This month I retired from my position as a clinical nephrologist, this on top of the loss of my parents in the past year. These two significant events pretty much cover most of my life. It got me thinking about job and family.
I have been fortunate and have enjoyed my work as a pediatric nephrologist. The interaction with patients and parents has been challenging but always rewarding. Caring for children with the full range of kidney diseases over a short or long period of time creates bonds with families, genuine relationships that can grow in intensity and endure over the years. Most children and adolescents get well, probably the reason why people like me go into pediatrics to start with. But there are patients with chronic relentless conditions that progress to complete loss of kidney function. Their management becomes complicated as the families weigh the options for renal replacement therapy. Controlling their disease, supporting them, and helping them maximize their quality of life is a humbling but satisfying task. At the same time, I participate in a wide range of clinical research projects. Witnessing the field of nephrology grow in scope and capacity over the last thirty years has been mind-boggling. It is a thrill to be part of novel state-of-the-art studies aiming to develop targeted therapies for kidney disease.
My job as a pediatric nephrologist is a large part of my identity. A great deal of my waking hours is occupied with this work. It is hard to think of myself as anything else and that is how many people know me. At the same time, most of the remaining hours of the day and evening are spent with family. They too constitute my identity. The Trachtman family has its own unique features, good and not so good. But we interact with each other all the time and together help create an individual and corporate identity.
Two sources of identity — job and family. Can we say which is more important? The experience of some people who lose their bearings at retirement points to critical role of the job. But the loss of parents, spouses, and children can be life-altering often accompanied by dramatic changes in lifestyle and the sense of personal identity. This would suggest that they are equally important factors in the formation of our identity as people.
But, as I have mulled this over during the past month, my thinking on this has been affected by the changes that have occurred over the last year. Whatever I accomplish as a pediatric nephrologist will be one step along the patient’s lifespan as they move onto adulthood. For most mere mortals, any accomplishments in clinical research will be surpassed by those who come after us — improved diagnostic tests, more effective treatments, better disease prevention. But family ties persist. They grow over time and mature. Truly meaningful family relationships endure and invigorate.
My relationship with my parents was rich and real. My work has been varied and never dull. But at the end of the day, my accomplishments in research are unlikely to be what people will talk about at my funeral. I do not expect the rabbi to read out a list of my publications or grants. Instead, I imagine he will talk about how I acted with my wife, my children, my grandchildren, other family members, friends, and colleagues. That is what was said at the funerals for my father and mother. In the final analysis, I recognize that my lasting legacy will be the human relationships I have created within the family, community, and patients I cared for and not my accomplishments in the clinic or research arenas. Again, I know I have been lucky. I love my job but the greater love should always be for my family.