At a Stanford Pegasus Physician Writers Forum last week, psychiatrist Shaili Jain, MD, told the 40-or-so attendees that writing and practicing medicine are synergistic. Medicine and motherhood: not so much.
“As one of my mentors once said, it’s called ‘juggling the joy,'” Jain said. “People who don’t think it’s a challenge are either in denial – or someone else is doing all the hard work.”
Jain was one of five authors who shared their work. She read an essay, called “The Trimesters,” that she had written ten years earlier about her initial struggles coping with her duel roles as doctor and to-be mother. During her pregnancy, Jain suffered from intense all-day sickness. “Panic set in; was this what life was going to be from now on? I feared I had entered a no-man’s land of perpetual dissatisfaction,” Jain wrote. She had to tell her patients, some who suffered from severe mental disorders, she would be off work — a situation that left her uncomfortable with the blurring of roles. Pregnancy was personal, yet it impinged on her professional life.
Yet patients have no choice but to share their inner secrets, fears, goals, what medical school alum Ward Trueblood, MD, called their “heart songs” in the poem, “Cancer Doctor.”
It started when he slowed
to ask about a grandson’s picture
or fetched a cup of ice
for the bed-bound, listened to
talk of a fishing hole, heard about a dog
that licked a woman’s morning eyes…
They were sharing heart
songs rarely whispered.
He grew softer, invited
in this open window
of each one’s brave longing.
Medicine is a privilege, Trueblood went on to say. “As a cancer doctor, one shares soul with their patients… so here I am, 76, and I’m still going into the hospital,” he said.
And for Jain, writing is an essential part of her job as a physician. “I have a compulsion to make sense of what I’m experiencing,” she said.
The Pegasus Physicians Writers group meets regularly.
Becky Bach is a former park ranger who now spends her time writing about science or practicing yoga. She is an intern at the Office of Communications and Public Affairs.
Previously: On death and dying: A discussion of “giving news that no family members want to hear, When death comes rapping at the chamber door: Writers inspired by crises and medical emergencies and “How cancer becomes us”: A conversation with author and anthropologist Lochlann Jain
Photo by annazuc