This is part of the Medical Humanities Series on Op-Med, which showcases creative work by our members. Do you have a poem, short story, creative nonfiction or visual art piece related to medicine that you’d like to share with the community? Send it to us here.
Lessons for My Son; Lessons for Myself
In the early mornings when I wake for work, I sometimes place my hand on my wife’s belly to feel for the baby kicking. At 30 weeks, it is no longer subtle.
On some lucky mornings, the kicks come within a few minutes, before I have to dress for work and leave.
In feeling the brief tap I imagine a little boy restless to be born into the vast world. Out here, he will learn to see colors and taste food for the first time. He will turn stones and touch water. He will plunge his hands into garden soil.
His experiences out here will be richer and more intense in every aspect. There will be more than enough for him to try and to learn such that his curiosity should never be disappointed.
Surely, he must be eagerly awaiting the day where he will discover the rest of the world, where he will find his own identity, shape his own values, marvel at his strengths, and confront his weaknesses.
Oh, how restless he must feel in there, kicking so hard that his mom and dad can unmistakably notice it while lying half-awake in the early morning hours.
He is undoubtedly kicking so hard as if to let his parents know that he’s already grown big and strong. How can I stand to wait yet another ten weeks in the womb? he kicks in persistent protest.
My wife and I, both surgical residents, say to the boy who has, in our eyes, only just turned 30 weeks in the span of an entire lifetime to come:
“There’s still more time for you to grow inside the womb, to eat what we eat, to go where we go. You may be growing quickly but be patient and don’t wish away time. It’s too early for you to decide on your own but that day will come before you know it.”
I rise from bed and walk out onto the cold Philadelphia streets that are still faintly illuminated by streetlamps at this early hour.
I’ve grown accustomed to these streets and can find my way to work without thinking. I’ve spent 10 years in this city already — four years in medical school, and six years in cardiac surgery residency. A little more than two years remain.
Over the last 10 years of early mornings and late nights, I feel that I have grown steadily. Ten years ago, I hardly understood how the human body works. I could barely differentiate between what is normal and abnormal. Now, in my job, I get to cut open the heart and sew it back together. I get to address my patients’ concerns and reassure their family members.
Some mornings are so cold and dark, I feel impatient to get to the end. I feel restless. I want to start my own practice and decide for myself exactly how I want to conduct the operations. I want to shed the safety of being a trainee and take on the burdens on independence.
I walk over the cold bridge wrapped up in these thoughts and wish for the next two years to evaporate away.
But then I take a breath and tell myself to be patient. Your time will come soon. You feel strong, you feel capable, but there’s more time to be had. It’s too early for you to decide on your own what to do but that day will come before you know it.
I return to thinking about the boy kicking inside my wife’s belly. I’m thinking about the tap I felt in my palm just moments ago.
He’s 30 weeks old and is two-thirds of the way there. The sun begins to rise over the bridge.
An Interview with the Author
What was your inspiration for this prose piece?
No other inspiration than my wife and I experiencing the pregnancy of our first child. I’ve shared this piece with her – and having now spent so many of our early mornings and late nights together with work and pregnancy, we dive into these reflections as endearing memories. Becoming a father has certainly reinforced my views on the importance of finding balance in this day and age. My wife is a surgical resident, and we both want to maintain a healthy balance between our careers, as well as a healthy balance between our jobs and our home life. It is not a luxury, in my opinion, but a necessity, and spending time with my son reminds me of it every day.
How long have you been writing? What got you started?
I have always expressed myself primarily through writing creative essays and prose. I started writing 10 years ago because there were many moments during residency where I wanted to find clarity and closure – writing about them helped me reflect, and walk away from these experiences as a more thoughtful version of myself.
How does this submission relate to your medical practice?
It is based on my simultaneous experiences as a surgical resident and an expecting father. I’ve written about Match Day, graduation, first day of intern year, etc., before, but this is certainly the first “life” milestone!
Jason Han is a cardiac surgery resident at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. He writes a health care column for the Philadelphia Inquirer and is a previous Doximity Op-Med writing fellow.
Illustration by Jennifer Bogartz