As an emergency medicine physician since the mid-1990s, I’ve cared for all sorts of patients: old and young, rich and poor, male and female. I’ve also observed the companions who arrive with the patients, as they scramble to handle this health crisis amid work, family, and financial obligations. Often that burden lands chiefly on women, doing double, triple, quadruple duty to care for children, partners, parents, and other loved ones. It’s a global phenomenon: The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development says the world’s women spend more than 1.1 trillion hours a year on unpaid care of children and the elderly. Men spend about a third as much.
As an executive producer on the television drama Grey’s Anatomy, I write these women into scripts. They are mothers, partners, wives, sisters, daughters, CEOs, and secretaries. The woman who just had a baby, thinks she has a blocked milk duct, and finds out too late that it’s breast cancer.1 The woman who doesn’t want to admit to being raped because she thinks she’ll be blamed for being where she was or wearing what she wore.
They’re women who have a terminal illness, or need an organ transplant—and have to break it to their daughters. Women confronting their sexuality head-on; getting pregnant at older ages and choosing alternate paths to motherhood, or being childless by choice. Women with brain tumors, mental illness, and depression; women with no insurance, and women who could buy the world.