by Len Lear
Margaret H. Hager, M.D., 70, who is board-certified in Family Medicine through the American Academy of Family Practice, practiced as a family physician in Roxborough from 1988 until 2008. The reason for her early retirement was complications of knee replacements, requiring three successive operations to restore her to functionality.
Margaret attended the University of Pennsylvania, graduating with a BA in German Language and Literature in 1966. She won a full scholarship to the University of Berlin in Germany to study playwriting from 1966-67. She then married a German national in 1967 and lived in Berlin for more than two years. The couple moved back to Philadelphia and raised two children but divorced in 1978, after which Margaret attended Temple Medical School from 1981 to ‘85.
Dr. Hager then did her residency in family medicine at Chestnut Hill Hospital from 1985 to ‘88.
“I was a single parent while in medical school, which was very difficult,” said Margaret last week. “Some sacrifices had to be made. I was not, for example, able to stay longer hours at Temple, as others did, because I had to take my children off the school bus at 3 p.m. I would often wake up at 2 in the morning and study for an hour or two and then go back to sleep. The well-being of my children was my foremost priority during this time.
“My parents, sisters and friends were very supportive. Once when my father asked my son how I was doing, he replied, ‘Mom cries a lot!’ Occasionally I would take my daughter with me when I was on call at night in the hospital, bringing a camp bed for her for the on-call room. When the code buzzer would go off, she would sit up in bed and say, ‘Go mom!’”
While Dr. Hager is retired from the daily practice of medicine, she does take on assignments as a medical expert witness from time to time. They may or may not involve going to court. Mainly they involve reviewing medical records and establishing whether a “standard of care” has been met. “The work is not glamorous,” she said, “or as dramatic as portrayed on television, but it is fulfillilng to contribute to just outcomes.”
Dr. Hager also continues to teach a course every fall at University of Pennsylvania Medical School. She is one of several preceptors (medical mentors), who teach the “Patient-Physician Relationship Course,” which deals with the structure of interviewing patients but with a heavy emphasis on establishing rapport and developing empathy with patients.
But Dr. Hager’s retirement from the daily practice of medicine has freed her up to spend much more time on her other creative love — writing poetry. In August of 2013 she published her first book of poetry, “Farewell, Samsara” ($12.95), demonstrating a stunning use of metaphor and simile, compelling subject matter and poignant, literary phrasing of the highest order. (“Samsara” is the Buddhist concept of the cycle of life: Birth, life, suffering, death and rebirth.)
For example, the following lines are from “Missing in Action”: “The photographs, like soldiers on her desk in orderly chronology aligned; His birth, then christening, confirmation, The high school graduation … How distant now, the show of pomp and glitter, The call-to-arms, a righteous, urgent cause. Deceit, exposed, now cuts her to the core. The photo of a young man’s flag-draped box lies face-down in a dusty bureau drawer.”
“The inspiration for my poems comes from many sources,” she said. “During my years of practice, a number were inspired by encounters with patients, by their crises and losses. Being close to the human condition, which is an important part of medicine, definitely fed my poetry. Other sources of inspiration would come from protesting against the war in Iraq, from personal experiences with relationships and love, and other inspirations have come merely from beautiful natural settings.
“It is not difficult for me to stay motivated because writing is a need that has been with me since I was about 12 years of age. While it is encouraging to have feedback of a positive kind from readers, I do not find it necessary. The satisfaction which comes from feeling that the words are as I want them to be, that they capture the emotion which I am trying to codify, is enough.”
Since “Farewell, Samsara” was published, Dr. Hager has given three readings of the poems in that volume, and she has given several readings of a children’s book in verse that she wrote, “Bugs for Kids.” She plans to do more readings in the fall. (In the 1990s Margaret was assistant editor of a poetry journal, Hellas.)
Two of Margaret’s grandchildren, Ben and Connor Addiego, illustrated “Bugs for Kids.” At the time Ben was 10, and Connor was 9. She is currently writing another children’s book that will be illustrated by all three grandchildren, including Andrew, who is now almost 5.
I asked Margaret what person, living or dead, she would most like to meet. Her reply: “The dead person would be my great-grandmother Mary Wilson, who was the first female physician in Lancaster County where I grew up. She has been a lifelong inspiration for me. She had a very difficult time as a female physician, graduating from Women’s Medical College in 1868.
“She was also, coincidentally, a single mother when she went to medical school, her husband having deserted her to go to Utah to join the Mormons. I would love to sit down and talk with her about all of the hardships but also accomplishments that she experienced in those days.”
“Farewell, Samsara” can be purchased on Amazon.com. The author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org