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Love stories: Patients as characters in your life

It is one of my favourite sayings that being a family doctor is like having a small but important bit part in many people’s movies. Sometimes, however, it is the patient who plays a small but important role in your movie.  It was my husband’s birthday this week and we decided that what he needed for a present was a recliner, rocking chair. “Are you going the full Grandpa?” asked my daughter sarcastically.

“Not quite,” I replied, “we are not getting the electronic one that could deliver him directly from the chair to a box.”  To get the chair of our dreams, we drove out to the suburbs wanting to try-out the chairs in real life. On our way we listened to the CBC and I heard a familiar voice. One of my patients, a singer songwriter, was being interviewed.

She became my patient when I just started at my clinic in Outremont. This clinic is a sometimes incongruous mix of the major inhabitants of Mile End, so it serves mostly hipsters and Hasids. I know next to nothing about contemporary music so I had no idea that she was a well-known musician. I was drawn to her immediately, because of her palpable sweetness and her upbeat personality. Her husband was also appealing, quieter than his bubbly partner but attentive and involved in the prenatal process.

In the interview my patient discussed how the past two years have been such a challenge and yet deeply fulfilling as she negotiated marriage and motherhood in the context of the pandemic. She also discussed her new album which was mainly reinterpretations of her old songs now that she is a completely different person.

So few love stories focus on the marriage as it evolves over time. The classic “Marriage Plot” of literature, music and theater usually ends with the happily ever after. However in real life, the wedding is only the beginning of a long journey that has many twists and turns with each person in the couple changing over time and over their lives. As the marriage therapist Esther Perel says, “Most people have three or four significant relationships in their lives, and sometimes these are with the same person.”

My patient’s pregnancy was rocky, there were complications, and her delivery was also not the one that people dream of. In the end she was cared for by multiple members of my amazing group of FM OBs and our excellent Obstetrical colleagues. Throughout it she felt well supported, heard and understood. This for me is an obstetrical success story. While I do love a hearts and flowers spontaneous vaginal delivery, what really counts for me is that the woman maintains her sense of agency, power and safety.

Last summer, during the hiatus between the COVID waves, my colleagues and I were invited to an outdoor concert at the Montreal Jazz Festival. Standing together, we listened to our patient give a beautiful concert that reached into our hearts and touched our souls. I noticed her husband, the lead guitarist, just to the right of the singer at her piano. He stood stock still as some of the best lead guitarists do, pouring waves of music from his instrument, without appearing to do anything at all. Every once in a while a smile would pass between them as she sang love songs. He was solid, present, completely supportive, without needing to be the center of attention. This is a style of masculinity that appeals to me. It is a style that I recognize and appreciate.

Last night we went out for my husband’s birthday. We went to a fancy restaurant, feeling it was vaguely illicit to be drinking Champagne in a public place. During the course of the evening we reminisced about the many excellent meals we have had over the past 47 years. We discussed our adventures, the people we have been at different times in our love story. We look forward to facing the next chapter to see who we will be next.