September 13, 2018
As I waved goodbye to the twins in their first school bus ride to Kindergarten, I reflected on the incredible parenting journey over the past five years. The bus stop was a five-minute walk from our house, on the crest of a little hill. They can charge up the hill with gusto now. But barely five years ago, they were two absolutely helpless 34-week premies with feeding tubes sticking out from their noses. The pregnancy was complicated and my wife was admitted to the hospital at 23rd week. We lived in a constant state of anticipation. Two to three times a week, we held our breath for an hour during which they were measured by ultrasound from head to toes. With us being both physicians and fully understood the potential risks and long term outcomes, Theo and Elise came to this world amid a high level of parental anxiety. At birth, they had a look of terror on their faces as if they just wanted to crawl right back to the womb. Sleeping and feeding were not normal physiologic necessities for them but were fought with much consternation over minutes and millimeters. They were as colicky as babies can come.
Flash forward five years and they are healthy robust children that greet the world with open arms. Though Elise is still tiny (10th percentile), we have absolutely no concern about their health anymore. Elise has her mother’s look (thank God), but her personality is all mine. She can charm the world with her radiant smiles but relish her quiet introverted space. She often loses herself in front of an easel, happily creating images that reveal her capacity to concentrate on details. Back in June, I took Elise on an 11-hour plane ride to Hong Kong to see my mother and it was a breeze traveling with her alone. There is an unspeakable sweetness when your child can sync with you on an intuitive level as if our DNAs are humming in the same tone.
Theo, on the other hand, is a carbon copy of me in all his physical features but that is where all the similarities end. He is a jovial little fellow who craves constant company especially his mom’s. He loves to play tricks and act silly to draw attention but is balanced by his willingness to help others in all tasks big and small. It is fun to have him as my assistant for projects around the house. We butt heads often and he would even growl or physically push me in anger. My father and I never connected in that physical way and perhaps that is just what male bonding is all about. He does not care if I don’t read him stories but he always wants me to wrestle with him before bed.
The first day of Kindergarten also marked the official ending of summer and what a busy and glorious summer we had. After my trip to Hong Kong in early June, we had a barrage of parties at home. I cooked a seven-course benefit dinner for ten people for my church and hosted another benefit dinner for ten for the twins’ school. Of course, there was the twins’ fifth birthday party where we had many little superheroes flying around in our backyard. We did manage to find some quiet family vacation time in the Methow valley and on the Washington coast. Criss crossing around our home state made me realize how lucky we are to live in the Pacific Northwest. The natural beauty of the Cascade Loop and the Olympic National Park lifted my spirit and recharged me with a sense of purpose and meaning for my work.
Another way for me to feel re-energized as a physician is by serving as a Commissioner on the Washington Medical Commission (WMC), formerly known as Medical Quality Assurance Commission. I was honored and privileged to be appointed by Governor Jay Inslee to the Commission in January 2017. WMC is the entity that grants physicians their license to practice medicine and our mission is to promote patient safety and enhance the integrity of the medical profession. There are a total of twenty-one members: thirteen physicians, two physician assistants and six public members. One of the most important roles as Commissioners is to determine if a physician or a physician assistant committed an act of unprofessional conduct or substandard of care. Once a week, a panel of three commissioners convenes to decide if a complaint warrants an investigation. Once the investigation is fully completed, the case is then assigned to a commissioner for a thorough review. The reviewing commissioner member then presents the case to the full panel when we meet every six to eight weeks. I love listening to these cases: the medical complexities, the impacts on the patients, the settings and circumstances in which the incident occurred. I try to put myself in the situation and ask myself if I would do anything differently. Many cases are clear cut but there are enough equivocal cases that prompt us into a healthy debate. Our panel meetings can be lengthy and grueling but we always take them seriously and deliberately in the best interest of the public.
Another important role that we have as Commissioners is to ensure that the sanctions that we imposed are conformed by the physicians. These sanctions may include scholarly papers, course work, chart reviews, preceptorship, practice monitoring or restrictions. Generally the monitored physicians appear in front of the Commission to allow us to have a meaningful dialogue to check on their progress. It is most inspiring and energizing when I see physicians put their lives back on track and re-dedicate their skills and arts back into helping our fellow citizens. There is often time a precipitating factor, a divorce, a family tragedy, substance abuse etc, that led the physician to commit an unprofessional act. Yet, once the doctor accepts his/her responsibility and full heartily comply with the remedial actions, their very innate need to be a physician and to help others become the driving force of their own recovery. It is this realization that makes me so grateful to be a physician and to serve other physicians and our citizens in this unique capacity.
I read a number of good books over the summer. One was Life on Purpose: How Living for What Matters Most Changes Everything by Victor J. Strecher. The author offered a compelling personal and scientific account for the myriad of benefits of purposeful living, especially if the purpose has a transcending quality. My life’s purpose is to help people see. But I am reminded by the mission statement that I established when I opened my practice many years ago: helping the whole family see a brighter future. It still rings true today. While our medical and surgical skills can help you see better, it is my hope that our caring and trusting partnership can help inspire a positive outlook for your future. From watching how my children grow and how my physician colleagues recover, staying positive is a key determinant to health and happiness. In fact, that is the only way to live.