Friday, March 26, 2010

The Fringe Benefits

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...


Chrysalis Angel said...

What a great thing for you to do. They just melt your heart, don't they?

I used to love career day with the kids. You've probably inspired more than a couple of them.

Gia's Spot said...

Oh this was a sweet post!! It brought back all the times I went to school for my girls and then after they were too old, my sister would ask me to attend in her fifth grade classes! (she is a teacher, obviously!) Of course my occupation was a bit glitzy-ier than a doctor, as I was a very young mother, and a hairstylist in the eighties! Oh lord, the image! Just think, Madonna, in lace, Jersey Hair, and Lycra, lots of lycra!! But I will never forget the rapt attention on those faces and the proud daughters who had the youngest, best looking movie star mom!! Oh can I add that my youngest started selling, for a dollar, peeps of me in a photograph she taped to the inside of her locker?? Wearing a white Lycra top and mini skirt? I never found out how much she made but oh lord that explains all the giggles whenever I would go on a field trip and the boys always wanted a picture taken with me!! (I didnt wear those outfits on these trips!) Oh the shame!! I can laugh now being a grandmother but then? Mortified is a mild word!!
Thanks for dredging up these memories!! lol

rlbates said...


NurseExec said...

I absolutely loved this post.

WrightStuff said...

It is so heartwarming when we are able to do something like that for our kids. Last year I was lucky enough to be invited to a reception attended by the Queen (yes, THE Queen!). I went into my son's school afterwards to tell them all about it. He almost burst with pride. It was so lovely.
By the way - my overriding impressin of HRH was that she is so much shorter than you imagine!!

Katie said...

These made me feel like I was in third grade again:
-"I will not be sick."
-"Thank you for the gloves, I haven't taken them off all day."
-"I passed my stethoscope around, the kids enjoying the "drum beats" of their heart."
-"The kid from the car accident who wasn't hurt because he wore a seat belt."

"I really learned a lot about doctors. Break a leg!"
This kid is way too clever. I hope he seeks a career in English rather than in medicine. :-)

Oh, and I'm not gonna lie, I'm a bit jealous of the third graders new bags and pens. :-P

<>< K

Bibliotekaren said...

Oh, so, sweet. That note is a keeper.

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to let you know your stories are always wonderful to read. You put so much thought into your postings and I love reading them. This one I could totally realate to. They grow up to fast.

mommy-medic said...

Aren't kids the coolest? Your daughter sounds very sweet. I love going to career day!

Hey come check out my update- I was fortunate enough to help save a kid that became a "children's miracle network" miracle kid of the year and they just released the video about it.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't be surprised if there were several future medical careers among this class.

Bet on it. After a fun, positive encounter like this I'm sure you influenced a few students to pursue a health professions career. Wonderful post today.

Stephany said...

You've got the career center in High School to look forward to now, they still do that, but with college in mind....

I have an envelope of notes from elementary kids too, thanking me for going on field trips. Priceless.

Rositta said...

Beautiful... another memory to file away...ciao

Karen said...

So cute - kids are great and so impressionable. It's nice to know when you make a difference to them. You could always volunteer to speak in classes other than your own childrens ;)

Marie said...

I also did career day when my girls were young and had so much fun doing so.

The kids were older, fifth grade, but fascinated by my telling them about what it takes to become a nurse and what nursing is like. So flattering! I have saved the thank you's still.

Just wait until you get to your last back-to-school night. My four kids were up to ten years apart. I had 26 years of back-to-school nights! I was doing a jig of happiness by the last one.

They do grow fast, but by the time they do you'll be ready. You'll remember the precious babies they were. But you'll be in a whole new stage of life yourselves. Not only is it rewarding to see the kind of grown-ups they have become, but life is so much easier!

t. said...

What a great post!

Thanks for sharing, Doc.


Winking Doll said...

Thanks for sharing, doc.

It's nice how kids are so genuine and full of enthusiasm :-)

Anonymous said...

Dr. Jim, hug those kidlets close to you whenever you can. Since I am already a grandmother [HEY--I was a child bride!! :-) ] I can tell you that Einstein was correct, and time spirals in on itself the older we get. I really feel some days as if I was just a young, breastfeeding Mommie, but in realilty my GRAND-son is almost ready for school in the blink of an eyelash. And oh yeah...take lots of pictures so you can remember....

Pattie, RN (and Nana of one)

Cathy said...

Time flies Doc. I can barely remember when my kids were third graders. I wonder where the years have went? I now have a grandson who is in his 2nd year at Ohio State and my youngest grandson (his brother) is 3 yo. I had my 2 kids 11 months apart, but my son and dil spread theirs out. 17 years between their oldest and youngest. They also have a 13 yo daughter thrown in there. Maybe that is a good thing. They still have a 3rd grader to look forward to.

Love the card from your daughter!

Anonymous said...

I can't wait to have kids reading this!~

Anonymous said...

Wow -- I never got to meet a real ER doc when I was in third grade! Those are some lucky kids! And it IS fun visiting with them. I did it a few times as a newspaper reporter. Kids are great.

Smalltown RN said...

Oh they do grow up fast. There is something special about getting involved with your childs school and class that way.

When my girls were little I would coach school teams, volunteer for one thing or another...I remember how it made my girls feel...they actually really enjoyed having me around and helping out. Like you I would get sent little cards of thanks from the class for something I did...but the best feeling of all was how my child felt.

That is so wonderful that you were able to do that for all of your children...I bet you got more out of it from the students if you know what I mean.

A very heartfelt post doc! Thanks for sharing....oh btw...thanks for your kind comments on my blog...


Jabulani said...

Fabulous post. Tugs at the heartstrings knowing you are right about the years going too quickly.

It also reminds me about the time my hubs went to daughter's nursery to celebrate Burn's Night (the Scottish poet Robert Burns). He wore his full kilt regalia. I had to remind him the day before that the kids would all be sat on the floor at his feet and he'd be standing up so he should probably rethink the True Scotsman thing!!!

I think I'll blog about that if I can find the darlin' photo the teacher took of daughter hanging off her dad's arm in thrilled pride. Thank you for the idea.
Blessings. S

SeaSpray said...

Jim I loved this post. Your kids are obviously and rightfully so proud of you. :)

We never know what seeds we are planting when and how they will take root, but I wouldn't be surprised if a few medical careers sprout from these encounters. :)

What happy memories you all have.

I think teaching is a great way to keep something alive ..reinforces what you are doing and teaches/inspires others.