We walked into the hospital room, sunlight flooding through the open window and reflecting off the IV poles. She lay still in the bed, the only movement being the rhythmic rise and fall of her chest as the ventilator provided each mechanical breath. The sounds of the machinery filled the quiet air. The beeping of the monitor, the alarm indicating the end of the antibiotic infusion, the steady silence of the family waiting with bated breath at the bedside for an update.
I looked at the family. I explained how sepsis was putting her body into a state of shock resulting in organ failure and that all the treatment and care we were providing was to help her ride out the storm that is sepsis. The family nodded tearfully, expressed understanding, and then looked over at my intern, who was many years my junior, and a male with several inches of height over me.
“Why did you let her tell us everything?” the mother asked the intern,who paled to the color of the coarse white blanket on the bed. He stood, mouth agape, eyes wide, and silent, in confusion and disbelief.
I sighed. I explained that I was the physician in charge of the team. He was a resident, still in training.
“Since when do they let women doctors up in here now?”
This was not a comment in awed support, but one of disbelief and mistrust. Women are not doctors, especially not doctors of the sickest people in the hospital, not the patients in the ICU. Not her daughter.
I smiled and said,”Since we are good at our jobs.” I walked out, across the hall and into the room of an elderly man with ARDS, tubes and machines also keeping him alive, and kept taking care of each and every patient. Because that is what we do, even when it is hard. Even in the face of gender bias and discrimination.
That evening, I shared the story with my husband. His response was striking – “Unfortunately, I am so habituated to hearing these stories that it never shocks me anymore. It is so common. It is just another day at the office for you.”
Another day at the office. Another day in the ICU.
The next day, I took a deep breath, entered her room again and, without hesitation, updated her family. My team stood with me, as though in solidarity and strength. There was never another comment, to my knowledge, questioning my expertise or care. I kept marching forward, day after day, room after room, caring for my patients.
Because that is what we do.
Sexism and Saving Lives
By Dr. Kelly Cawcutt
Critical Care and Infectious Diseases Physician
Dr. Cawcutt is a guest blogger for InCrowd this month. You can learn more about her here. This is a part of a series of women in medicine sharing their experiences when we asked, “What does it mean to you to be a woman in medicine?” Check our blog for upcoming pieces and go here to read past ones.
Interested in participating? Reach out to us via email@example.com