The Kid Who Really Needed Me

November 11, 2009

I hate missing my kids’ important school events. Recently, I received an invite to chaperone my kindergartner’s first field trip. Unfortunately, it arrived about a week before the field trip was scheduled, and I already had a fully booked clinic that day.

I hate missing my kids’ important school events. Recently, I received an invite to chaperone my kindergartner’s first field trip. Unfortunately, it arrived about a week before the field trip was scheduled, and I already had a fully booked clinic that day.

A couple years ago, I was upset to discover that our son’s preschool Mother’s Day program was scheduled for a Thursday morning and we had been given only 10 days notice of the event. I wasn’t able to attend (another fully booked clinic) and felt like the ultimate mom failure. I imagined my little guy searching the audience and not finding me. What would he think when his mom wasn’t there for the program?
 My tearful lament led my husband (a stay-at-home dad) to discuss the situation with the preschool teachers. They promised to give parents more notice in the future (although it didn’t help me then), but were surprised that this was even an issue - they had mostly stay-at-home moms in the preschool.

Gloomily, I went to work that morning. My heart was not in patient care as I struggled with a job that sometimes asks more than I am willing to give. My last patient of the morning was a 6-year-old little boy with brittle diabetes. Undocumented immigrants from Mexico, his family could neither afford insulin nor regular medical care. The school nurse sent him to us because of daily episodes of severe hypoglycemia.

While I was speaking with his mom about his insulin regimen, his eyelids started to droop and he slumped forward in his chair. I started to evaluate and treat him for hypoglycemia. While managing this acute issue, I worked with our clinic staff to come up with a plan that would assure safe care for this little boy. After two hours of intermittently checking on my patient, calling our tertiary care children’s hospital, and speaking with our local social service agency, we formulated a plan that included an urgent evaluation with pediatric endocrinology, a free supply of insulin from a pharmaceutical company, and a ride to the children’s hospital (90 minutes away) by a local volunteer.

Decompressing from this hectic and emotionally charged clinic visit, I was reminded why I continue to do (and mostly love) a job that is so demanding. While I was disappointed to miss my son’s preschool program, on this particular day, my instincts as a physician and a mom enabled me to provide comprehensive and potentially life-saving care to someone else’s son.

When I got home from work that evening, I sat down with my son at his little table while he ate his dinner. “I’m sorry I missed your program at school today,” I began, “but I had to take care of a little boy named Marco who was really sick.”

Since that day, I share with my kids what I am doing that takes me away from the important events in their lives. I tell them about the patients in the hospital who need me to help them get better, the babies I deliver, and all the little boys who need a doctor - sometimes at inconvenient times. But, I also make sure that I know the date of the Mother’s Day program, the holiday concert, or the school play well in advance, so that I can make every effort to be in the audience watching my favorite little people.

Jennifer Frank, MD, FAAFP, is an assistant professor in the University of Wisconsin Department of Family Medicine and a faculty family physician at the Fox Valley Family Medicine Residency Program in Appleton, Wis. She is a mother of four, whose husband, also a physician, is a stay-at-home dad.