The people who arrive at my blog get here sometimes via Google searches. (In WordPress, you can find this out by looking at your dashboard statistics. You can also set up Google analytics, which I do not know how to do, but I suspect that would also show you how people get to your blog.) Sometimes I laugh at the sometimes racy search terms that lead people here. But other times, I feel bad that they weren’t able to find what they were looking for. Sometimes, the questions seem… frantic… anxious… even sad.
Recently, I’ve gotten a few searches that I’d like to address today, namely:
“Top 10 things a doctor’s wife should know” and “How to be the perfect doctor’s wife”
Now, I’ve been a wife for just over a year. And my husband has been a doctor for just over six months. So I am in no way an expert on wifehood or marriage to a physician. But I’ve gleaned some idea of what it takes. I know what I wish I’d known, going into it. If you have your own thoughts – about what makes a marriage work, about life with a doctor – please leave them in the comments.
Here are the top 10 things I think you need in order to be happily married to a physician.
1. You will need to be supportive. A lot. Of things you may not necessarily agree with. Of all the endless hours your spouse spends at the hospital. Of the hours s/he spends playing Rock Band in order to unwind. Of the time s/he needs to be alone – even if it’s the only time you two have together. Of the years of training s/he’s put into this career. Of the hard decisions s/he needs to make. Of the frustration s/he feels for nurses/patients/patients’ families/other doctors.
2. You will need to be flexible. Dinner plans Thursday night? Doesn’t matter if your spouse isn’t on call that night. Doesn’t matter if s/he got out at 4:30 pm every single day for the past six months. This could be the night that your dinner plans are ruined by a last-minute admission or a super-complicated patient or an ill-timed page. Or, perhaps, by your darling spouse falling asleep on the couch five minutes after arriving home.
Want to make your summer vacation arrangements? Can’t do it until the hospital has made up its schedule. Which it will do on its own sweet time.
Need to do a thorough spring cleaning on Saturday? It’s possible that your spouse will be too tired. Or tied up at the hospital. Or stuck in the office doing dictations.
Take some yoga classes, my dear. Because you’ll have to be more flexible and “go with the flow” than you ever thought possible.
3. You will need to build up a defense against loneliness. How many times do I say this on this site? Being the wife of a physician is lonely. Defending against the solitude is 100% critical to surviving your spouse’s career. Get a hobby. Find some friends. Take up running. Go visit your college friends on the weekends. Enroll in a pottery class. Anything and everything to get you out of the house and help you depend a little less on your spouse.
4. You will need to be patient. Patient when your spouse is tied up at the hospital. Patient when an actual patient or a nurse or a fellow doc calls during dinner and Needs to Talk to Your Spouse This Second. Patient when you attend physician functions – and all they talk about is hospital policy and That Guy with the Weird Bumps on His Arse. Patient when your spouse keeps falling asleep in the middle of your conversation. Patient when you have to do the dishes – again – while your spouse catches up on dictations. Patient when you have launder and fold yet another load of scrubs.
5. You will need to develop an iron stomach. Patients and/or nurses WILL call during dinner. They WILL talk about urine/feces/vomit/pus/oozing sores. And your spouse WILL say horrible things like, “What color was the stool?” and “Does she still have blood in her vomit?” In front of you. While you are trying to eat.
Your spouse will probably get pooped/vomited/bled on. And you may have to launder the soiled clothing.
Those physician functions you attend? You will probably have to endure long conversations about the grossest thing that the doctors ever had to endure.
6. You will need to listen. When my husband had to first deal with the death of a patient, I could tell he was upset. He doesn’t get emotional about things very often. And he didn’t get emotional about this. But he kept talking about it. He kept talking about the patient’s family. About how he’d handled things. My heart broke for him. I tried to reassure him that he did everything right. That he was a comfort to the family. But once I said that, I just had to close my mouth and listen.
Sometimes he has frustrating experiences. With patients or other physicians. In these cases, I often want to “discuss” these things with him. Explain how I would have handled it… Or try to get him to see it from the other person’s perspective. But I try really hard to subdue this desire to “help” or to analyze or dissect. He just needs to talk, to get it out, to have me listen to him and (remember Rule #1?) support him.
7. You will have to be discreet. It’s against HIPAA regulations for your spouse to tell you identifying details about a patient. But your spouse will want to discuss patients with you – even if you only get the broad strokes. Plus, you may hear something via phone, or catch a glimpse of something in an e-mail or what have you that could identify the patient. So just keep your mouth shut. It’s a privilege that your spouse is sharing his/her work life with you. Don’t put his/her career and trust in jeopardy by repeating info.
[By the way – I do occasionally write about experiences my husband has had at work. But I always disguise whatever limited information I have about the patient or event. To protect the innocent.]
8. You will have to share your husband. I would love to think that I come first in my husband’s list of priorities. In an emergency, this will always be true. But at all other times, the job comes first. It makes sense, in some respects. He has worked his fingers to the bone to get into medical school, get through medical school, get into and through residency, get into and through fellowship, find a hospital or a private practice… He will have to spend the rest of his life researching and studying and learning… He’s got to love this career with every fiber of his being. And that love means that his career will come first, more often than not.
It’s okay, though. If he didn’t have this thing in his life, this passion, this intense interest in medicine that drives him and pushes him and lights his eyes… he wouldn’t be the man I fell in love with, the man I love more every day.
So you must know that you will have to share him. With patients. With other doctors. With nurses. With the hospital itself. With dictations and noisy pagers and crazy call schedules.
9. You cannot be “perfect.” That’s an impossible standard to reach. Sometimes you will get angry. Sometimes you will cry. Sometimes you will be unbearably lonely.
Sometimes people will look at you and judge you. Sometimes you will look at yourself and feel like a failure. Sometimes you will think you are making too a big deal out of this whole “marriage to a doctor” thing. Sometimes you will wonder if it’s worth it.
But sometimes your heart will swell up with this intense pride for your spouse. For the hard work s/he puts in. For the long hours. For his/her seemingly tireless devotion. For the commendations from his/her colleagues and superiors. For the kind words from his/her patients. Sometimes you will find yourself looking not at the person you thought you married, but at a person who is ten times as kind, generous, brilliant, and hardworking as you could ever imagine. Sometimes you will look in the mirror and realize that you are not only the luckiest wife in the world, but you are a good wife, too.
Marriage to me utterly fails to live up to the standards set by Hollywood. It doesn’t even fit the hilariously “ordinary” stereotypes you can find on sitcoms like Everybody Loves Raymond or Roseanne. There’s no happy ending. This is your life, every day, with daily triumphs and struggles, frustrations and joys.
10. You will have to love your spouse. Harder and more powerfully and with more effort than ever before.
Marriage – maybe to anyone, not just a physician – seems like walking through a winter storm. Sometimes, the wind picks up and all you know is cold and pain. Sometimes the snow falls faster, and you can’t see your hand in front of your face let alone the path before you. Other times, the wind calms, and you can sit back and appreciate the pristine beauty of the snow.