Her Troubles, Domestic and Social - Must be Prepared at all Times to be Disturbed - The Noble
The girl who marries a doctor has seldom any idea of the strenuous life that lies before her. After fifteen years of it, either she will have learned endless lessons in self-sacrifice or she will have hardened into a stony discomfort, according to the nature that is within her.
A doctor in full practice has demands upon his time at all hours of the day and night. Ill or well, he responds to them, and it is possibly the Very hardest part of her duty for his wife to help him into his overcoat when he rises from a warm bed. with his temperature 101o, to go out on a pouring night to see a patient who is probably not nearly so ill as he is himself. He may be well aware of this, but he knows equally well that, if he were to send an excuse, the patient would abuse him to everyone, and perhaps injure his practice.
"When I first married," says a doctor's wife, "and we lived in the country, I was always taken out to hold the reins and keep the pony in order while my husband was interviewing patients, because, I was told, the man's time was so'much more valuable than mine. One of the farmer's wives said 'she could not think when I found time to do my housekeeping.'" The patients are always in the foreground of the doctor's mind. His wife inhabits a rosy haze in the background. He considers it self-indulgence to let his thoughts dwell too long upon her. As a result, she sometimes receives less consideration than is her due, even when his affection is warm and strong. Life and death are in his hands, and he uses all resources and denies himself continually in his war against disease.
A hostess grows shy of inviting a doctor and his wife to dine, because so often at the last moment they find it impossible to do so. The doctor is called to a patient, and his wife-is prevented by the conventions from going without him, even if she should care to do so. Nor can she make plans in her own house. She may begin, when a young wife, by ordering a dainty dinner for her tired husband. with, perhaps, some little bit of extravagance as a luxury for him. But, so sure as this happens, he is called out, and the little delicacy spoilt. "Wasted, too," adds a doctor's wife, "because I could never make up my mind to eat it if he could not."
No man stands in greater need of good, varied, and well-cooked food than the hard-worked doctor. The drain upon his strength and energies is incessant. But the problem for his wife is how to supply him with tempting, digestible meals. She never knows at what hour he will be able to eat them. She has to devise dishes that will not spoil by being kept hot, and incidentally she has to keep in good humour the cook who has to help her in her efforts to set a presentable, nourishing meal before the belated master of the house.
This is one of the reasons that she feels she must seldom be out of the house. She never knows when her husband may come in and want her. She does not like to accept invitations or make engagements because of this. In fact, as someone has put it, a doctor's wife is never free of her husband.
Nor of his patients, she might have added. The telephone seems to be ringing all day and half the night; but it was worse still in the days when there were no telephones. On bitter nights the doctor's wife would have to go to the hall-door on hearing the night-bell ring, her husband being out, and would have to answer indignant people, who could never be made to understand that anyone besides themselves could possibly want the doctor when they did. Now, with the telephone beside the bed, she can try to answer their impossible questions as to how long will he be out, when they may expect him, etc., and at least be spared the shivering ten minutes at the hall-door.
A doctor's wife must never be ill. He takes it as a slur on his professional skill, and says that it is as bad for a doctor to have a sick person in his house as it would be for a clergyman to have a hardened sinner or an atheist in his! Should the children be ill. it is said that a doctor's family gets less medical care than that of other people's; but, happily, this is not always the case.
None but his wife knows of the amount of charity he does. No men are more generous with their hard-earned knowledge and money, and not only hardly earned, but hardly paid. For some extraordinary and indefensible reason, the doctor's bill is often the very last to be paid, even by many who are regular enough in discharging their debts of other kinds. There is injustice of a particular sort in this. The doctor summoned is expected to lose not a moment in making his visit, but it is he who has to wait months and months for his money, and on his wife falls a great part of the consequent inconvenience.
It is a point of honour with her to keep strict silence on every matter connected with her husband's patients; never to allude to anything professional. It is not always easy to appear quite ignorant of some matter when listening to the marvellous theories and ridiculous suggestions made about it, while knowing the facts perfectly.
These are some of the disadvantages of having a husband for a doctor.
The advantages are not so obvious. The chief one lies in the growth of character involved in being the helpmate of a man whose profession is the service of humanity.