My dad is retiring this week from his long career as an ER doctor, and so i’d like to take a moment to reflect on what it was like growing up with a doctor for a dad. I still think it sounds pretty awesome, and in reality it was even better than that.
I’ve always been pretty healthy and not prone to terrible accidents, so the obvious benefit of having someone at home who could take care of me physically was something i only had to take advantage of for minor incidents. Whether i had an earache or a stomach bug, though, dad always had something for it in our vast medicine cabinet at home. Chances were that the mysterious remedy in its brown or orange bottle was older than i was, but my dad reassured me that its effectiveness was not hindered by its age. For example, there was one time when i was waking up in the mornings with gunky eyelids that i couldn’t open, and so dad flipped them inside-out for me and applied something that magically had the problem cleared up within a day or two. Dad also had some nifty doctor gadgets at home, like the big gray magnifying goggle things he would put on when he pulled splinters out of my fingers for me, and heavy-duty tweezers that also proved effective for extracting my tiny earring when it started sinking into my freshly-pierced earlobe when i was eight years old. He was handy with ordinary household items, too, and once had to vacuum little wads of kleenex out of my nose with a turkey baster after i lodged them up out of reach in a vain attempt to assuage my own head cold.
Sometimes i probably caused my dad undue alarm by informing him of some ill i was experiencing long before i felt it was serious enough to actually go to a hospital for; like the time i emailed and called to leave a voicemail for Dad from Rome while i was studying abroad to inform him that i was experiencing some sort of horrible throbbing stomach pain. Later that evening i received a call from my grandmother, whom my dad had contacted and asked to make the international call to check on me (and this was probably the second time in my life that she has ever called me, by the way, so i was quite surprised to hear her voice on the other end of the line). I told her that the problem had finally gone away; probably just gas or something. She sternly told me, “well, don’t do that again. Your dad was worried sick about you,” and promptly got off the line.
My doctor dad taught me some important medical things while i was growing up, like the time i dropped a little toy ballerina into the toilet and he had me fish it out, explaining that “urine—which is what doctors call pee—is sterile, which means it won’t make you sick to touch it.” Or the morning of his wedding to Mary when i was hung over from a night on the town in Portland with my brother Dustin and nauseous as hell, when he informed me that there’s a drug that quickly and effectively relieves nausea for patients of chemotherapy and, biting his lip, got me a one-dose prescription for it from the hospital pharmacy. He was right; it worked.
Having a dad who’s a doctor has always been a source of pride for me. I remember in fourth or fifth grade my class was studying the nervous system and Dad came in with his doctor’s models of a brain and an eyeball and taught us about the brain for a day. I thought it was so fun that all my friends had to listen to my dad because he was the expert. It became especially cool when the TV show ER rose to popularity in the mid-nineties, and everyone thought they knew exactly what i was talking about when i told them “my dad is an ER doctor” (and, actually, so did i).
I think Dad wasn’t really allowed to talk about work at the dinner table, so i didn’t hear a lot of gruesome stories from him. Every once in a while when he took me and Dustin out, though, we’d hear some work stories about people coming into the ER who had been struck by lightning or had somehow had their toes severed. I remember hearing one story in particular about a man whose finger had been bitten almost clean off by a woman at a bar when the man had drunkenly grabbed the woman’s face, and i was amazed to think that such a thing was even physically possible.
When it came time for me to choose a career path for myself and head into college, i had no desire to follow in my father’s footsteps, enamored as i was at the time with the arts. I have a much greater appreciation now for the sciences, and my admiration for my dad has only grown with time; understanding as i do now how hard he worked to get where he is now, and the kind of dedication, perseverance and intelligence it takes to get there. Still, i don’t have a strong enough stomach to ever do what he has done, and i’m a little ashamed to say that last time i had my eyelid flipped i very nearly passed out.
I may never have a doctorate like my dad does, and i’ll never quite know what it was like to walk in his shoes, but it’s still an honor for me to be directly descended from that kind of human being. My father has saved lives. That’s something that not a lot of people can say. Dad, i hope you enjoy a long and very happy retirement, because you most definitely deserve it. I’m extremely proud of you, always have been, and always will be.