On the madness of parental leave in medicine

I sit down at this keyboard feeling like I won’t write very much. I will write for fifteen minutes straight and publish whatever spills out.

This past week was interesting and not very noteworthy. New team, with a fellow medical student I consider a close friend. Having her nearby during the dullness of rounding and waiting to be dismissed is a true saving grace for these final two weeks on my medicine rotation. The two residents on the team, one intern going into cardiology and one chief getting ready for his first position as an attending. I like them and I think they tolerate me well enough.

I had a moment of sheer empathy blocked by the hierarchy of medicine.

On Monday, I stood outside a small break room while the attending pulled us in one by one to give feedback on our performance. It was my first day on the service so the feedback was mainly for my peer and the residents.

While waiting, I burned time with the chief. First time all day, and since, that we had face-to-face interaction without others around. I heard from my peer that this chief recently had a child. I asked him about it, surprised to find out that his son was only a month older than Joonsu.

I asked him how long he had off for paternity leave. He smiled, in that coping way. He told me that they offer paternity leave, but it is another thing if you actually take it. He mumbled something about repeating a year of residency.

I asked him how long he had off. He told me he took the two days his spouse was in the hospital. My mouth agape, I gave him condolences. I wanted to hug him, but he is quite certainly the PDA with new acquaintances type.

I could not imagine going back to rotations two days into Joonsu’s life. At that time, he was still in the wallaby, receiving UV phototherapy for newborn jaundice. The only relief would have been that Mackenzi’s mom supported us, but even she left within a week. I couldn’t imagine that short of a bonding period before returning to the madness of the hospital.

And yet, he seemed to think it necessary and perhaps even normal within the context of medicine. This is just what we do in the medical world. We have babies and we rarely see them. Maybe when we get that attending position, we will have some more free time to spend with the family.

But I am sure that is a lie fed to us, that things will be easier once we finish residency. I hope to finish my four years and negotiate a contract for part-time work. The pay will be more than adequate for our lifestyle and the time at home will be invaluable. Or at least, that is what I tell myself now. Maybe I’ll be lured by that attending carrot and change my mind.

I just don’t know why we do this to ourselves. Why do we allow two days for paternity leave? Why do we think this is normal? I enjoyed three glorious and diaper-filled months with Joonsu, and I don’t even think that was enough. I still ache every afternoon to be released early so that I can enjoy some daylight with him and Honey. I hope to always have that ache, because if I lose it is because medicine has beat it out of me.

With that, my fifteen minutes are up. I didn’t expect to write so much about that interaction. I had a patient die on our service, one who was non-communicative. I feel good about our final interaction, and maybe I’ll write about him next week.

Maybe I’ll just be glad to end my rotation and enjoy another few weeks out of the hospital. For now, I have the rest of the day to laze about the home, dreading the return to morning rounds and afternoon lectures tomorrow.


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