I stood in the hallway, outside of the door, and adjusted my scrub top. Satisfied, I grabbed my white lab coat and pulled it on, retrieving my stethoscope from the pocket and hanging it around my neck. Rarely do I wear scrubs or a lab coat, opting instead for comfortable khakis or cords and a knit top. Today was a special occasion, though. I needed to look official.
The door opened. A woman walked out. "Okay, Dr. Jim, I think we're ready for you."
I exhaled a deep, cleansing breath and smiled at the woman. This would be my third and final time for doing this. Made me kind of sad, actually, to think that this tradition would end.
I walked through the door and was greeted with the cheers from...24 third-graders. Looking around, I spotted my youngest child, Grace, standing up and clapping among the rest of her classmates. Her face shined, her smile beamed, and, in that moment, I could think of nowhere else I would rather be.
The annual Third-Grade Parent Occupation Day.
It all started a few years back, when my first child, Emma, was in third grade. A note came home in her book bag asking parents "with interesting jobs" if they might be willing to come in and spend 30 minutes explaining to the class their occupation. "What do you think, Jim?" my wife asked. "Please, Daddy, it will be really fun!" exclaimed my daughter. As much as I tried to convince the two of them that my job was "not interesting," they knew better. "Well, then," I said, caving to my daughter's pleas, "I would be honored to come and speak to your class, Emma."
And guess what? I LOVED it. Seriously, the kids were absolutely enthralled with my stories about the emergency room, the path of education taken to get there, and the hospital setting in general. I learned that entertaining a class of third-graders was much easier than handling a caseload of emergency room patients. Any day. Especially if you brought some "free stuff" with you to hand out afterwards. And had some "fun x-rays" of broken bones to show the kids, too.
After Emma's class, I was called two years later to do the same for Cole's class. Again, it was just as rewarding with his class. I was learning that third-grade is quite an impressionable age, and these kids seemed to hang on my every word. That's never happened before to me!
Finally, this year, when Grace's class was planning this day, I knew I would do it, without question. I walked into the classroom, amidst the cheers, and was introduced by Grace's teacher, Mrs. M., the woman who greeted me in the hallway. "Grace," she continued, after my introduction, "why don't you come and stand up by your father while he talks to us." Oh yeah, I thought to myself after seeing her smile and skip to the front, this was definitely worth it.
It's quite easy to navigate through 15 or 20 minutes of talk time with these kids, much easier than you would think. I shared with them some generic stories of sick kids (their age) that I've treated. Maybe with a little embellishment, of course. The kid who fell off the swing, breaking his arm and conking his head. The kid from the car accident who wasn't hurt because he wore a seat belt. The kid with tummy pain who had to have his appendix out. The kid who braved through a strep collection for his sore throat. You get the picture, right? These kids were hypnotized and spellbound.
Following my little spiel, they asked me some questions, including how long it takes to be a doctor. They're always amazed to learn that, including kindergarten and excluding residency years, it takes 21 years of education to become a doctor. "You mean I only have 17 more years after third-grade?" the math whiz of the class asked.
More questions and statements followed, in rapid-fire style:
"Have you ever rode in an ambulance or helicopter?"
"Do stitches hurt?"
"Do you give shots?"
"Does blood scare you?"
"Does blood really look like ketchup?"
"Do you make a lot of money?"
"My mom works in the ER, too. Do you know her?"
"I broke my arm last summer!"
"I had my appendix out when I was five!"
Trust me, even at their age, they can engage in some serious "who caught the biggest fish" stories, too. "I broke my arm twice!" "My mom has had five surgeries." "My dad has been to the ER ten times." "I probably know him, then," I said, chuckling to myself. You only let a couple of these stories slip in, though, or else you can lose control. Real fast.
Next, we moved on to some x-rays I brought along. After everyone shifted over to the classroom window, I held each one up to the light for them to see. I showed them a full body x-ray of a recent newborn, which amazed them. "Look how little," they sighed. Then I showed them an x-ray of the heart and lungs of a kid their age, before showing them an adult chest x-ray (don't worry, no foreign body x-rays for this crowd). Following these, we moved on to broken bones--arms, legs, ankles, wrists, skull--you name it, they loved it. The war stories started again, but I skillfully nipped that. While we talked and looked at x-rays, I passed my stethoscope around, the kids enjoying the "drum beats" of their heart.
Finally, the best part--I handed out "stuff." In previous years, it's been pens, gloves, books, masks, water bottles, all courtesy of my hospital's PR office. This year, besides all the usual, I was set-up with some very cool knapsack/shoulder bags. Grace was in charge of hand-outs and, before I knew it, her classmates were dressed in their gloves, foot covers, masks, and caps. Even I was impressed with how good they all looked. I wouldn't be surprised if there were several future medical careers among this class.
The half-hour flew by. And after one more round of cheers, I was done. The end of a tradition. I gave Grace a goodbye hug. As I walked out the door, the kids yelled their final goodbyes and thanks to me. Music to my ears.
The guidance counselor greeted me in the hallway, a very sweet woman. "This is your last time, you know." Oh, I knew alright. I didn't need to be reminded of that. "Thank you for coming in. You are always a big hit with the kids." That's how I felt, too, but a deeper part of me knew it was probably just the "stuff" and the "fun x-rays." But still...
I will miss this tradition. Losing this tradition makes me kind of sad, reminding me of just how fast these kid-filled years seem to be passing by. Big sigh. If only there were some brakes I could jam on to slow these precious years down.
The other day, Grace came home with a pile of thank-you notes from her classmates. Hand-drawn pictures and all. It's a pile I will save to give back to her when she grows up. Listen to some of these thank-you comments:
"I think I will be a doctor now. My mom wants me to be a chiropractor but I will stick with doctor."
"Your job is the coolest. I think I might have it as a job."
"I will not be sick."
"I really learned a lot about doctors. Break a leg!"
"Dr. Jim, thank you for all the stuff. We like presents."
"Thank you for the gloves, I haven't taken them off all day."
The best one? Easy.
"Dear Dr. Daddy. Thank you for taking time out of your day of work for my class. I Love You. Love, Grace." Her words were accompanied by a big red heart.
Another big sigh. Yep, I'll miss this tradition...
As always, big thanks for reading. Next post will be Monday, March 29. See you then. I hope you all have a nice weekend...