Lots of stereotypes surround physicians. Many years ago when I worked to put my husband, Mark, through medical school, some of my co-workers enjoyed saying malicious things about doctors just to upset me. Their favorite way to zing me was to tell me that once I’d put him through medical school, Mark would leave me and run off with a nurse.
Whether or not they really believed this nonsense is irrelevant. But it did cause me to think: Where do these labels about doctors come from, and how can we find some good things to say in the midst of all this negative publicity? Certainly there are some downfalls to being “Dr. and Mrs. Mast,” but why focus on those?
Instead, I’ve come up with my own list of the positive aspects of being married to a doctor:
1) Doctors look great in scrubs. I’m no fashion expert, but I must admit there’s something sexy about my husband when he wears scrubs. Is it the color? The V-neck that shows just a hint of chest hair (not quite as sexy if your spouse is a woman)? Or maybe it’s the air of importance scrubs give to their wearer. At any rate, this is one aspect of being married to a doctor that I am thankful for.
2) I’ll never have to buy pens or notepaper again. Thanks to the drug reps, we have a lifetime supply of pens and notepads. This may seem like a trivial matter, but it’s another one of those perks of the medical profession that I am grateful for. However, I must admit our stationary sometimes gets me into trouble. I once jotted a note to a sick friend only to realize later that I had inadvertently selected a notepad advertising an anti-diarrhea medicine. Oops! Fortunately, my friend has a good sense of humor; laughter, not Donnagel is the best medicine. * Note: This item number on the list dates this article! Pharmaceutical companies no longer provide physicians with pens and sticky notes. It’s a shame because it was a great marketing tool for the wives who used them and handed them out in the form of grocery lists, prayer lists and get well notes all over town. Whoever stopped handing out these goodies missed a golden opportunity by not just handing them to doctor’s spouses in the first place!
3) Most Doctors Have a Great, Albeit Sometimes Twisted Sense of Humor. This quality has helped my husband and me through some rough times and has given us a sense of what it really means not to take ourselves so seriously. One night we were struggling to get our son Nathan to pick up his toys before bedtime. It was one of those battles that grew more and more frustrating, but we were trying to keep our cool. Nathan had a body-part puzzle complete with brain, kidneys and heart (another drug rep gift), and it was lying on the bedroom floor. It seems Mark had a temporary lapse of sanity because he walked into Nathan’s room and said, “Nathan! I told you to pick up your kidneys and get ready for bed!” Sometimes in the stressful situations of life, laughter really does lighten the load.
4) Oh, Yes! The money (Eventually). Whenever I mention to people that my husband is a doctor, they get a faraway look in their eyes and say, “Wow! You must be rich!” That fit of laughter usually provides me with a pretty good abdominal workout. Recently we received a bill for one of Mark’s medical school loans. The monthly payment was about $1600. Again, more laughter and tighter abs.
Although we have not reaped the monetary benefits of Mark being a physician, we have many friends who have been in practice for awhile and no longer make those staggering monthly loan payments. We have found they are people who recognize their financial situation as a blessing and they give freely and generously. We look forward to the day when we are out from under so much debt and are able to start giving back some of the blessings that have been given to us in the way of finances.
5) It’s Fun to Watch “ER” With A Doctor: Sometimes, anyway. I was able to gauge Mark’s medical education by watching “ER” together. The first year he was in medical school he wouldn’t say much while we watched the show. He had an, “I wish I’d gone to plumbing school,” look on his face. By the second year he seemed a little less afraid about some of the story lines, and I think he even took notes on a few episodes.
By the third year he would ruin the whole episode for me by pointing to the patient on the TV screen and say, “Uh oh! He’s a goner.” By the fourth and final year of medical school, he had gained enough confidence in his ability to diagnose and treat illnesses that he would raise his voice at the TV-very out of character for him- and say, ” NO! You can’t give her that! She has CHF!” Needless to say, at times it was entertaining for me and educational for him. Or was it the other way around?
6) Doctors Can Be Great Listeners and Very Compassionate. I have found that Mark’s education and training have honed his interpersonal skills. I really got a kick out of watching him rotate through the different hospital departments because he’d sometimes bring home the “attitude” of each rotation. For example, when he roatated thought the psychology/counseling department he became a master at active listening. One night I discovered we were out of milk, and I angrily snorted, “Arrgh! We’re out of milk!” I knew Mark had become too engrossed in his work when he calmly replied, “And how does that make you feel?”
7) Patients Can Have A Positive Influence In A Doctors’s Life. Mark and I argue about very few things, but one source of tension that keeps resurfacing is the budget. I am famous for going to the store for milk and bread and somehow coming home with $58 worth of other things. Mark finds some of my purchases to be frivolous and sometimes will comment on whether it was something he felt we really needed. A few years ago one of the items on his “not necessary” list- and consequently on my “must have” list- was Downy fabric softener. Then a patient came along and solved our dilemma.
When Mark was rotating through the surgery department, he was required to remove his wedding band and clip it inside his scrubs. One day he was seeing patients in post-op and, as he leaned over and older woman to listen to her heart, she smiled and said, “Oh! You must be married!” Mark looked down at his bare ring finger and said, somewhat perplexed, “Yes! How did you know?!” This sweet woman, to whom I will always be grateful, said, “Because you smell like Downy.” Now Downy goes on the grocery list along with the other “must haves” like bread, milk and eggs.
8) Free Medical Advice. I’m not advocating substituting your spouse for your regular doctor. However, I do find it handy to run our family’s symptoms by Mark or have him look at a rash before calling the pediatrician. Besides, I feel better knowing he’s around and has the ability to care for our children and me if an emergency arises.
In many cases he knows what’s best for me even before I do. When Mark did his OB rotation he came home after several nights of delivering babies and said, “Nathan is getting so big. Don’t you want another baby?” To make a long story short, we now have 4 children. It’s one of the best pieces of free advice I have ever taken.
9) Physicians are in a great position to witness to those in need. I am amazed at how God has opened doors for Mark as he has journeyed through his medical career. There have been a few times when he has been very discouraged by the studying and the long hours and has felt as though he was never going to be in a position to actually help someone.
Once when Mark was in medical school and feeling particularly frustrated, he found out there was a woman in labor who spoke only Spanish. Because Mark grew up in a missionary family in Argentina, Spanish is his native language. He was able to help that frightened woman just by being able to speak her language. In turn he felt useful and discovered that knowing medicine isn’t the only way of healing others. When he feels used by God to help others, it gives him a sense of purpose, which is contagious to his patients and me.
10) Being a Medical Family can Make you Stronger If You Choose. I often wonder about marriages that sail along with no rocky moments or turbulent waters. How do a husband and wife grow if they don’t face a few hard times and have their marriage challenged? Even though I have complained, sometimes loudly, about the hardships of being a doctor’s wife, I am thankful we have weathered the storms together and that we have become stronger throughout our journey.
I often joke that we must eat too many apples at our house. (You know the saying “An apple a day keep the doctor away.”) With Mark away from home quite a bit we have learned how to spend out time together wisely. We know how to set healthy boundaries and don’t take precious family moments for granted. We’ve learned from being in a high-stress (also high divorce rate) occupation that commitment to God and to each other is crucial.
I am thankful my husband has pursued a career that is fulfilling to him. The journey has brought us laughter, tears and at times anger and frustration, but more than anything it has brought us closer together. It’s so beneficial to look at the positive aspects of the career path God has called him to. I wonder if Mark will ever publish an article titled, “Ten Great Things About Being Married to a Writer.”
Maybe when he retires from this crazy ride of being a doctor!