On 8 March 2018, International Women’s Day, you would not expect to read a blog post focused on a male caregiver, but please hear me out.
For over 2 years my wife, in her advanced state of dementia, has been surrounded and cared for by women caregivers. Since January we have a male caregiver on our team as well. I have to admit that I had butterflies the size of large turtles in my stomach when he came aboard, in spite of the excellent recommendations he has presented. How would my wife react to him when he wakes her in the morning, takes her to the bathroom, gives her a sponge bath, dresses her, holds her hands as she settles in her chair, helps her to eat her breakfast, stays with her for 12 hours, caressing her hair, putting lotion on her legs, and sitting by her while she nods off for her frequent daytime sleeps with her teddy bear clutched in her arms.
With my butterflies fluttering, I tried to make myself invisible while waiting to see what would happen, not quite knowing when or how to intervene if things got out of hand.
Well, nothing happened. Nothing except that I saw them holding hands as they moved slowly, she with her unsteady shuffling steps, to the bathroom, then 15 minutes later reappearing all dressed and clean, her hair combed, ready to settle into her daytime chair, teddy bear in hand.
What I witnessed was not a woman or a man caregiver but a human being with kindness, tact, and the professional training that enabled him to offer the appropriate care to another human being.
I was able to take a breath and relax. It came to me that on International Women’s Day I will celebrate the immense human potential to be good, to do good, and to do things well—children or adults, boys or girls, men or women, young or old. Unfortunately, just acknowledging this potential is not enough. Fulfilling the potential it is still some way off in our culture, and even farther off in some other cultures.
As to medicine, medical education, and women’s potential as doctors, the much admired Sir William Osler (1849–1919) argued that women were not strong enough for clinical practice. He suggested that their best opportunity lay in areas like pathology, institutions for women, or in India and the missionary field.
In 1951 there were 60 students in my first-year medical school class at UBC (56 men and 4 women). Today over 60% of our medical students are women, and there are over 4000 woman physicians practising in British Columbia.
Let us celebrate.
—George Szasz, CM, MD
This posting has not been peer reviewed by the BCMJ Editorial Board.