Our “normal” isn’t everybody else’s “normal”

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by Donna Baver Rovito

This past weekend I had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with surgical residents and their significant others at two separate events, one a cocktail party at a popular local club, and the other a pool party at my own house. A consistent topic of conversation at these two events, a topic which often comes up at any gathering of medical families, is how people who aren’t part of a medical family just don’t “get” the lives we lead.

There seems to be significant frustration about that issue among newer medical family members, simply because it often comes as a complete surprise to them. As a more “mature” medical family member, I tried to offer insight and advice to several young women and a few young men over a few glasses of wine.

We’ve all had experience juggling the expectations of our non-medical friends and family – the friends whose feelings are hurt because you and the doctor you live with never join them for Happy Hour; the mother who just can’t seem to comprehend that you NEVER know what time the doctor in the family will be home for dinner, the co-workers who wonder, out loud, why you bother to work when you’ve got it made because you’re “married to a doctor.”

Sometimes, you just want to scream. Other times, you just want to walk away without explaining, AGAIN, that the person you live with just doesn’t have a normal schedule, and that no, you can’t, no matter how much you want to, commit to the activity du jour, and even if you do commit, plans can change in an instant and you just have to roll with that.

It’s sometimes difficult for us to realize just HOW different our lives are from the lives of other people we know. And it seems like no matter how often we explain it, the same questions or issues pop up again, often from the same people. My mother never stopped asking what time my husband would be home for dinner, even though I must have told her 1,000 times that I NEVER know the answer to that question.

It wasn’t that she was deliberately trying to annoy me, though (although it seemed like it sometimes!). Her husband got home every night around 6 p.m. Her friends’ husbands got home around the same time every night. She knew, every night, what time to have dinner ready. That was her “normal.”

Our normal – well, it ain’t NORMAL for the rest of the world.  Once we recognize that, we can stop making apologies and excuses and begin to adapt to changing schedules and circumstances. We can explain once or twice to the same people; then, I’ve discovered, it’s best to laugh it off. Otherwise, we drive ourselves – and maybe even our friends and family – crazy.

One group of friends refer to my husband as “The Invisible Doctor” and sometimes even set a place at an empty chair for him. They’re not offended when he doesn’t make it to Chinese New Year, and we all laugh about it in between the pai ya and coconut shrimp. Then, they pack up the leftovers so he can at least enjoy the food, if he missed out on the company. I stopped apologizing and making excuses for him years ago with this group of friends. Out of everyone we know, this particular group of people may “get it” the best – and sometimes I think that’s BECAUSE I stopped apologizing and making excuses and made a joke out of his consistent absence.

It’s not always that easy though, which is why it’s really, REALLY important to have friends who ARE part of the family of medicine, and who “get it” because they live it, too.

You can find those friends in a lot of places these days. There are spouses’ organizations at medical schools and residency programs. There are county and state medical society Alliances, as well as a national group, the AMA Alliance, which connects physician family members in 40 states and 440 counties. There are groups on Facebook which cater to physician spouses. You can connect with other people who live with a physician on Twitter and other social media.

And now, you can connect with other members of physicians’ families right here, through Physician Family Media. Our quarterly digital publication, Physician Family, will focus on the issues, challenges and joys of sharing life with a physician.

Our website (www.physicianfamilymedia.org) provides a link to the magazine as well as this weekly blog, which will focus on many aspects of life with a doctor.

The Physician Family Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/PhysicianFamilyMedia) is a great place to get updated information as well as to connect with others and have conversations about the issues unique to medical families. We’re on Twitter, too, @PhysFamilyMedia.

Our relationships with our non-medical friends and family – and with the doctor we live with – will be healthier if we connect with others who “get” our lives. Physician Family hopes that you will let us be part of your journey as a medical family.

We’re open to your ideas and suggestions, and invite you to contact us at info@physicianfamilymedia.org.

By Donna Baver Rovito

Editor, Physician Family

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