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How My Late Physician Father Has Followed My Medical Career

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It is a regular Monday morning and the day starts out just like any other. I am a third-year medical student on my final week of my ob/gyn rotation. I walk into the hospital, change into scrubs, and head toward the team workroom. My resident and I go to meet our first patient in pre-op and then introduce ourselves to the attending for the day. We briefly talk about the case and then head to the OR. During the case we are all focused on the job at hand, following our attending’s instructions, and periodically going over important anatomical landmarks. When the surgery is almost done, I decide to finally initiate small talk by asking where everyone went to medical school.

Our attending answers first and states, “I went to the University of Arizona medical school.” I pause for a moment and decide to ask what year he graduated. He replies, “Class of 1988.” I realize my dad also went to the University of Arizona for medical school and graduated in the late 80s. I hesitantly ask if he knew my dad. He looks up and stares at me for what seems like forever. It is clear my dad’s name meant something. “He was your dad?” He sets his surgical instruments down, moves one of his hands across the patient’s body, and places it on top of mine. He softly but firmly says, “He was my best friend.” I immediately start bawling. I am fully gowned up, and my hands are trapped in my surgical gloves. I realize I can’t even wipe my eyes and the bottom half of my face is now completely drenched. I can see he is starting to tear up, too.

“So, you’re Mike’s daughter? I can’t believe it. I didn’t know that…” I stop him as I realize he may not know the full story. I explain that my dad froze his sperm before starting chemotherapy and, by the miracle of IVF, my mom became pregnant with twins. My mom and dad remained hopeful that he would get to meet us, but unfortunately my dad passed away when my mom was just seven months pregnant. The resident standing beside me places one of her hands onto mine. She finally understands the tears streaming down my face and can feel the magic of this moment.

My attending says, “I have so many stories to tell you about your dad. We studied for every test in medical school together. Even when we were studying late at night in the library, your dad was always smiling. I never saw him angry. He was truly one in a million.” Outside of the OR, we exchange numbers and he tells me to keep in touch.

On the walk to my car, I am still in complete shock from how this ordinary Monday transformed into a once in a lifetime experience. I smile thinking about what my dad would say right now, and I cry knowing some things in life are just meant to be. I know my dad was with us in that OR and smiling down on us. So happy and proud that his daughter and old best friend had the opportunity to meet in such a miraculous way. I think of the attending’s words as we exchanged numbers: “I miss your dad every day. I’m so happy we got the chance to meet. He would be so proud of you.”

Even though he isn’t here, even though we missed the opportunity to develop a physical relationship and share the language of medicine with each other, I have felt his presence and guidance throughout my medical journey. In the countless moments of doubt or uncertainty, I remind myself that he would want me to keep going, keep learning, and keep working to achieve my dream of becoming a doctor. I know that his memory lives on in the stories and photos we share with each other and in life’s unexplainable moments, like when his old best friend and daughter happen to find themselves in the same OR on a random Monday morning. I hope to carry on his legacy of being that “one in a million” person both inside and outside of medicine. And soon I can officially call myself Dr. Wenger 2.0.

Did you go into medicine because of your parents? Share in the comments.

Danielle Wenger is currently a fourth year medical student in Phoenix, AZ. She is planning to start a surgical residency program in 2024. In her free time, she likes to find the best vegan restaurant, take a yoga sculpt class, and spend time with family.

Illustration by Jennifer Bogartz

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