How All Four Seasons are Important for a Doctor

June 7, 2016

The seasons take on a different meaning for a doctor. There are the literal seasons and the metaphorical seasons of life.

Summer has arrived in Wisconsin and it is my favorite time of the year. I love to dig in the dirt, watch plants blossom and grow, and feel the sunshine on my face. The days last longer and the pace is less hurried. Evenings are planned around the fire pit and s’mores. Of course, I know that I will be ready to welcome fall in three months - just around the time I have become completely sick of weeding and cannot eat anymore tomatoes or zucchini from the garden.

Seasons are important for many reasons - they allow periods of growth and rest, they add a predictability that is both comforting and reassuring, and each season brings its own joys and downsides. While the turn of seasons in nature is hard to ignore - no matter how much you want to, you won’t be sunbathing in December or ice-skating in July - physicians can be exceptional at ignoring the seasons of life.

Not surprisingly, I enjoy the season of a patient’s birth. It is a privilege to welcome them into the world and place the first pair of hands they will feel upon them. My littlest patients are fun to watch as they grow and develop. I see their smiles at the four-month check and experience their mental leap at around one year of age as they remember that every time they lay down on the exam table, a needle is put into their thigh. At around age two or three, when immunizations become more spread out and stranger anxiety has dissipated, we become friends again with high-fives and shy smiles.

It is also enjoyable to walk with patients as they experience life’s milestones - the entrance-to-college exam, the first prenatal visit, the preventive health visit required by their new job. I get to see photos of new grandkids and see new knees and hips in action.

There are other seasons that I don’t enjoy so much. The times when life is interrupted by an unexpected diagnosis or when what started as mild memory loss blooms into dementia. I am there as the final season begins and as it ends. There can be so much sorrow, grief, and loss during these difficult seasons that I do not want to linger long. Yet, just as the winter frost does something magical to my tulip bulbs, these bitter seasons of life do something magical to the soul. Despite suffering, pain, and loss, there are often tears of joy as well at a life well-lived, or memories made that weave indelibly into the tapestry of a family’s story.

Physicians benefit from leaning into these times. Just as winter in Wisconsin can be exhilarating as you glide across the ice under a light snow, there is wonderment to be found in all of life’s seasons. We are so fortunate to be part of our patient’s lives from birth to death.