Tougher than training?

In response to C’s post on Hot Lights, Cold Steel. I have a few of my own thoughts on this book. In contrast to C, I was touched by the narratives Dr. Collins offered and admired his dexterity in weaving intimate stories into the larger trajectory of his training and life during his four years of ortho residency at the Mayo Clinic.

Unexpectedly, I felt like I connected with the story at the very start because it was about the Mayo Clinic. I am no stranger to beautiful, impossibly rich hospitals but my visit to the Mayo Clinic left me with such a sense of awe that it felt sinful. It is nearly uncomfortable to walk into a hospital – the Gonda Building of Mayo – and see that much wealth. Marble and wood paneling everywhere, and Chihuly art to boot. It felt more like a hotel than a research hospital. I identified with Dr. Collins’ feelings of inadequacy as a young resident at a place with this much history…and money. (Notably though, as someone who supports and has personally felt the benefits of universal health care, I am completely uncomfortable with Mayo’s policy on offering “better” care to those who can afford it: see Mayo’s Concierge Program.)

Gonda Building Atrium - Mayo ClinicGonda Building – Mayo Clinic

My greatest problem with the book, however, lies with the sinking feeling I always got whenever Dr. Collins’ wife, Patti, was brought into the story.

Patti is an incredible woman to juggle a husband who does not come home for days and who does not make enough money to pay for a car that does not threaten their childrens’ health with its gas fumes. The couple is Irish Catholic, and during Dr. Collins’ 4 year residency, she gives birth to 3 children on top of their oldest one. At one point in the story, she gives birth to their fourth child and promptly is back at home within a few days, to be the sole caregiver for the newborn and her other 3 toddlers. They have barely enough money to buy enough food, let alone hire a nanny.

I can’t imagine what keeps this kind of woman strong other than perhaps her religion and I wonder what will keep the rest of us non-believers strong enough. Dr. Collins again and again notes that he is the luckiest man to have Patti but I was offended that in the final page of his book, he thanks his wife, only to turn around and say that everything in the 4 years of his residency, had been “worth it.” Every scene involving Patti had been so bitterly difficult for me to read that I could not help but disagree with his conclusion. What had it been worth? And for whom?

I know that Patti probably would not (could not) read their situation as I do, and yet that doesn’t matter. I wonder how many families of competitive physicians live this story’s bittersweet reality.

For some more realistic insight to parenting, consider reading Dr. Michelle Au’s This Won’t Hurt a Bit (And other white lies), which I reviewed here.

Stay tuned for a post in the near future: “How will I afford a nanny?” and other premed worries.



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