I was up at the crack of dawn this morning (what else is new?) but this time to take my dad to a specialist appointment. We are the first ones here, even before the receptionist!
Since I have taken over this role of being present at most of my parents’ various specialist appointments, I have come to enjoy watching another physician do a physical examination. It’s a great refresher for me, especially the neurological exam. This was my nemesis in medical school. It is probably the most complex sequence of tests and observations I have ever had to learn and I still feel like I never mastered it.
Today I witnessed a skilled clinical fellow perform a thorough neurological examination on my dad.
I knew everything she was doing and why. There were tests I had forgotten about, ones that are very specific and others more general. At the end of the 3 hour appointment, we had some answers and now a few hours later, I have nothing but questions.
I need time to process. I know the road ahead of us. I’ve seen patients and their families go through it. It’s not what I wanted for my parents, least of all my father.
But this is life. It is hard. It is ugly. It is rewarding. It is love.
Being a doctor who is also a daughter has its privileges. I can navigate the system on behalf of my parents. I can advocate on their behalf and ask for tests and referrals. I can attend appointments and understand what is being discussed. I can find out results before they do.
It is fraught with disadvantage as well. With their permission, I am privy to tests results before they are. I understand what their diagnoses mean and if I don’t, I know trusted resources to educate myself. I understand in general terms what “illness trajectory” means. Specifically, I have seen what illness trajectories look like. I also know what the end may look like.
I am the one my family looks to for advice and comfort. I have to be strong and composed. I can’t let them see that I’m worried.
Last night I took my elderly father to his MRI appointment at a downtown hospital. As the machines in my city run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week it wasn’t surprising to me that his appointment was for 10pm. Both my parents can drive but neither my brother, nor myself or my husband wanted them driving that late at night, so I decided to take him myself.
Walking through the hospital hallways at night reminded me what I loved most about my medical school and residency training. The quiet and tranquil feeling of walking down a hospital corridor at night. No matter what kind of day I had, or night for that matter, being allowed to roam the quiet hallways at night was always comforting for me. It didn’t matter if I had just lost a patient or was heading to the ER for yet another consult, walking those quiet hallways was like therapy. I honestly felt right at home. The lights are dimmed. Patient care areas are quiet except for the occasional sounds of IV machines beeping. Cleaners are buffing the floors. I might see another resident walking in the opposite direction, sometimes a family member from the ER who had gotten lost and asked for directions back to the unit. It was a privilege to be one of the club.
For a few minutes last night, I yearned to be back in that club again.