Growing up with two surgeons for parents must be a curious experience.
Recently, one of my post-op heart patients started bleeding. I had just opened the Frozen lego set with my 4-year-old daughter, Harper, and we were excited to assemble Elsa's castle. But it was not meant to be.
My patient’s chest tubes put out 400 millimeters the previous hour. The nurses were calling for another round of blood and products as they rapidly escalated pressors. It was obvious that I had to go back to the hospital.
"No, mommy!" cried Harper, "Why do you have to go back? You just got here!"
This is how I found myself explaining a take-back for bleeding to a 4-year-old.
"I have to open the chest."
"Because he is bleeding."
"Because the blood isn't clotting, kid."
And so it went while I searched for the spare battery for my headlight. Fortunately, I found it under a pile of princess dresses in Harper’s room.
"Harper! I told you not to touch my work things!" I scolded her.
"Oh, sorry!" she chirped with a giggle, already off on her next adventure of creating a tower of High Five magazines in the living room.
Adjusting to the change of plans, my husband and I managed a seamless handoff in the hospital parking lot before I headed to the ICU. The OR team was already at the bedside getting the patient ready to go. I could see the chest tubes continuously filling with blood as I approached the room. Every monitor attached to him was making its own incessant noise, the combination of which resembled an eerie sort of orchestra.
This is the part Harper will not see. Nor could I explain it. Even if I could, I doubt I would want to. The urgency would be lost on her. Minutes turn into hours and she wouldn’t understand why I haven’t returned.
For many, this is a deterrent to a career as a surgeon.
But what if we choose to think about it differently? Would it change the way we feel?
The next day, Harper was engrossed in playing with her bunny toy.
"I have to take the seeds out of bunny's heart!" she declared with determination.
Intrigued, I asked, "How will you do that, Harps?"
"I'm just going to open the chest, take the seeds out, and close the chest back up. That's all there is to it!" She delivered this as if she were describing a mundane task. Picking up the mail. Doing the laundry.
Her confidence was striking. She held no space for limiting beliefs.
How much more could we all achieve without the constraints we have unconsciously acquired over the years?
Parenting is a tradeoff, and sometimes we forget that our children learn by example.
I recalled my own childhood when we first moved to the U.S. I was six years old. My mother, who had been a doctor in Ukraine, waited tables at a deli when she moved to California. I did my homework in the deli's back room, accompanied by a cup of the store's frozen yogurt.
At the time, I felt embarrassed for my mother as she struggled to take orders in broken English, reminding me of the proverbial fish out of water. Now, I recognize the strength and humility that phase of her life required. Moving to a new country without knowing the language, leaving behind her family and friends, and adjusting to a new culture. Having to start over, despite the education and training which had taken countless hours of hard work and sacrifice to complete back home.
Yet, I never heard her complain. She met her circumstances with optimism, even gratitude. She showed me what was possible, without ever explaining it.
Grace under pressure. The ability to overcome failure, rebuild, and adapt to any circumstance.
“How is your patient, mom?” Harper asks me, recalling the previous night as she eagerly opens the Frozen lego set.
I look at my thoughtful, inquisitive girl as her eyes shine with excitement with the promise of finally building Elsa’s castle together.
“He’s doing good, kid,” I tell her.
“Did you fix him?”
And this, too, will stay with her.
What lessons have you imparted (consciously or not!) to your children? Share in the comments!
Dr. Alexandra Kharazi is a board-certified cardiothoracic surgeon based in San Diego, California. Dr. Kharazi has no conflicts of interest to disclose related to her clinical practice or research activities.
Image by Denis Novikov / GettyImages