Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Rocking the Roles


I guess this is something of a cheat but it IS a snapshot of your writer using a piece she wrote about other women whose beliefs she shares. It wasn't written recently but could hold up as "current events" tomorrow.

(I wish I had the energy and had remembered to send a memo to the creative muses so that I could share a blithe little fairy tale focused on me that would as personal & on target as the previous trip to Devonshire. Actually, there will be childhood recollections shared - you deserve to have SOME insight into the enchoate development of this now all-grown-up & twisted psyche but, alas, Brooklyn holds none of the charm of Laddie-Buck's 'hood.)

So here we go. In the beginning, women did not picnic around the Tree of Knowledge. Rather there was much tarrying around the hearth fire and birthing chair (tripod-shaped, did you know?) where her inventiveness & creativity were best applied. Advances in technology, birth control savvy and the "blue stocking" revolution left woman with some free time on her hands and a fair amount of 'masculine spirit' - aggression, productivity, need to amass 'things', etc. - psychologically & biologically available as is the norm. (At conception, the genes line up and determine 'gender' by pure numbers.) And the question became: What to do with all of these 'qualities', Eve?

Some women opted to have another baby & bake bread. Others shook the Tree and feasted. Today, many women choose careers that demand objectivity, impersonality, rationality, focus. All of which are not 'natural' feminine attributes. Women have proved themselves to be fine educators, administrators, leaders, artists, police officers, fire fighters and soldiers. (Gosh. At second blush - confine to lateral upper, cheekbones, please - that kinda sounds like ubiquitous "MOM". Hmmm. . .) However, there are two built-in dangers in this reality - over-valuation of the masculine and under-evaluation of the feminine. Balance - that elusive juggling act - is what society must seek.
A woman working in a traditionally 'male-dominated' profession runs the greatest risk of sacrificing her femininity. Where competition, precision and stress are the daily diet, she may barely have time to nibble at beauty, nature, relationships.
(Doubtless, you're wondering, with hungry curiosity, "Wha'd SHE do? Was she a Tree-shaker or cookie-baker? Attack higher academia or hook-rug her way to county bazaar largesse?" Or not. Whatever, allow me to introduce a complex gal for whom I fashioned something of an altar.)
In the late eighties, Dr. Wendy Marshall was the Director of the Trauma Service and Professor of general Surgery at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital (a Level I Trauma Center). Trauma surgery is physically, emotionally and mentally demanding. And it was but one of her duties which included administration, teaching, coordination, research and public relations. This was one busy lady - busy doing things requiring a healthy integration of 'masculine' (Jungian term is animus) abilities.
Marshall was a pilgrim, of sorts. She was raised in England, educated inLondon and arrived on our shores at a time in her life when she was traveling and trying to decide what she wanted to be. (Vermont won her heart and medical school her mind.)
So American society was an adopted culture for her. How was she handling all of this - filling her predecessor's O.R. greens (and that oh-so-flattering little paper green cap) in a new location, a new institution, with a new team of colleagues, residents and nurses watching her every move? Well, with aplomb and gracious efficiency. She could be as cold as the blades she wielded; as unyielding as her steel retractors. She was small, slim and, particularly in those greens with sensibly attractive bobbed hair, she called Peter Pan to mind. She spoke softly, quickly. Her brown eyes held on to yours ready for laughter or tears or dwelling on some serious, important medical/surgical conundrum. The new team's consensus was that she made each member feel important, an integral part. Commenting on this assessment, Marshall says, "That's because they are. It's not just a feeling."
(Hearing echoes of pearls past? Those cast not before swine but the son who would be King - the Crown Prince whose imperative was mastering the ability to feel, relate, emote. All those Jungian 'anima' or 'soul' attributes that had to be tapped before he was crowned.)
Marshall loved her work and cared deeply about her patients. Wendy also made it 'policiy' that when she left the hospital, she took care of Wendy. "I never read a medical book when I go home. I love reading - mostly English literature because that's what we were brought up with. But there are two kinds of reading that I like: a book that is well-written and therefore fun to read - like the classics. And then, the absolute trash. You know, you get home and you're fed up after a busy day and you plop down and read this junk for two hours."
She enjoys classical music and took music appreciation classes when possible, collected Wedgewood China, bred Afghan hounds and spent as much time as possible outdoors - sailing, jogging, playing tennis and spending precious time alone with the surf and the sandpipers. She'd just bought a home and was anxious to decorate. And in ALL aspects of her life, Wendy stressed the importance of relationships - of being with, helping and understanding people. One major drawback for Wendy is not being able to spend more time with/support the families. The families who in six months will not even recall Wendy Marshall, M.D.
Does it bother her that there is little positive feedback from these patients and their families? No, because they can't help that. But there are other things that compensate, that bolster the trauma surgeon's "feelings". Marshall explains, "You see, we will make a difference. There are at least one-third of the patients who are on our service right now who would be dead were they not here." And the things that break up the unbearable represent relationship and the capacity for love. Did she think she was a more "complete" surgeon because she was a woman? "Not at all. Men have the same capacities. In fact, the two [sets of functions] it seems to me, are particularly related in medicine."
(We have traversed The House of Devonshire - a castle - and The Trauma Center - The House of Horrors - together in two short evenings. My wish for you, dear reader, is that in some small way I've been able to impart the peace and comfort that can only make such a sojourn enhancing because you are - singularly and in the collective - heart and soul. With that, please allow The Bard to ". . .knit up your ravelled sleeve of care.")
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