I Understand, Mrs. Dr.

(Editor’s Note: This week’s post originally appeared here on the personal blog of Dawn Mast. Stay tuned for more original work from Dawn and her medical mission adventures with her physician family.)

By Dawn Mast

It’s an interesting dynamic when your husband is a physician and you are, well, not. I vacillate between feeling like a minor celebrity (we live in a small town) especially when I pay with my credit card and the cashier says, “Ohhhhhh Mast!! Are you related to doctor Mast?!” Or I can feel completely invisible in the same scenario because he’s the amazing doctor and I’m….nobody.

Yes, I understand. For those of you who are doing all the behind the scenes work (all 8000 things everyday that no one sees) I understand. I’ve made a list for you ladies who need to know that someone else is where you are:
1) I get it! When he comes home and doesn’t talk and can’t talk because everything must be HIPAA compliant. He truly can’t share what’s on his heart because he’s sworn to secrecy. It’s like being married to a doctor who’s also a spy. Then in the dark. Late at night after y’all have said your prayers you hear him whisper, “I’m so afraid I missed something today.” And he can’t even tell you about it.

2) I understand how it makes you twitch when people make rude comments about money. There’s a strange stereotype that we are just rolling in it over here. It’s maddening really! I would never, ever comment to a (fill in the occupation of your choice) about how little income he/she were making. It’s just rude. Yet, people find it perfectly OK to say things like, “Well, you’re a doctor! You have lots of money!” Or, “Ask the doctor for some money!” I’m truly baffled by this. And hurt. Because sometimes I think people see us as dollar signs and not as people. OK we have money, but we also have money problems. We are normal and we argue about money just like the people who are counting every nickel that comes in. It cost a healthy 6 figures for my husband to go to school and (15 years later) we are still paying that off. I could go on and on, but just know that I understand the sensitivity that money issues bring to the table and it can be painful.

3) I understand the loneliness. I’m an extrovert. I have parties for the most mundane reasons. When the kids learned to walk, lost their teeth (sometimes the two events were related) or learned a new skill, I was ready to make pizza and call it a party. Mark is done with people by the end of the day. He becomes an introvert with a case of introvertitis and I, on the other hand, want to be surrounded by people who are more than 4 feet tall and speak in complete sentences.
We need to find balance and it’s not easy. It requires trust in the Lord that He will mesh our personalities, blend, refine and complement our strengths so we can serve Him together. When that happens, of course I have a party!

4) I understand that you sometimes feel second best. Maybe this only happens to me and I need to work on my self-esteem. I do sometimes feel that my husband is touted in our community as somewhat of a celebrity and the kids and I are forgotten. Certainly we don’t need to be in the limelight, nor do we want to be, but it can be a sore spot when I often hear how wonderful “he” is and what an “amazing doctor he is” and I just feel like….the housewife. Sigh.

On my worst days I’ll berate myself about how I can only put on a band-aid, but ‘”he” can make people well!! (It’s the Lord who heals. Doctors are vessels. Just clarifying.) Then I might get angry about how people are often praising him, but they don’t realize that he’s human. People glamorize their physicians, but do they stop to think that they leave their dirty socks lying around the house, burp at the table, curse when they run into the dishwasher, yell at the TV when their sports team is losing and, believe it or not, they get sick and they are not always the ideal patient. (*Disclaimer: These descriptions are NOT all my husband! They are characteristics I compiled from the reality of our home and the homes of others.)

5) I get how exhausted you are. Do you essentially do it all? My husband works about 12 hours a day. He spends 2-3 hours in the evenings working on paperwork. There’s really not time for him to take care of car repairs/oil changes/state inspections, taking the dog to the vet, laundry, food shopping/preparation/clean-up, anything dealing with the children or schoolwork (we/I home school so factor that into the equation), house repairs/painting/maintenance, household budgeting, banking and bill paying and you. Where do you and your marriage fit in? You are both exhausted and in most cases you are carrying the burden of the household. I have no answers because the above list (and more) is currently on my shoulders. Just know that I understand and I can pray for you and for myself that somehow all of this works out as we work for Him.

6) I understand that your life may have been put on hold for him. I’m older than my husband so it stood to reason that I was going to want a baby soon after we married. Like, 9 months after our honeymoon. Instead, medical school happened and five years after our “I do’s”, and as I frantically approached 30, we had a baby! Then another. (Then, sadly, a miscarriage.) And another baby. And another! I had to make up for lost time, right? I am so thankful for our four children and even more thankful that we are out of the stage where we had 4 under the age of 7! But things were a whirlwind and I didn’t get to finish grad school, write a book or go to Spain. I did do the really important #1 item on my dream list and that was to become a wife and mother. The rest can wait. I can go to Spain when I’m 70. Pregnancy at 70 is much, much harder. Still, I understand how many of us have had to push the “pause” button on life for the sake of our husbands’ careers. What do we do with those feelings?

7) Finally, I understand how unbelievably proud you are of him. It was a long haul. Undergrad. Medical School. Residency. Finding a job. Daily doing that job. No matter how George Clooney makes it look on ER, being a doctor is not glamorous. There are days it’s stinky, bloody and other-body-fluid messy. It’s taking off putrid toenails, looking at moles, cutting off growths and looking people in the eye and telling them they don’t have long to live. Medicine is messy. But it’s also miraculous. It’s seeing babies born and watching those who have struggled with depression finally smile. Only because these people have answered the call to be healers at the extended hand of the Healer is this job possible.

You. At home with the children. The dog. The laundry that will never end. The laundry that he will wear home with someone else’s blood on it. Yes, you. He can do this job because of you. He knows you are waiting on the other side of that door with love, a hug (after he changes his clothes!) and a hopeful heart. You will fill him with what he needs to go back and do it again tomorrow. And the next day. And the next. His patients may never thank you. People will still see you as “the doctor’s wife”. You may still be seen as unseen. But, the Lord sees you and He knows you are caring for a brother by loving him when he comes home from a day healing in His name.
Well done lady. I understand.

Dawn Mast and family

Dawn Mast was born in Alabama, moved to Virginia and attended Eastern Mennonite College, where she met and married her husband, Mark. They have been married for almost 24 years and have 4 gorgeous children. They live in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia where Mark is in Family Practice and Dawn home schools, makes trips to Costco, drives kids to soccer, trips over their 100-pound dog, and is active in church.

One thought on “I Understand, Mrs. Dr.

  1. Boy, did I need to hear that. Especially the part about feeling invisible. I actually missed the “hard” school years as he was married and had two children. I started dating him a year after his first wife died. After marrying at age 44, we too live in a small town where he is considered basically the perfect doctor and man. And he even does help,cook, clean etc. But I was a physical therapist who went back and got her masters degree. I was in charge of a Physical Therapist Assistant program. And yes, I quit to go back and work in a regular job with less stress. But suddenly, I became invisible! People everywhere we go know him and come up to him while I just stand there in support. While I am proud of him, I feel I’ve lost me. And I need to work on getting that back. So thanks for your article. Diane