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For Love, Not Money
At the end of a recent workday, I called a patient who is undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF). After I reviewed her fertility drugs with her, we began talking about life, its enigmatic unfoldings and enfoldings, the serendipities that lie amidst the mundane. She found the love of her life while learning to ski; I once found love at a gathering of cowboys — the one I grew to love was the only one who refused to ride the bull. She told me how much it meant to her husband and her that our practice had never given up despite, as I wrote about another patient in a recent blog, an AMH level that was low. (Another fertility clinic refused her IVF unless she used donor eggs because of low AMH. I will not go into what she said; but it’s a good thing there’s distance between her home and that practice.)
We took her on, and we are the better for it. Unlike in my other blog, I don’t know if this patient is pregnant. I do know that she confided in me that she gazed at her husband last night and told him that now she knew why her own mother had told her that she was special as she was growing up. The patient said that she never understand her mother’s words until she realized how incredibly much she loved her husband; that her life had taken on new meaning, a profound unspeakable dimension since she had met him. She related her epiphany to her husband by whispering, “You are what has made me special. You have brought out the best in me, and I’m as good as I will ever be with you. Whether or not we have a baby, we have it all, Alex, right now, right here. And it’s because you believe in me and love me no matter what.”
Which does a little number on a nurse practitioner’s soul. Which is to say that I practically melted into the carpet beneath my desk.
You see, I think of my work like this. Yes, I am a woman of letters and science. I love science; it thrills me when our embryologist allows me into his lab to look through the scope at embryos. I love all of it, from the time I have to walk on what I call the fly-strip mat at the entrance to the lab to when I witness that the correct names are on the test tubes for the right people. Hell, I even like watching the sperm under the scope race in a frenzy to go somewhere, anywhere, where an egg might lie in wait. Crazy little maniacs, they.
But the truth is that my work isn’t work. As I told a business person yesterday, medicine is a calling. If it weren’t, I would have hung up my stethoscope years ago, what with insurance shark-infested waters, increasing pressure to do more and better with less time and money, never mind the sea of egos within the field that you have to dodge. My work, in the final analysis, boils down to this: I make a modest income helping women through one of the darkest times of their lives. A time when they wonder if they might, like most other women, be able to to bear, then send their little messenger(s) off into the future, their progeny’s progeny, to a time that they will never know or see.
And so it is in reproductive endocrinology. Yes, we work in medicine and apply science sometimes in an almost ethereal manner. We coax life from bodies which are tired, worn and past their peak reproductive peak. We conjure protocols, apply powerful drugs and commonplace vitamins. We talk about spiritual and physical rest. We remind patients to celebrate their specialness, like the patient I cited above. And then, we wait. And nature usually prevails, spilling her life-giving hormones into our patients’ bloodstreams, and finally, making itself known that life prevails with the lub-dub strobe of a fetal heartbeat on ultrasound.
My hope for this patient is that this proves true for her and the love of her life, her husband. If so, my work that day, will have proven once again what I believe — that no one would stay in this field for money for long, but they would for love toward their fellow human beings.