.

Yuck!” I thought. “Disgusting!” and as I turned away to drift off to sleep, I knew it was definitely over.  In one fell swoop of neglected hygiene, I wanted to wash my hands of him forever.

In the morning, when I awoke to a fresh cup of mint tea and his goodbye kiss, I was a bit more rational. I remembered our days in the restaurant, how he carried a tray full of drinks with ease, and how he handled all of his customers (and now me and the kids) with such kindness and flair.

I think I’ll try plugging him into my fantasies today.

(Want to read more honest writing on the topic of marriage? Head to the Marriage Journey, my new blog that travels  from “I do” to “ever after.” )

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