Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

A mother and a doctor

Michelle Kittleson
Los Angeles, California, USA


Fourteen years to become a cardiologist:
Medical school, residency, fellowship training
Is easy, for the resilient — and the optimists.

One shift after another can be draining,
Though the path is clear and predictable,
So the key is stamina, a matter of maintaining.

Mother and Child
Henry Essenhigh Corke, Autochrome, 1910
Kodak collection, National Science and Media Museum 

When I struggle with a procedure or principle,
Stymied by Starling or venous cannulation,
I am calm, buoyed by mentors, success inevitable.

The ease of expertise is the reward of education,
Fixing the failing heart is my forte,
Apprentice to master: an expected transformation.

When dying patients seek their last resort
In me, the obligation inspires no fear.
Transplant or hospice? I comfort and support.

Motherhood is also part calling, part career,
Though without interviews or entrance exams.
Nine months gestation — scant preparation — and baby appears.

A newborn arrives sans directions or diagrams,
The scrawny legs and umbilical stump
Are fragile, foreign — I am discomfited, ignorant, a sham.

The early days blur in a sleep-deprived slump
Filled with hours of swaddle, shush, and swing,
We are fused by feeds, crying in tandem, one defeated lump.

I am resigned to failure and then — eye contact and chortling!
Soon soothing and nursing become second nature,
Repetition breeds skill and mastery is thrilling.

As I learn to read this lovely creature,
Telling tired whimper from angry sob, interpreting his clues,
I am an apprentice again; my little one, my teacher.

One-handed diapering, turning cries into coos:
I’m a charlatan no more by maternity leave’s end.
But which career is my calling? How do I choose?

Am I softer, or stronger? Do I break, or do I bend?
Can I keep up the pace, take on another
Rung in the career ladder? Can I ascend?

Can I be a doctor, and a mother?
Yes, of course! The skills of one support the other.



MICHELLE M. KITTLESON, is an Associate Professor of Medicine at Cedars-Sinai. She is the Director of Education in Heart Failure and Transplantation and Director of Heart Failure Research. She is committed to medical education and asking clinically relevant research questions to improve the management of patients with advanced heart failure.


Fall 2018  |  Sections  |  Poetry

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