Progression

At 28, Sarah liked to think of herself as a progressive, modern woman. She dressed smartly, always. To work, at the hospital, it was always a neat suit; short skirt, just below her knees, pastel blouse and tailored jacket, always closed. The colours varied: midnight blue, emerald green, shimmering steel-grey, classic black. She owned one lilac hued outfit, bought at the insistence of her sister Miriam. It had taken much for her to buy it; a junior medical director dressed all girlie and pretty would never earn herself any respect.

Not that she was not proud of being a woman. She was. She always wore skirts, for the breath of femininity they afforded her. But while the strong, determined side of her womanhood had helped her reach this level in the extremely patriarchal medical system, she was sure as anything not going to let the soft, gentle side of her personality manifest itself in delicate pastels, and undermine her image. Her boss, Dr David Sher, could never respect that. And his respect was important to her. So she never wore the lilac suit.

She could see why there were so few women in the profession. Emergency surgery that has to be fitted in after consultations, cuts that have to be stitched immediately, sick babies coming in at 4 am. Most women wanted to be at home with their own babies at 4 am. A valid choice, she had to concede, but she had progressed beyond that.

Miriam had made that choice. She chose physiotherapy over medicine, for the flexibility it afforded her. To be fair, Miriam had not done badly for herself. She had a husband, two children and a morning's only position as head of paediatric physiotherapy. But she, Sarah, younger sister and follower-of-Miriam's-footsteps, was Miriam's boss.

One thing Sarah was always grateful for was her chronological placement in time. She thought back to the early part of the 20th century, World War I era. Then women were vital to the medical system, but as nurses; inferiorly educated doctors' aides. They cleaned bedpans and held instruments, and not out of choice. The nurses she worked with were wonderful, efficient and intelligent. She often asked, and found that most of them had not wanted to be doctors. But at least they had the choice.

It was hard even in her mother's era. She had been a doctor. Throughout her teenage years, Sarah heard how hard it was to juggle medicine and a family. She had seen it for herself; how her mother was always late to fetch them, how she never quite got through her paper-work, how she had to work school holidays.

But Sarah wasn't even sure she would ever marry, let alone have children. She was content to dote on little Benjamin and Saul, any the inevitable other children Miriam would have. No, a family of her own was not essential to her.

Her reverie was interrupted by a knock on her door. Her head snapped up to see Dr Sher standing there, grinning.

‘Dreaming again, Sarah?' She blushed. ‘You seem to be doing quite a lot of that lately.' She went an even deeper shade of crimson. ‘Don't worry, I won't demote you for being a little introspective once in a while. What I do want is for you to check on ward 3 for me.'

‘Of course. David, you said you wanted to talk to me?'

‘Yes, but after the ward.'

Minorly irritated that he was putting her off, Sarah resolved to put it out of her mind and go about her duties. Ward 3 was the paediatric ward. Sarah visited there often to see Miriam. Then she found that she was assigning herself to that ward, often. The children fascinated her with their innocence and antics. Regardless of how ill and fragile they were, there was something about the children that was lacking in the adult wards. After one marathon three-hour ward round spent treating children and reassuring parents, Miriam had remarked that, for a woman who didn't particularly want children, she related to them very well. The comment was ignored.

Fortunately, for it was always a wonderful thing to have a quiet children's ward, the ward was relatively empty, so she was able to take her time with each child and not worry about missing Dr Sher. In this ward, the occupants were children, not patients. Sarah could not convince herself to call a five-year-old with a teddy anything but a child, albeit a sick child. She was so involved with one particular conversation about Winnie-the-Pooh that she failed to notice Dr Sher entering the ward. After several minutes she heard footsteps, and turned around to see the doctor with a very strange look on his face.

He abruptly snapped out of whatever he was in, and cleared his throat. Turning to the parents, he said ‘If you will please excuse us, Dr Klein and I have some business to discuss.'

‘How long were you waiting?' she asked, somewhat apprehensive of his opinion of her work.

‘Oh, a few minutes. I always enjoy watching you with the children. You have such a way with them, and with their parents. In fact,' he added as they entered his office, one hand indicating for her to sit, ‘I would like to make you head of paediatrics.'

Her surprise was complete. After completing her 3 year training at the hospital, she had been invited to remain, and become a junior director. But while she had hoped to eventually become a head of department, she had not imagined it would happen so soon.

‘But,' his voice broke into her thoughts, ‘there are conditions.' Her heart sank. ‘You will resign all your other duties, and spend all your time in ward 3, where your new office will be.' Her heart beat a little stronger; that was expected. ‘And I want you to dress less formally. I want both parents and patients to feel that they can approach you. I have every confidence in you.'

‘Thank-you, David.' Happy as she was, she would not gush. ‘I would be more than happy to accept the position, conditions included. When do I start?'

‘Monday.' He looked at her for a moment, then added, ‘it's getting late. Come, let me buy you coffee at the cafeteria.'

On Monday they had coffee together again, to discuss her first day. The discussion had quickly strayed onto all means of other things, until the night sister had eventually begged them to go home. That night the gossip at the hospital started.

Sarah had no trouble adjusting to her new position, excepting her new dress code. For the first week, she alternated between the lilac and black suits, which Dr Sher laughingly pointed out over coffee. Coffee together had become a standard way for them to end the day, fuelling the gossip of which they were completely oblivious.

As she gradually became more comfortable with her new position, and her new wardrobe, she also fell into an easy rapport with David. Coffee downstairs had progressed to dinner across the road, walks to her apartment, and eventually Sunday outings with Benjamin and Saul.

*****


Eighteen months after receiving her promotion, Sarah sat at her desk reading over some results. She glanced up, and seeing that it was already after 1-o-clock, began packing up. She signed one last report, and considered how, since a year ago, it was one of her two signatures. She glanced at the clock again.

Right on cue, Dr Sher poked his head round her door. ‘Are you going home yet, sweetheart?'

She stood up and stretched. "I'm nearly done, darling. What do you want for dinner?' For a few moments they discussed domestic affairs, and then with a quick parting kiss, he left.

She thought back to how many things had changed. She still wore tailored jackets, but with a long skirt, and open over her rapidly extending abdomen. She had two titles now; Dr Klein and Mrs. Sher. And she now only worked half days, sharing her directorship with another doctor, another mother.

Miriam always teased her that she was regressing. Less formal, less elevated title, shared position. Two years ago she would have agreed. But now, she thought, walking past her husband's office and feeling her baby give a kick, she was sure it could only be described as . . . progression.

 

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