The Parental Reaction

I told my parents about my resignation today.

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I cheated. I chose this weekend because on Sunday they’re throwing me an engagement party, and are currently busy with preparations – I was hoping this would be enough to distract them from the magnitude of this revelation, hoping it wouldn’t make headline news. I suppose I also hoped that my engagement would provide something about me for them to be proud of – an oasis in this current desert of my achievement.

I couldn’t do it on my own. I came back to their house in the early afternoon, and several times when my parents asked me how I was, it was on the tip of my tongue, but I was too chicken to say a word. When my fiancé arrived later in the evening, I felt so guilty. My parents were laughing and joking with him, and behaving as one does with someone who is familiar, yet not quite close enough to be treated with the comfortable indifference of family.

They were enjoying a fascinating conversation about the interpretation of Buddhism by different Asian countries when I dropped the bomb. The smile on my mother’s face vanished in an instant, and I couldn’t even look at my father. I felt about an inch high as they expressed concern at my failure to finish FY2 – why couldn’t I stay till April? It’s only a few months away! I could have completed this stage of my training! People change, didn’t I know that? If and when I want to return to medicine, having FY2 would have been so much better. What was I doing leaving without a plan or another job to go to? Not a sensible thing to do. Should have talked to my dad about it first.

I understand why they’re upset I resigned without consulting them, but genuinely, it was not out of any disrespect for their opinions. I feared telling them – that much is true – but this is a decision I had to make on my own. I can’t keep running to mummy and daddy every time something goes wrong, because then I’d just end up blaming them for giving me advice that wasn’t right for me. I am a grown woman and I need to start taking responsibility for my own decisions.

I could tell my dad was deeply affected by the news. He grew very quiet, and that was harder to deal with than spoken disapproval. He asked if I was really not enjoying the job, and when I said I was not, he said it was important that I was happy. He gave me a comforting smile later on, so I knew it was OK.

Still, I felt very emotional. It grieves me to grieve him – especailly as medicine is something we share, something that bonds us. I’ve hung out in his office in the radiology department ever since we moved to this town, and he’s always been so enthusiastic about teaching me how to read X-rays and CTs, and discussing cases with me – even when I was a kid. He was so proud of me when I qualified, and now I feel like I’ve massively let him down.

My mother is furious with me… For someone who’s not actually a doctor, she has a lot of opinions about practicing medicine. I hate having these circular conversations with her because they make me feel awful and she just doesn’t get it, but I somehow feel obliged to sit through them, as if it’s somehow the least I can do to allay her disappointment. I don’t know what’s worse – the cold disapproval over my conduct, or the buzzing anxiety about my future that I sometimes can’t help but absorb. 

So while they were setting up the marquee for the party, I ran upstairs and find solace in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey for a few minutes. Jane Austen has saved me from many a personal crisis, and if anything she reminds me of the strength of the written word. She will never know how she has saved me, and who knows how many others she has and will continue to save with her wonderful, wonderful books. Though tears were rolling down my nose, I couldn’t help but giggle at her wit and laugh at myself:

“Miss Morland, no one can think more highly of the understanding of women than I do. In my opinion, nature has given them so much that they never find it necessary to use more than half.”

The problem is, I cannot answer any of my parents’ questions. They’re grilling me about my plans now and want to know details, but I have no details. All I can do is reassure them that I have faith that I’ll be OK. I was summoned to see the Dean of the North East London Foundation School on Thursday. I was a bit nervous about seeing her, wondering if she was going to try to persuade me to stay, but she was actually very kind and understanding. She seemed genuinely worried about me, and had some of the same concerns as my parents. Some of my colleagues and seniors as well do not see this as the wisest move.

There are a lot of well-educated, older, more experienced people around me telling me that what I’m doing is effectively crazy.

Why am I not listening? What the hell is wrong with me?

I don’t know. I really don’t know what I’m doing and I’m not entirely clear on why I’m doing it, but there is a strange freedom in that. It’s almost cathartic to have this aspect of my life fall apart in front of my eyes, like a forest fire burning through the old scrub and making space for the new, green shoots that peep up through the soil when the blaze is over.

Oh dear, maybe I will live to regret this. Or maybe I will realise my true potential. I am good at medicine, but good isn’t enough for me. Improving my skills just to keep my head above water isn’t satisfying, being bored of learning is deplorable, signing up to tedious projects and audits just for the sake of going on to the next stage is intolerable.

I want to do something I’m brilliant at. I want to be hungry to learn more, I want to stay up till 3 am absorbed so deeply in my work that I don’t realise the time, to speak so passionately about it that I make people think I’m weird. I want to get back to the girl who asked for a German grammar and a French verb table for her 16th birthday because she was a total geek!

Was that Northanger Abbey quote strangely apt? Have I, for all this time, only been using half of my understanding? Maybe one day I’ll look back at this period of confusion and realise I was simply being ‘clever enough to be unintelligible…’ *

Till then, I live in hope.

*Jane Austen again, of course.


4 thoughts on “The Parental Reaction”

  1. I’ve just discovered your blog – I’m in a very similar position (FY2 doctor, constantly dissuaded from following my true interests throughout med school and being persuaded towards the ‘career safe’ option, currently feeling very disillusioned with medicine). It’s inspiring to hear that you’ve made the brave decision to leave medicine to pursue what you really care about – I hope to have the courage to do the same soon. Best of luck and just wanted to say that you’re not alone in your thoughts and feelings about feeling trapped and unsatisfied in medicine! It absolutely sounds like you’ve made the right decision for you, so be strong in your convictions.

  2. angelictroublemaker

    One day you finally knew
    what you had to do, and began,
    though the voices around you
    kept shouting
    their bad advice–
    though the whole house
    began to tremble
    and you felt the old tug
    at your ankles.
    “Mend my life!”
    each voice cried.
    But you didn’t stop.
    You knew what you had to do,
    though the wind pried
    with its stiff fingers
    at the very foundations,
    though their melancholy
    was terrible.
    It was already late
    enough, and a wild night,
    and the road full of fallen
    branches and stones.
    But little by little,
    as you left their voices behind,
    the stars began to burn
    through the sheets of clouds,
    and there was a new voice
    which you slowly
    recognized as your own,
    that kept you company
    as you strode deeper and deeper
    into the world,
    determined to do
    the only thing you could do–
    determined to save
    the only life you could save. (Mary Oliver)

  3. Pingback: 12 months older, I must admit… – the disillusioned medic

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