A few weeks ago, I started writing about the select few things in this world that I seem to have a natural ability for. Neither of the first two skills (described here and here) ended up being something that was of any particular use for gainful employment or impacting the world in a positive manner. Luckily, one of them fits the bill perfectly.
For whatever reason, I am a natural with children. I love being around them, talking to them and working with them. I am pretty sure I get this trait from my dad. For the longest time, he was the most memorable of the uncles to all of our cousins, mainly because he was quick to get down on the floor and interact with them, including making a rather amazing frog noise.
At a given social function, I am more likely to interact with the kids than adults. Once I spent an entire party chasing after and tending to Hannah while she ran around and kept walking up and down the stairs. I think people felt bad for me because they thought I was “stuck” with an energetic child and wasn’t getting to enjoy the party, but I loved it because it was easier (and more fun) than making small talk with any of the adults.
I repeated this performance a few years ago at a neighborhood holiday party. As we arrived, we found out that the hosts’ babysitter had become sick at the last minute and they could not get a replacement. I must have spent a good 45 minutes cradling the baby and rocking back and forth and she was mostly quiet and slept in my arms. (Babies almost always fall asleep when I hold them.)(Except for my own.) And I loved every minute of it.
You might expect that a pediatrician would be comfortable with kids because they have spent years in training learning how to do it. And in some cases you might be right. But for me, I became a pediatrician because I was at baseline so comfortable with kids. It was a natural extension of my life and my personality, that I really can’t imagine doing anything else.
Ironically, I didn’t grow up wanting to be a pediatrician or even a doctor. I specifically remember thinking as a kid that I didn’t want to be a doctor because that was too much time in school. I thought maybe I would be an architect or something in the sciences. As high school went on I fell in love with Physics. Something about figuring out what angle to tilt the cannon so that you could shoot the cannonball over the wall was so fascinating to me that I decided that what I really wanted to do was be a physicist and work for NASA. (I really wanted to be an astronaut, but I thought I wouldn’t be eligible because of my need of corrective lenses.) Of course, smarter people than myself kept telling me that if that was what I loved about physics, I was probably more of an engineer than a physicist. To which my thoughtful and measured response was “Pfffffffffft!” I knew myself and I knew what I was doing.
So I set out as a Physics major at Purdue…. and made it about 6 months before I realized that they expected you to be able to derive your own formulas and think a whole lot more theoretically than my mind is capable of. What sealed the deal was when my classmates thought it would be fun to get together and describe the rules of physics for the cartoon world. It was at that moment, that I realized I was not in the right place. Of more importance was that I realized very quickly that I would probably end up getting stuck working in some basement lab in front of a computer all day long, not interacting with people. And while I exhibit major introvert tendencies, I still needed to be working with people.
So I spent some time thinking about where to go next. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to graduate on time. I also had become good friends with a group of guys, 2 of whom were majoring in Biology. It seemed like they were really enjoying themselves. I had a whole year of Biology credit that I had earned from AP Biology in high school so I wouldn’t be behind. That was a start, although it wasn’t going to be all that helpful if I still didn’t have an idea as to what my end point was.
I kept thinking about what I liked and what made me the happiest. I liked science. I liked solving puzzles. I like being around children. What if I could somehow combine all three? Wait a minute, being a doctor uses science and kind of solves puzzles. What if I became a pediatrician?! Eureka! A life plan was born.
And while it sounds like I came upon my career choice somewhat haphazardly, once it clicked into place it felt like something that I had always wanted to do with my life. A theme that had been traveling right along with me through my whole life, only it was floating in the background, just out of sight, waiting for the exact right time to present itself. But once it did, I latched on to it fervently and didn’t let anything stop me. Not getting the lowest score in a class of 100+ students on my first biology test. Not being subjected to a ridiculously confrontational follow-up interview for medical school where I was told that “You don’t come back after failing out of medical school!” Not being rejected the first time from medical school. The one thing that kept me going through all of the ups and downs of applying to and getting through medical school was knowing that I was born to be a pediatrician. For something that came on like a whim, I certainly did not treat it as such.
Even now, being a pediatrician is just as exciting as my first day of residency. I still love talking directly to the children and trying to impress them with my knowledge of Disney princesses, characters from Cars and other Saturday morning fare. I have to resist the urge to carry around other people’s babies in the newborn nursery and kiss them on the forehead. I look forward to the patients who want nothing more than to hide under the exam table and then sneak attack my legs while I talk to his parents.
One of the biggest reasons people say that they could never do what I do is because they could not deal with seeing sick and dying children. And while I don’t dispute that being one of the toughest parts of the job, I will say that I never have seen it that way. As I have mentioned before, for better or worse, I have been able to wall off that part of me and not let it get to me. Part of it has been that I find the good in each situation and try to be a source of comfort and hope for the parents and the child. If a child is going to suffer, or pass away, then at the very least I can make sure that it happens in a way that is as dignified and humane as possible. Luckily, the downsides are few and far between, especially as I get further away from residency and being in critical care areas of the hospital.
I have been very fortunate to have been able to not only figure out what few things in this world I am good at, but I have been also able to figure out how to make this into my career and have it benefit others. And while some days I still dream about what life would have been like as a professional bowler (I fear I would have been more Roy Munson than Ernie McCrackin) or catcher for the Chicago Cubs, I can’t imagine it being any better than life as a pediatrician. Maybe no one will write a television series about us, but at a party we are definitely the ones having the most fun. Especially if there is a bounce house and balloons involved.