Posts Tagged ‘Work’

As a very new reporter for the Wall Street Journal, before I started medical school, I was sent to North Carolina to report on efforts to unionize the workers in large textile mills.  My visit took place well before the story of textile worker Crystal Lee Sutton made it into headlines; her part in the union’s work was dramatized in the movie Norma Rae.   No one could have predicted then that those huge mills would disappear, losing their market to overseas competitors.  Here’s my report, which was published on November 13, 1974, as well as an epilogue about the subsequent fates of the then-dominant American textile corporations.


Militant Mills

Textile Unions’ Fight To Organize in South Is a Tough One to Win

 KANNAPOLIS, N.C., —One evening last March, a deputy sheriff in this small, unincorporated town spotted Mrs. Robert Freeman, 50, at the side of the road, clad in her pajamas and clutching a beer can.  As the official story has it, Mrs. Freeman was drunk and was duly arrested; she was convicted of public intoxication.

Talk to her husband, though, and you’ll hear a different account.  Mr. Freeman, an organizer for the AFL-CIO Textile Workers Union of America (TWUA), says his wife merely stepped outside their home, spied a beer can on the lawn and picked it up to dispose of it, whereupon the deputy hauled her off to jail.  Mr. Freeman says she was refused permission to take a breath-analysis test.

“There’s no difference between Kannapolis and Moscow,” he declares in disgust.  “In fact, there’s probably more democracy in Moscow.”

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Overheard in the OR—a surgery chief resident ruefully explaining to a senior surgeon why no intern or junior resident was available to scrub in on his case. “Everyone in our department is either pregnant or on maternity or paternity leave,” he said.

The senior surgeon just shook his head.

From my vantage point as the anesthesiologist on the other side of the drapes, I thought to myself, “Really? What would give anyone the idea that residency is a good time to have a baby?” When I look back to what it was like to deal with pregnancy, give birth, and look after an infant, all I can say is that internship was easier. After all, as an intern—even in the bad old days—I had some nights off.

Yet having a baby during residency is increasingly common among male and female residents alike. For women especially, it sounds perfectly awful. We’ve all heard the stories—pregnant residents struggling with nausea and fatigue during long nights on call, or vomiting into a trash bag in the operating room; new mothers trying to breast-pump in the hospital locker room during a half-hour lunch break.

One possible response is to argue that senior physicians should be more sympathetic to pregnant and nursing residents, and give them longer lunch breaks. This would be in keeping with the kinder, gentler world of limited resident duty hours and mandated nap times.

But it’s equally fair to consider that residency might be a suboptimal time to have a baby.

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Who’s entitled to self-esteem?

Since Whitney Houston’s sad, senseless death on February 11, I’ve heard her hit song “The Greatest Love of All” more times than I thought possible.  She had an unbelievably beautiful voice, but the lyrics to that song always bothered me.  Is “learning to love yourself” really the greatest love of all?  Or has that philosophy led us to the point where people have a great deal of self-love that is based on–what, exactly?  In medicine, do you need to earn self-esteem or are you entitled to it just because you’re you?

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A letter to the next generation

It’s an unpopular view, but no, young ladies, you really can’t do it all. In the heady days of the 1970s and 80s, women came to believe that all a girl needed was determination enough and she could be and do anything she ever wanted. I’m here to tell you that there’s more to the story.

I’m an anesthesiologist, and my colleagues – both doctors and nurses – often ask me to take care of them and their families when they need anesthesia.  Surgeons request me for challenging cases. The orchid on my kitchen windowsill was a gift from a grateful patient, and I’m lucky enough to love what I do. My husband also practices anesthesiology, and he understands better than anyone that some days I get home late because I can’t leave until surgery ends and my patient is safely tucked into the recovery room. I’m a mom, too – not a soccer mom or a hockey mom – but nonetheless, a mother of three. My older daughter has a master’s degree, a good job, and a wonderful husband. My son is a pre-med sophomore in college, and my younger daughter just left to start her freshman year.

So where’s the downside? As a woman, you can juggle many things fairly well, but you will never be the perfect wife and mother and have a high-powered career at the same time. There aren’t enough hours in the day or enough brain cells in your head.

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Just before Christmas, I was out walking my dog, who’s a large (100 lb.) but very sweet, somewhat timid mutt.  We passed by two German shepherds who obviously are not friendly but usually are walked by their owner, a tall man who controls them well.  On that sunny Sunday morning, his college-age daughter was walking the dogs.  As we passed them, they suddenly snarled and lunged for my dog’s neck, dragging the daughter behind them, and my left hand was badly bitten in the fracas.

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