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You see, my husband is pretty set on spending most of his waking hours, for the rest of his life, in The Saddest Place on Earth…otherwise known as the children’s cancer ward.
Now, physicians could probably argue all day long about who has the more difficult specialty, or the more physically exhausting specialty, much like New Yorkers debate the details of Manhattan apartment listings. But I feel confident in saying that life as a pediatric hematologist/oncologist is not always going to be sunshine and rainbows, simply because…LITTLE KIDS. TERRIBLE DISEASES. Am I not-so-secretly proud of my husband for this specialty? Well, yes! Bursting with pride. But I also have really serious reservations about it (please, please, husband, don’t get seriously depressed), and these reservations were the focus of our discussion.
My husband, in the past, has argued, in something of a throwaway manner, that pediatric oncology is “happier” than adult oncology because the survival rates in peds are higher. He has also said that he switched from pathology to oncology because he genuinely enjoys patient interaction much more than he thought he would. But last night he confessed that he’s not as motivated by altruism and a need to “save all the children”. He likes problem-solving, nuance, and complexity. His motivations are, essentially, much more cerebral than emotional. (If it helps paint a more complete picture, my husband is an MD/PhD, and he completed his doctoral degree in genetics research. At this point he’s even more of a scientist than a doctor.)
I wasn’t taken aback by this. In fact, I drew a parallel between his words and my own experience. As a high school English teacher, I too must confess that I am drawn to teaching more out of a love for the subject rather than pure altruism. And the moral pedestal that teachers are placed on by the public (well, this doesn’t always happen but often) can feel oppressive, as though I’m faking it when somebody compliments me for my contributions to society. Am I making contributions? Well, sure, I hope so. I love my students and love the connections and relationships I’ve built with them. But if we’re being honest, I really just love talking about books. In education, it’s about the kids…but it’s also about the teacher.
So I wonder if my husband will encounter a similar tension between the inherent altruism of the medical profession and his obsession with science. And I have to wonder how The Saddest Place on Earth will augment or ease that tension.
What about you? What are your thoughts on altruism? How motivated is your doctor spouse by it?
Photo from www.savagechickens.com, which is hilarious and always helps in times of sadness.