This article first appeared on the PBS affiliated Website This Emotional Life.
“As you get older, it is harder to have heroes, but it is sort of necessary.” — Ernest Hemingway
It starts with lavender. Then I notice the tiny, neatly folded outfit set aside by the changing table. A dragon in the corner smiles at me, performing ironic double-duty as humidifier and protector, providing respiratory ease rather than spewing the requisite fire so common to his kind.
Through the dim lighting I spot a small bottle waiting to provide the next meal when necessary, along with an array of accoutrements placed strategically throughout the room in anticipation of what the night may bring. And, of course, I hear the alternating tonic and dominant harmony in D flat. This is my house, and yet I cannot help but ask myself where this room has come from. It seems to have magically appeared overnight, while I was at the office crunching numbers and doing my best to contain health care-related chaos.
As I have mentioned in earlier articles, the last few months have been interesting for me, for a variety of reasons. Thus far, 2011 has seen fit to grant me a beautiful baby boy as I relinquished ownership of a family hospital handed down to me by my father. Never before have I seen the Wheel of Life turn so up close and personal than in the last few months, and the combined experience has forced me to take account of the daily minutiae. Simply put, things are changing, and fast. The past seems suddenly far behind while the future stretches out before me, full of exciting new events that remind me just how far out of my league I am. And through it all, the scent of lavender lingers as a reminder of my transition.
With the livelihood of over 400 employees – who I consider extended family members – at stake during the ongoing sale process of a local hospital on which the very community has come to depend for more than 50 years, I am the first to admit that the last two months have not afforded me as much time to spend with my newborn as I would have liked. Late night phone conferences and early morning briefings have left little time for more than the occasional bottle-feeding or diaper change. That’s what comes to mind as I make my way across this odd little room in the heart of my house and realize just how much work my wife has put into creating a warm, safe haven in which to raise our son. My lack of familiarity with many of the products on the nightstand only serves to reinforce how much she has learned recently, and put into practice on her own.
While I have been managing to survive my recent professional upheaval with the support of a hospital family nine years in the making, two strong-willed brothers, a handful of professional advisors with over 75 collective years of experience, and plenty of luck, that dragon’s smile stands as a reminder that she alone has borne the brunt of maneuvering through the uncharted waters of first time parenthood. Any initial feelings of personal guilt as a result of my situation are quickly succeeded by the pride I feel on her behalf as it dawns on me that the foundation she has so gracefully provided exists not just for my son in his first months, but for me as well as I close out an important and emotional chapter in the history of my family tree.
While I was focusing my energies on external responsibilities, it was my wife who kept the home front intact. We never did plan any such allocation of duties, nor could we have anticipated this perfect storm of sorts when her pregnancy was first announced. Yet somehow during the process, perhaps when I wasn’t even paying attention, Natalya became both anchor and life preserver, in many ways taking care of me in much the same way as she did our son. In this forum I have had ample opportunity to discuss the many relationships that have formed my understanding of health care and its continued survival throughout innumerable pressures. But I may have been remiss by not making it unmistakably clear that the relationships that form behind the scenes within the family nest are often what make it possible for health care workers to give their best in emergency situations day in and day out. Personally speaking, my support group is an army of one. On behalf of my son, my hospital family, and myself, I am forever grateful to my wife and my hero, Natalya.
As an aside, my mother-in-law recently arrived from Belgium to lend a hand and offer advice. Her arrival underscores what I am sure the dragon must also be thinking as he watches what transpires in that little room: “A mother’s work is never done.”