When I was a kid, my older sister loved watching videotapes of surgeries. She’d settle in front of the TV on a Saturday morning with her cereal bowl in her lap and watch some anonymous stranger get his chest opened for a triple bypass. Before you ask, no, I did not grow up with the inbred family from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. This kind of stuff just sort of happens when one of your parents is a doctor.
My dad’s a doctor and my mom’s in physical therapy, so, growing up, my sisters and I were sort of inundated by medicine on all sides. Being surrounded by people in medical fields affected us in a lot of different ways, some of which were predictable (i.e., I feel quite comfortable in hospitals) and some of which… were pretty strange. (See: aforementioned story about the 10-year-old girl who was really into surgery videos.) Being around doctors a lot as a kid gave me a profound respect for the medical profession — these are smart, highly trained, hardworking people, after all — but it also convinced me that sometimes doctors are a bunch of weirdos, a quality that is bound to bleed into their home lives. (“Bleed into”? Get it? That’s a little medical joke just for you).
Of course, what all parents do for a living, regardless of the profession, is bound to influence their family dynamics. I can only speak to my own experience, and say that, when I was a kid, my dad’s being a doctor was more than simply his job; It was a key part of his identity that shaped all of our lives on a daily basis. Sometimes it was great (Yay, doctor in the house!), sometimes it was hard (Your parent has a 70-hour work week!), but, often, it was simply weird (Read on!). If you have a parent who’s doctor, these oddities may feel familiar:
1. No space is off-limits for disgusting stories, especially not the dinner table
“Dinner table conversation” means “Let me tell you about the grossest thing that the human body has ever done.” (You learned to have a strong stomach).
2. When you were a kid, your house was full of medical textbooks with disgusting photos, and you LOVED them
As kids, my sisters and I liked to sneak into my dad’s office and look at the pictures in his medical books — the grosser, the better. The best (and also the worst) one? A guide to urological infections. Yes, that means insane penis diseases. (I don’t want to think about what that may have done to my sexual development.)
3. Growing up, there were sometimes blood and urine samples in your refrigerator
And it didn’t even occur to you to think it was weird.
4. As a kid, you had someone to ask about any ailment, real or imagined
With a doctor in the house, you always had someone to ask about weird physical symptoms. No traumatizing Internet searches for you!
5. You still call your parent for medical advice, even though you haven’t lived at home in a decade
I live in a different country from my parents, and I still regularly call my dad to ask about the weird mole I just found on my arm and why my foot suddenly feels tingly. The fact that his usual response is “I can’t diagnose you from two thousand miles away,” which doesn’t deter me one bit.
6. Growing up, your parent regularly performed minor surgeries at home
Abscess on your toe? Monstrous zit? No problem! When I was growing up and my sisters or I had an abscess or something, my dad would get out an Exacto knife and a blowtorch (to sterilize the knife, not us, obviously), and we’d all gather round to watch him gently cut it open. It was awesome. Because, apparently, we were all obsessed with pus and blood. (As I’m writing this, I’m wondering if this was actually doctor thing or if it was a "my family" thing. Was my household just really, really weird? It’s possible.)
7. In middle school, you tried to get your doctor parent to write you a note to get you out of P.E. class, and you never succeeded
Dad, if you can’t use your medical degree to get me out of gym, WHAT IS IT EVEN GOOD FOR?
8. Your parent has a crazy, horrifying medical story to discourage you from doing just about anything
Once my dad, in an effort to discourage this dude from smoking, told my sister’s high school boyfriend that smoking, in addition to causing cancer and emphysema, can cause vascular disease (i.e., problems with the circulatory system), which can, in turn, lead to erectile dysfunction and, eventually, penile gangrene. You are welcome for that mental image. (Shockingly, this statement did not scare the boyfriend away from our house forever. I bet it did keep him from ever picking up a cigarette, though, so good on you, Dad.)
9. Your parent is a quasi-celebrity
When one of your parents is a doctor, you’re used to running into his or her patients when you go out as a family. Much of the time, the patients get excited and say things to you like “YOUR FATHER/MOTHER SAVED MY LIFE.” Which is crazy, because your father/mother probably actually did save their lives, which, again, is crazy.
10. You’re used to hanging out in hospitals/doctors’ lounges/dialysis centers/etc.
A lot of people get freaked out by cold sterility of hospitals and other medical environments, but you've spent so much time in these spaces that now they seem pretty normal to you.
11. Your house was basically a pharmacy
Growing up, there were a lot of medications (prescription and non) in your house. That sounds sort of creepy, but I don’t mean it that way; I think when your parent is a doctor, medicines just sort of accumulate. A corollary to this is what I like to call “My Dad’s Pocket Pharmacy.” My father always has a selection of pills floating around in his pocket (along with loose change and treats for the dog). If I ever say that I have a headache, he reaches in and pulls out a bunch of lint-covered tablets, and says, “Here, take this.” When I ask what “this” is, he usually says something like “Tylenol. Or maybe [Insert name of powerful prescription muscle relaxant here]. I dunno.” I’m pretty sure he’s f*cking with me.
12. You didn’t have to wait at the E.R.
Not gonna lie, being a doctor’s kid comes with certain perks. One of them is that, if you get in an accident and have to go to the emergency room, you usually don't have to wait very long. However, this awesome, totally unfair advantage only works when you are going to the hospital where your parent works. When you move away, you quickly learn the joys of sitting in the waiting room for hours like the rest of the plebs.
13. Any doctor you go to is friends with your parents, which can be kind of… weird
Medical communities tend to be fairly small and closely knit, so everybody knows everybody, which means that when you visit a doctor in your hometown, chances are, your doctor is friends with your parents. Usually it’s not a big deal, but when your gynecologist is talking about hanging out with your parents at the hospital Christmas party while she’s doing your pap smear, it’s a little awkward (or a lot awkward).
14. Your parent seems like a legit superhero sometimes
I don’t want to glamorize medicine as a profession because it’s certainly not perfect, and doctors are simply people doing a job, with limitations and imperfections just like everyone else. Being a great doctor doesn’t necessarily make someone a nice person or a good parent (remember Ellis Grey?). That said, it’s hard sometimes not to be a little in awe of a medical parent when he or she does something that is very awesome. Once when I was a teenager and we had family visiting, my uncle burst through our front door with my young cousin screaming in his arms, covered in blood. The little boy had fallen from the monkey bars at the playground and busted his head open. There was a lot of blood and yelling, and my uncle was white as a sheet. My dad walked in, very calmly picked the kid up, said “Oh, he’s fine,” took him to the hospital, and promptly stitched up his head. In the broad range of all the things that doctors do, putting in a few stitches is not at all a big deal, but I remember thinking in that moment, “You are so cool.” Remember, I was an angsty teenager at the time, so for me to even have that thought made me feel like the End of Days must be nigh.
Images: Giphy (8)