The profound influence of a physician’s mother

It is a busy time of year. I made my rounds to collect my skis after tuning, to pick up items for our Christmas guests, to get my haircut and to claim my new eyeglasses. I drove to my golf course and took a half-hour walk on snow-covered paths with my dog. Dropped him at the groomers, then made stops for last minute food shopping. While my wife took on the masses at a megastore, I sat in the parking lot and opened my email. An essay on KevinMD for December 21, 2019 caught my eye.

“Your home life is what you make it. Don’t let your specialty control you,” by Cory Fawcett MD appeared on my mobile device, two years to the date of my mother’s passing. What Dr. Fawcett opined mirrored my own approach to my career in medicine. As a practicing ophthalmologist in a mid-sized urban area, I located my home near my practice to avoid the long commute I had endured during my residency. I attended my daughters’ athletic and scholastic events after seeing my post-op patients on Wednesdays. I rotated call with my peers so that I could enjoy weekends with my family skiing, hiking or just hanging out. I coached my youngest daughter’s junior high basketball team. I was the son of a workaholic father, but I chose to control my professional demands, rather than letting them control me.

Perhaps it was simply a matter of the editorial staff selecting the date to publish Dr. Fawcett’s piece, but I considered it fate. My home life growing up in suburban Michigan was enriched by my mother’s dedication to all of us. We were able to achieve our goals through her sacrifices and attention to all of us kids. A product of a large, farming family with a strong work ethic, Mom made other lives better. She even started the family car to warm it for my father in the winters before he went to work! Her kindness was given to everyone she knew. She set a fine example for me to listen to what others have to say, to empathize with others who may not be as fortunate as I was. While both parents encouraged academic excellence, it was my mother who gave me the skills to address the emotions of others, helping me develop a bedside manner that served me well in practice. I attended her as a son and doctor in her last days. At the time, I recall hearing Christmas tunes throughout the day and most of the night around my hotel. These were supposed to be songs of joy, but at the conclusion of my mother’s life, they brought a feeling of sadness. I prayed for her to leave this life without pain or anguish. And so it was.

It is nearly a year since concluding my responsibilities in medical practice. I selected January 10, 2019 to retire, coinciding with my mother’s birthday.

Looking back on that period of my life, following a 40-year career in medicine, I felt the profound influence my mother had had on my personality. Making lives better was her mission in life, and I made it my own. My memoir, Making Lives Better: How Mentors and Patients Inspired a Doctor’s Work, is completed. She would be proud.

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