Moises Gallegos, MD, admits both he and his then 1-month-old son had tears in their eyes the morning they watched his wife, Flora Nuñez Gallegos, MD, drive away on her first day back at work. "But I knew whatever I was feeling couldn't possibly match the emotion she'd have to suppress under a smile once she stepped foot in the hospital," he says.
Moises, a Stanford emergency medicine physician, went inside, sat down with his son on one knee and an iPad on the other, and began drawing, hoping to reframe the experience. The result was a children's book called "My mommy is a
doctor superhero." Flora is now a pediatric cardiology fellow at Stanford.
Moises wrote and illustrated the story in one sitting.
In its 13 pages, his infant son is seen exploring Flora's world. Noah peers over a table edge to see a stethoscope, reflex hammer, and other clinical equipment and comments, "I've seen all the gadgets and tools she has... like a superhero toolbelt."
In another drawing, Noah tugs on the bottom of a physician's white coat while trailing his stuffed rabbit and says, "She even has a superhero cape." The style is evocative of one of Moises' favorite illustrators, E.H. Shepard, who illustrated the first Winnie-the-Pooh stories.
Moises was late to the art world; he took his first drawing class his junior year of high school to meet college creative arts requirements. But drawing quickly became an important tool for both learning and courtship, especially after Moises and Flora met at Stanford School of Medicine, where Moises wrote for Scope's Stanford Medicine Unplugged medical student blog series.
Moises finagled to sit at the same worktable with her, and they became study partners then friends, connecting over similar backgrounds as first-generation Americans. Moises was interested in emergency medicine; growing up without health insurance, the only medical care his family knew was through free clinics or the emergency department. Flora was interested in pediatric cardiology and how families of underrepresented backgrounds dealt with congenital heart disease.
When they studied, Moises often illustrated concepts and processes, drawing sketches that linked terms to images to cement the ideas in his memory. After he and Flora began dating, he would leave her notes with drawings when their schedules didn't align.
When Moises started residency at Baylor College of Medicine, he used drawings and sketches -- sometimes on Post-Its, sometimes on a whiteboard - to help train other students and residents, particularly when he was chief resident. Some drawings were serious and anatomical, some were humorous: bile sequestrants resembling the green ghost in Ghostbusters; an iodine dropper with eyeballs wearing a shy grin. Moises would also follow up verbal lessons by emailing sketches and a note to residents, "I drew this to help you understand."
Then things got complicated. Flora and Moises married in 2015, and Flora was pregnant with their first son Noah when she finished her pediatric training and started as chief resident. They both studied for their boards while caring for their newborn. When Flora flew to fellowship interviews around the country a few weeks after Noah's birth, Moises often accompanied her with their son but acknowledged there were many challenges he could not offset.
"She sometimes had to pump quickly between meetings at work and between interviews on the fellowship trail," he remembers. While the medical community has made significant strides in supporting new parents Moises remarks, "It pains me to know that necessary paradigm shifts are still in process and that she will continue to face gender-based challenges in her career."
As an attending emergency medicine physician, Moises could work night shifts and see his son for much of the day. Flora's schedule -- and her time with her family -- was much more circumscribed because of her specialty. They tried to mentally prepare for Flora's return to work, but the reality of her driving away brought tears.
Moises sent a PDF of "My mommy is a
doctor superhero" to Flora later that morning hoping to cheer her up. It was a gesture that echoed their early courtship when he would leave drawings for her. She called several hours later to say, "It made me cry, but in a good way."
Flora says, "His storybook came at a time when I struggled balancing my love for medicine with my newfound purpose as a mom. I needed that book and I needed to hear from my biggest champion that what I was doing was supported and important for our family." She keeps electronic copy of the book saved on her phone for the long stretches when she is away from home at the hospital.
She notes, "My husband is the most caring and selfless partner. He has supported me each step of my career. And I want our son to know that his parents are passionate about their work, but that he is loved and he is the center of our world."
Moises, who is never without his iPad and his drawing kit, continues to illustrate lessons for residents and sometimes patients. And he plans to draw more stories for his son as he grows up and begins to ask difficult questions about the world around him. "How do I explain homelessness to him?" Moises says. "There are questions without easy answers for children to understand. Sometimes drawings are the best way teach."
Photos and illustrations courtesy of Moises Gallegos