Doctors Who Are Called to Care
As parents, we are intuitively aware that a big part of our assignment is to keep our kids alive until they can do that on their own. But then—in a flash—something will harshly remind us that the keys to life actually aren’t as accessible as we thought they were. That happened to me this summer at Old Navy, of all places. After the moment came and went and it was clear that we were all still fully here, two feet on the ground, walking and playing and laughing together, some medical folks jumped on board to help us move forward.
Now more than ever, I feel there are two realms of occupation in this world where some people feel particularly called, while others are just in it for the paycheck—education and medicine. Usually, you can sniff out the paycheck folks within five minutes. They’re ticking the boxes, they’re doing the tasks, they’re teaching the parts of an atom or rehanging the IV bag; but they never look you in the eye. They don’t actually care whether or not you understand dangling participles, or whether or not your fever has fully gone away.
That’s not all bad. We can all have days like that, even if we are called to one of these professions. We all have our own lives with struggles and difficulties and illnesses and—Heaven help us—quadratic equations. But since my Old Navy moment, I have become acquainted with some folks who are so devoted to their calling, so committed to our care, that they selflessly look me in the eye no matter what is going on in their own worlds. They carry their own heavy loads, but then they voluntarily pick mine up too.
That is remarkable.
When a person does that—when they choose to lay their own life down and take yours up instead—it changes you in ways you don’t even realize until they say words like, “I’ve been doing this for 41 years and it’s time for me to retire.” Our pediatrician is in the midst of doing this very thing right now. I sat in his office with two sick children last week, but I was the one who cried like a baby. In his caring for them for over a decade, Dr. Frizzell has cared for me as well. In a thousand tiny moments that manifested through amoxycillin and vaccines and measuring charts and pats on the head that said, “Get some rest and you’ll be just fine,” he has held my children’s hands as they’ve walked paths that I did not have the skills, knowledge, or resources to walk with them. My husband is a physician, but not a pediatrician. Even with his medical background, he has been so thankful to have the expertise of someone who knows children to accompany us through parenthood.
Since the Old Navy incident, our medical team now includes a specialist and his nurse. I still don’t know that I would recognize either Dr. Fulton or Nurse Cox on the street because I’ve only ever seen them fully masked, but their hearts—shot through with devoted calling—are so evident that I feel sure I’d know them anywhere. It’s because of their devotion to the calling that I am indebted to them in ways I know I will never be able to repay. When you’ve dangled over the brink of life and death and someone has grabbed your shirt from behind, you never look at them the same again, even if you can only see the top half of their face. When your child nearly crashes over that brink and someone grabs their shirt, you have to fight to keep from worshipping them.
That’s how I feel about these two. They’re smart. They’ve got skills and life experience and connections. They could have done anything. They could have gone anywhere.
But they’re here.
And they care about my family. Not just because they are paid to, and this is how I know: both of them are in the midst of transition. They won’t be able to take care of us much longer in the ways that they have, for real-life, logistical reasons.
And they’re sad about it.
They have taken on my child’s brokenness as their personal assignment and it’s obvious that clocking out on that last day won’t magically wipe her case from their minds. They care too much. When someone is invested in a way that transcends money or time or their own personal obligations, they become a part of your life that is its own uniquely beautiful category. Not friend, not family, but something wonderfully other. And the thing is, long before they met us, these people were preparing to care. I know because I watched my husband, who cares deeply for his own set of patients, do the same thing.
Back when I was traveling the world, eating scones in London and dancing at swing clubs in Paris, they were studying. Back when I was having babies and pushing strollers, they were pulling 80-hour work weeks. Back when I was buying school supplies and taking first day of school pics, they were finishing training, so that when our world came crashing down, they would have what they needed to meet us there. They were giving themselves on my behalf long before I ever knew that I would need them. There is something deeply spiritual here. Something that actually has to do with Christmas.
Long before we knew we would need someone to grab our shirts from behind as we dangled over an eternal precipice, a baby came.
It’s not the most popular Christmas story anymore, but without it, all the other stories are just fluff. Next time you find yourself becoming startlingly aware of your own mortality—maybe because of a choking incident or a pandemic or a car that was driving too fast?—consider reading Luke 2 and John 3:16 in the Bible. Consider that nobody can pull his or her own shirt from behind. Consider the baby of Christmas. And consider that he cared.
Candace Echols is a Midtown resident, wife, and mother of five. She has written for StoryBoard’s Page One Writing Workshops, and writes in quiet moments from her yellow chair. Candace recently published her first book, the children’s book Josephine and the Quarantine.