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Year : 2022  |  Volume : 34  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 197-198

A mother's perspective on balancing family life, science, and ophthalmology

Glaucoma Consultant, Singapore National Eye Centre; Assistant Professor, Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School, Singapore

Date of Submission23-Sep-2021
Date of Acceptance29-Sep-2021
Date of Web Publication22-Dec-2022

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Rachel S Chong
Glaucoma Consultant at the Singapore National Eye Centre, 11 Third Hospital Ave - 168 751
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/kjo.kjo_104_22

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How to cite this article:
Chong RS. A mother's perspective on balancing family life, science, and ophthalmology. Kerala J Ophthalmol 2022;34:197-8

How to cite this URL:
Chong RS. A mother's perspective on balancing family life, science, and ophthalmology. Kerala J Ophthalmol [serial online] 2022 [cited 2023 Feb 8];34:197-8. Available from: http://www.kjophthal.com/text.asp?2022/34/3/197/364699

As ophthalmologists, we are constantly on the move. Many of us have a tight weekly circuit of hustling between clinics and the operating theater, meeting rooms – and as a clinician-scientist, frequent trips to the lab. Apart from the daily grind, there are also additional ad hoc teaching commitments and regional or international meetings to attend. With all this running about, it is sometimes difficult to ensure that the people who matter the most to us are not left behind. How do we keep things moving in the right direction both at work and at home? Sometimes one gets the sense that the right and left foot are separately planted on two flimsy rafts floating towards opposite banks of the river.

Perhaps a philosophical rather than a mathematical approach would be helpful to make sense of this balancing act. Aristotle may have suggested that “many things… are not merely a complete aggregate but instead some kind of a whole beyond its parts”. Accordingly, my hope is that even if our individual efforts in each realm fall short of perfection, they will somehow coalesce into a worthwhile entity instead of a mass of discrete imperfections. Anyone who has ever marveled at the rabid scrawling of a child's first piece of “art” might be able to relate!

Having said that, we still strive for perfection at work and often also at home. The exhausting thing is trying to give your best at all times. Someone allegedly said, “if you find a job you love; you will never have to work again.” This person probably never held a real job, but there is some truth in it. Falling in love is always the easy part; staying in love is hard work. This is true of most relationships, including the one we have with our job and sometimes even our family! Do we recall what it was like when we first set eyes on our spouse or cradled a little one, the uplifting joy and warmth that fills us when we are around people whom we love? Perhaps it would be a stretch too far to liken ophthalmology or scientific discovery to a similar experience, but we might recall the feeling of wonder and accomplishment the very first time we performed cataract surgery or caught a glimpse of the optic disc looking like a plump pink sunset. I still remember how my heart leapt with excitement when I saw that the little blobs in the cell culture plates that I had painstakingly prepared over several months had finally turned into recognizable retinal ganglion cells – and how beautiful they were to behold, unlikely anything I had ever seen in the clinic before.

Sometimes we need our families to remind us of how great it is to have the job that we do. The one time my husband watched a teaching video of phacoemulsification over my shoulder he commented that “it looks like you remove the clouds from people's eyes” which I thought was quite poetic. Of course, the next video happened to be about orbital decompression, which made him vow never to sneak a peek ever again (“oh my eyes!”). Family members and good friends are also essential in rallying around you when the experiment in the lab fails for the umpteenth time, or when you are faced with yet another rejection for that manuscript you spent many sleepless nights preparing – they remind you that while your worth is not tied to the meaning of your work, your work is still meaningful so persevere and do not give up!

Where our own efforts fail, we have to trust others. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies have discovered greater local connectivity in female brains as compared to male brains; this implies that women are better multi-taskers but concurrently also capable of worrying about a million things at the same time. Reminding myself not to fret about whether my husband remembered to pick up the milk on his way home, or if we packed extra diapers before dropping my child off at playgroup, or if my parents managed to keep their medical appointments is key to surviving to the end of a busy clinic or operating list. It is helpful to recognize that while we often feel like we are struggling against the tide of mounting work, there are many others who lend their support to aid our success: our colleagues, spouses, and caregivers who mind our beloved children or ailing parents. Another crucial element is the big serving of grace that we need to bring to work every day. It is okay if your kid had to be wiped down with paper towels from the toilet dispenser after her shower at playgroup because her negligent parents forgot to pack her towel, no sweat if the kitchen sink is still clogged from the morning because the plumber could not find the time to drop by; never mind that the appointments staff accidentally booked another eight patients into your already packed list. Just smile and tell yourself that tomorrow will be a better day - at least you have a wonderful family and a terrific job to come back to.

Finally, do not forget to pause. Amid the busyness, it is essential to stop and smell the figurative roses from time to time. As Longfellow once said, “learn to labour and to wait.” Many of us function like well-oiled machinery when it comes to laboring, but are less adept at the “waiting” aspect of the game. Yet, it is perhaps just as important, if not more so, to be aware of when to slow down and make the most of what is in front of you. Take some time to clasp that grateful patient's hand, sip a coffee amid the data analysis, or trade a giggle with your nurses. Hug your loved ones often, and for no reason at all. Treasure every moment that you possibly can – for Art is long, and Time is fleeting!

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There are no conflicts of interest.


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