Choices and Sacrifices

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A Birthday Reflection from 2014

Letters to the newspaper can have unexpected consequences. After a letter I wrote  to the Jamaica Gleaner (commenting on the treatment of a patient at one of our public hospital)  was published, my mother was asked by a doctor she knows whether I had suffered any backlash as a result of making my opinion public. When my mother mentioned this to me, my swift, almost reflexive response was “Well I am self employed, so it’s not like anyone can fire me. I wrote the letter because I felt there were things that needed to be said, and nobody else was saying them.”

Hours later, as I reflected on her question, or rather her doctor friend’s question, I realised the amazing position that I was in. At age almost 44 years, I was in a position to publicly state my opinion without fear of losing my job. Thirteen years and 3 months ago, I chose to leave secure government employment at the Kingston Public Hospital. Ten years ago, I started working in private practice, which has now become my full-time work. These choices have brought me to a position where I can voice an independent opinion without fear of losing my job, or being excluded from a professional group on which I depend for employment. I can truly focus on the reason I wanted to be a doctor : caring for my patients. It is a powerful place to be in, and in that moment, I felt proud of the choices I had made.

Then, I thought about what things would have been like for my parents when they were 44 years old. At that time my mother would have been working at the Ministry of Agriculture, and my father was employed by the University of the West Indies. I recalled many accounts of unreasonable bosses, unavoidable office politics, and a sense of limited options for dealing with these issues. My parents chose to stick with a challenging, stressful work environment and still found ways to make meaningful contributions to the institutions that they worked for. My parents were not in a position to express their disapproval or disagreement at work without fear of backlash when they were my age because they needed those jobs to raise their two daughters.

As a young adult, I believed that they chose to tolerate this stress, and the toll it took, because the pay and added benefits were good. I questioned whether the sacrifice was worth it. I did not fully appreciate until much later that it was those material benefits that made it possible for us to be able to go school without worry over food, shelter, clothes or fees. Their choice enabled me and my sister to acquire an education that has ultimately provided us with not only financial independence but independence of thought. My parents provided me with opportunities that they did not have, choices that they were not given. It is by making good use of those opportunities and choices that I have been able to reach the position of not needing to fear backlash from an employer for speaking the truth as I see it.

Before the year 2014 ends, I will be 44 years old. Try as I might, it is becoming increasingly difficult to avoid facing the fact that I am now middle-aged, and that most likely there is as much of my life behind me, as there is in front of me. Over the past 44 years, I have been blessed with the opportunity to practise my profession in a way that brings me joy and fulfillment. I found a life partner who has shown me that I am worthy of being loved even with all my imperfections. With him I have brought into this world two amazing daughters who have helped me to grow in ways that I would never have believed possible. I have survived the death of my father, and recently celebrated the 70th birthday of my mother. I have been blessed with one sister from my parents, and three sisters from the universe who have made it possible for me reach this age with my sanity mostly intact. These blessings would not have been a part of my life without the choices and sacrifices made by my parents.

 

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