New Baby + New Career = Lessons Learned the Hard Way

A great emergency physician is an expert in the atypical, the unstable, and the unexpected. A great parent, however, sometimes requires little more than common sense. For instance, don’t drop your baby in the sink.

My husband and I learned this lesson the hard way one afternoon when our daughter was nine months old. Back then, I would frequently put her in a child seat and set her on the counter so she could watch as I finished my chores, to the absolute horror of my husband. Even though, as an emergency physician, I have born witness to every human accident possible, it was my non-medical spouse who predicted catastrophe if I continued placing our firstborn in such precarious circumstances. One afternoon as she sat on the counter and we argued over whether this practice was safe, she wriggled free and fell headfirst into a sink full of dishes. She escaped with only a bruised forehead, but I feared that our marriage would fare much worse. My husband gave me the I-told-you-so glare all day, a look which masked his fear that all head injuries lead to permanent neurological damage. He appropriately won this battle, and I conceded that in this case my medical background didn’t help me whatsoever to do the right thing as a parent.

Then there are the analgesic/antipyretic debates. Literally every time our daughter requires a dose of Motrin or Tylenol, my husband watches me as if I am siphoning out of a gasoline canister – even though he knows nothing more about Motrin and Tylenol than what is written on the box. It all started one day, long before our daughter came along, when I told him he could take three 200mg Motrin tabs, to which he responded, “AT ONCE?!” Since then, my perceived pharmacological skills have been suspect at best. Every time we give our daughter medication, I calculate her mg/kg dose out loud for him. It is worse than the mandatory pediatric dosing documentation in my own ED. My husband has no doubt that I can revive a patient from any life-threatening condition . . . as long as it doesn’t include NSAID administration.

As physicians, we are taught above all else, to do what is best for our patients. As emergency physicians, we are trained to make decisions quickly and carry them out efficiently, not to be indecisive or overthink everything. However, our speed can come across as being impulsive and careless.

Just as with patients, at home there are times I feel resentful for having to justify my actions to people who know little more about medicine than what they have seen on Grey’s Anatomy. And yet, it is easy to forget their perspective. It is not only the decisions we make as physicians and parents, but that compassion should be evident in our actions. While it might be easier to brush off any non-medical opinions, it is important to remember how invaluable another point of view can be, as physicians and as parents.

Do you have stories of the unique work/life balance of the emergency physician life?  “Work + Life” is a new section dedicated to your experiences and lessons learned. Write in to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and we’ll compile the best stories in this space next month. 


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