It’s hard to quantify the joy of working with children
This month’s issue of San Antonio Medicine is about pediatrics. Since I have been practicing child neurology for the past 34 years, I assumed it would be very easy to write a one-page column about my feelings working with children. Instead, I have found it to be quite the opposite. I find it impossible to distill the experiences of 34 years into one page. I will however, endeavor to point out a few fundamental philosophies I have developed as a result of my experience with families and with children.
1) Children are more adept at expressing pure unbridled joy and happiness than any others. I have seen this in the eyes of strong and healthy 5-year-olds that have had nothing more serious than minor bumps to the head. I have seen the same joy and happiness emanating from the eyes of a 3-year-old with the most severe form of cerebral palsy. It is almost as though no one ever told them they had neurological problems. I have come to the conclusion that most people who are attracted to pediatrics or pediatric subspecialties do so because they value the exposure to this type of complete and thorough happiness of soul. My life is enriched as much by this exposure now at age 65 as it was when I was 35. I have three colleagues in child neurology who are older than 75 and still practicing. I am convinced that what drives them to maintain their practice is not the thought of making more money. It is the desire to continue the interaction with children and to continue to see the joy in their eyes.
2) I find it fascinating to work with individuals that are growing, developing, and changing. I have many patients with chronic disease such as epilepsy, migraine, or attention deficit disorder. I often start working with them at age 5 or 6 years or even younger. I often continue working with them up until age 21. I see them as they finish elementary school and eventually graduate from high school. I have seen many of them go off to college and choose a career path. When I first tell a mother that her child has epilepsy and I see the shock and fear in her eyes, I never hesitate to tell them that many of my patients with epilepsy are smarter than I am and infinitely better looking than I am. It is difficult to quantify or express the satisfaction one gets from seeing a child struggling in school and wondering what is wrong with them to eventually treating an underlying problem with attention span and watching them graduate with honors and have outstanding academic careers. Watching a child go from being a poorly-controlled epileptic to being completely seizure-free is watching a child’s life change 180 degrees. I have come to realize that most parents view their children as the most valuable thing in their life. It is both humbling and an honor to know that parents are trusting their most valuable and cherished children to you.
3) Lastly, there has been such dramatic progress made in almost every aspect of pediatrics and in my case, child neurology. In one of my earlier columns I mentioned a neurological condition, Werdnig-Hoffman syndrome, which had been uniformly fatal up until the past two or three years. There are now genetic treatments available that offer these children an entirely different future. I have seen hypothermia introduced into the neonatal ICU for term babies that have perinatal asphyxia. I have watched babies that I was convinced would suffer terrible brain damage, only to see them leave the nursery looking like normal children. I have tremendously enjoyed working with colleagues in the various fields of pediatrics. They share my appreciation for the uplifting nature of medicine geared towards children.
I realize that this discussion likely seems superficial to many. However, to go more deeply into the various experiences and philosophies I have learned from children over the years would require writing a three or four hundred page book. At times one likes to think back and ask what could I have done differently to have more fulfillment in my career? In my case, the answer is a resounding “I would do nothing differently.” Being a child neurologist and working with children is one of the best decisions I have made in my entire life.
I know that most physicians in other fields could write very similar columns about the uniqueness of what they do and why they love it. I would welcome such submissions to San Antonio Medicine and hope to see some of these published in the future.
I would also like to take this time to congratulate Dr. Jayesh Shah for being elected to the Board of Trustees of the Texas Medical Association. He is an outstanding individual and will do a superb job for the state. Bexar County Medical Society is very proud to have such outstanding individuals in our membership. Enjoy the summer.
Sheldon Gross, MD
Sheldon G. Gross, MD, is the 2018 president of the Bexar County Medical Society.