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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Math Geek Mom: Thank You Notes
April 22, 2010 - 8:51pm

A colleague in the Biology department recently told me about a book that applies game theory to altruism in the animal world. Since I study altruism, and game theory is central to modern economics, I was particularly interested. Of course, I had to read about it myself, and found it fascinating.

I thought of this recently as I sat down to write thank-you notes to the many people who helped get me through my recent injuries. I suspect that it would be difficult to explain many of their actions with game theory, and it was very clear that many of them were not acting out of strict self-interest, as modeled by economists. However, if it was not for the many altruistic people that I ran into in the last few months, I am sure that I would not be recovering as completely as I am. And I am: my orthopedic surgeon just gave me permission to drive again, thereby giving me back a large measure of control over my life.

The person I have to thank the most for my recovery is my husband. I don’t want to think of what would have happened if he had not been running late that first morning, and heard my screams as I sat on a patch of black ice in our driveway. He called the ambulance, and found himself immediately thrust into the position of taking care of not just me, but also of becoming the primary care giver to our daughter. He assumed all of the responsibilities that I usually handle, from assembling dinner to getting my daughter to school to making sure that bills get paid. I shudder at the thought of what would have happened to me if he had not been there.

My daughter was forced to grow up very quickly as I attempted to recover, and soon only found myself even more injured and in the hospital having surgery. I am thankful for the progress she made as she moved towards more maturity. I am also thankful to her teachers who had to deal with some difficult behavior as she made the adjustment to the new world without mommy. Indeed, her whole school was very supportive. Students from her class let me know that they were praying for me, and people from her school sent home a meal on the day I came home from the hospital. Other moms organized “play dates” for her with their kids , to help her pass the time as I recovered.

The people in the hospital were wonderful in helping to get me through this experience. I remember one nurse who was obviously pregnant, but still was there to take care of me. I remember another nurse who had some particularly creative ideas. I was so impressed with her creativity that I told her to do what we academics do with original ideas; she should publish them in a nursing journal. I had a particularly interesting conversation with doctor who has an M.B.A., as we discussed health care reform in the days before it passed. But I was assisted most in my recovery by two nurses who were taking statistics at the time, whom I offered to help. They laughed that they were not going to let me be discharged until they passed their classes. Sitting in the hospital and explaining standard deviation helped me to remember who I was, and to imagine my life as it would be when it returned to normal.

I am thankful to the physical therapists, who insist that their name of “P.T.” stands for “pain and torture” (while the occupational therapists, “O.T.” provide “other torture”.) One of the P.T.s assured me that, despite what it felt like, my knee would not dislocate as it did thirty years ago in an old dancing injury. Because of that knowledge, I was able to move my leg slightly, despite the frightening feeling that made me want to hold it flat forever. Meanwhile, the occupational therapists made sure that I could move around my room and saw to it that I had the ultimate luxury in a hospital setting, a daily shower.

When I came home, I was accompanied by a home health assistant, a visiting nurse and a visiting physical therapist, all of whom came by to make sure I was continuing to recover. These wonderful people provided help and encouragement, which was much needed at the time. These were days in which I could do no more than hop (and I do mean hop, on a special walker designed for someone with an injured arm) around my room. I felt like Rapunzel, as I was unable to come down the stairs to join the rest of life..

My job here at Ursuline was wonderful, and immediately worked out a plan to have substitute professors take over most of my classes. As my husband pointed out, a larger school would not have been so accommodating. A professor from Chemistry gave me a ride to school each day, while the folks here at Inside Higher Education told me to just get better, and to resume my column when I was able.

When I had a run-in with a brain tumor many years ago, I used to explain how it felt by telling people to close their eyes and wiggle their toes, being aware for a second that they were very much alive. What they were doing by moving part of the body far from the brain was actually an amazing neurological feat. As for my broken bones, I suggest something slightly different. Take a second and run in place, or, better yet, dance to music. And be aware, for a moment, of the amazing, wonderfully repairable thing that is the human body. For that I am very thankful.


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