My doctor husband knows I can’t talk before my first coffee of the day, that I’m going to be a pain in the ass about germs on an airplane, that I hate his wild driving, that I need lots of alone time to read and write, and that I love him madly. Madly – as in, he sometimes drives me mad. As for me, I’m perfect (Just making sure you’re paying attention). Our connection is undeniable – I’d rather be with him than anyone else – in front of the TV, in a remote corner of the world, at Home Depot, at an outdoor restaurant people watching, or in bed. But sometimes – I just don’t get him, and Grey’s Anatomy, of all things, helped me figure stuff out.
My teenage daughter is at least ten seasons into this pop culture phenomenon and suggested that we stream it to keep ourselves entertained while my husband recovered from a minor procedure. We protested explaining that we’re not into “that type of show,” but when she offered to watch with us, we immediately agreed. Any opportunity to hang out with the teenager (even if she’s Snapchatting the entire time)…
At first I was busy criticizing the absurd and unrealistic aspects of the show. Having lived through residency with my husband, whose first year class was barely allowed to touch a patient without supervision and trailed behind their chief with their tails tucked, I rolled my eyes at interns’ heroics. They were not only single-handedly saving lives one minute out of medical school, but had time for daily sexcapades in the on-call room. But while so much of the show is made for TV, certain aspects provided the missing puzzle pieces to my husband’s complex personality. Here are the five things I learned from watching Grey’s Anatomy about my husband after 29 years together:
#1 — Grace under pressure.
My husband stays calm no matter what’s happening in sharp contrast with my inherent tendency to assume the worst, implode and then assess the situation. I’ve mistaken his unflappable demeanor for lack of caring at times, which now seems utterly absurd. I guess it took actually seeing it on the screen in front of me to understand that there is no room in his daily life for hysteria and knee-jerk reactions. He takes in all the concussions, bad grades, friend drama, and bad choices that our teens dole out with total grace. He listens, analyzes, discusses and helps find resolution (while I’m rocking in the corner). At times I want to scream, “how are you so unflappable?” But I’m smart enough to thank my lucky stars and keep my mouth shut.
#2 — Ability to compartmentalize.
It took watching all those Grey’s interns making evening plans during their crazy busy shifts, and making time for love, sex and intrigue for me to realize that my husband’s well being depend upon his ability to compartmentalize. If he internalized every life-altering procedure and even death and was unable to move on, he would not be able to function effectively at his job. While this seems obvious, I’m always taken aback by his ability to discuss, absorb and insulate an issue. When one of our teens is suffering, it’s hard for me to separate myself from whatever they have going on. My husband is able to have supportive heart-to-hearts and compartmentalize their issues so that they don’t consume him. I, on the hand, am a work in progress. Slow progress.
#3 — Single-minded focus.
Being a doctor is not a 9-5 job and the hours are anything but predictable. Spouses and families of doctors take a back seat to emergencies that arise daily, and being okay with that is not always easy. Holiday dinners, birthdays and even mothers-in-law don’t trump patients. “But we have dinner reservations,” I used to whine to no avail. Somehow seeing it all unfold on Grey’s helped drive home the obvious: Operating rooms don’t run on a timely schedule, the human body can spring a leak at any time, and the doctor is focused on nothing but the life he holds in his hands at that moment.
#4 — Ability to function on little to no sleep.
I’m not a late sleeper by most standards, but I see no reason to spring out of bed at 6 a.m. on a Sunday like my husband does. Although he is considerate and tiptoes out of the bedroom, dog trailing behind him bleary eyed, I’m a light sleeper – so once he’s up, I’m up. He says he would love to sleep late but just can’t. I guess years of waking up before 5 a.m. and a million 24-hour-shifts later, he just can’t stay asleep for too long. I’ve learned to treasure our quiet weekend mornings together, before anyone else in the house (and the eastern seaboard) is awake.
#5 — He doesn’t sweat the small stuff.
My husband’s high-pressure job requires that he stay in total control when he’s in the hospital. Everything matters, and many matters are life and death. So on his time off my husband doesn’t sweat the small stuff, which in the past I’d mistaken for not caring. He’s easy going about social engagements and restaurant choices. He doesn’t freak out about bad test grades or mistakes that can be fixed, and he doesn’t fight to change things that can’t be changed (that includes me).
Perhaps it’s a little bizarre that it took a prime-time TV show to help me figure out stuff that seems obvious. And I’m not promising that I have the staying power to catch up on all the seasons before the show’s premiere in September. But I’m grateful for the insight into my very own Dr. McDreamy, and that my kids have at least one balanced, calm and collected parent!