Jill Grimes juggles motherhood, career and a quest to reduce STDS
Friday, September 3, 2010 | | 2
A little after 10 a.m. on what for some people will be a lazy summer day, Dr. Jill Grimes has the nose of her black SUV determinedly pointed north on Loop 360.
She just dropped her father back at the Memory Care unit at Querencia. In her backseat are two adolescent girls on a quest for the perfect ballet slippers. Grimes is a good mom trying to make the best use of her time away from seeing patients at Westlake Family Practice. A little part of her mind is on the material she is editing for the “5 Minute Clinical Consult,” an online critical information reference for medical professionals. She switches mental gears to give some thought to the appearance she has tomorrow on the KVUE Daybreak Show, where she will talk about her new book, “Seductive Delusions – How Everyday People Catch STDs.” Have to be ready for that.
The conversation between Jill and her daughters, 13-year-old Brittany and 11-year-old Nicole, drifts in the back-to-school direction. They talk about athletic tryouts and trying to make new kids feel at home.
“We know, Mom,” says a voice from the back seat. “You never get a second chance to make a first impression and that we need to be extra polite, helpful and on time. Blah, blah, blah.”
It’s a form of conversation familiar to mom and dad drivers everywhere. From somewhere on the dash, the cell phone rings. It’s Glamour magazine. The girl on the phone is doing a little fact checking before the article that Grimes wrote goes to press that afternoon. She needs new information – information Grimes will have to research.
At about this point, most of us would be entertaining thoughts of self-medication. Not Grimes. She’s calm. She’s happy. In fact, she’s thriving. She rolls with the punches, her sense of humor well intact. Today is a particularly good day, she said. She got to walk her dog. She mentally outlined her daily blog during that walk.
“I’ve become an expert at multi-tasking,” Grimes said. “I’ve learned to put out the biggest fire and move forward. The girls are pretty understanding. Yes, I have too many jobs, and yes, I’m a little overextended, but I’m still the Girl Scout leader. I’m still there on the trips to Schlitterbahn.”
Those mom things are important to Grimes. Family comes first, no matter how long the line of things that come after.
Cool mom, physician, leading expert in the study of sexually transmitted diseases, editor of a premier medical reference, author of an award-winning book, magazine writer, dutiful daughter – Grimes seems almost superhuman. Mere mortals should run from her in comparative embarrassment, but nobody does. The thing that makes her successful at everything she does is the fact that she is so approachable. Sitting across from her while perched on an examining table or having a cup of coffee, she is funny and endearingly human.
“It’s important to laugh,” she said. “If you cannot find the humor in life, you will spend all your time crying. Medical studies about laughter show that it really does have a positive impact on health.”
It’s hard to imagine Grimes not being a doctor; it’s been a dream of hers since she was a child. An otherwise straight-A student in fifth grade, she got her only C in handwriting. Her teacher joked that she could become a doctor. It was a piece of humor that planted a seed. That seed soon sprouted into a fascination.
“In medical school, every rotation I did, I loved,” she said. “I walked around all the time going ‘This is so cool. This is so cool.’ ”
During her rotation at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Grimes worked with Jay De Broeck and Linda Holleran, a couple of family physicians. She knew what kind of medicine she wanted to practice.
“They were just such good people; they did the most extraordinary things for some of their patients – buying them medicine and groceries,” Grimes said. “I love being a family physician. People come in hurting or ill, and they trust me to help them.”
After a stint in private practice, Grimes decided to give up the headaches of running a business and joined the Westlake Family Practice team in 2001. There, she has found a home, treating patients of all age ranges for a full range of health complaints.
“The thing about Jill is that she is very thorough and very patient,” said WFP office manager Mary Sue Lucas. “She doesn’t try and hurry or rush her patients. She helps them with any illness, and she really concentrates on preventative medicine. She’s funny and caring, and her patients love her for it.”
Grimes has a real passion for adolescents. Adolescents? Really?
“Oh well, someone has to,” she said grinning. “I like seeing them come into their own, asking questions, making decisions. They want to be spoken to as adults, and they want their opinions to be valued. People often dismiss their feelings, but it is a very hard time in life, filled with anxiety.”
One of the hardest parts of her job, said Grimes, is telling smart, educated kids – kids getting sex and abstinence education – that they have a STD.
“In that one sentence, where I tell them they have genital herpes, their whole worlds collapse,” she said. “They are shocked. They usually say they can’t believe it happened to them.”
One afternoon while wolfing down her sandwich at lunch with other members of the practice, the conversation turned to the heartbreak of telling people they were going to be dealing with an STD for the rest of their lives. Two of the doctors had already diagnosed young people with STDs that morning.
“We knew what we were doing wasn’t working,” Grimes said. “We just weren’t getting through, and nobody was really talking about it. Most people, especially teens, believe that STDs happen to other people – the outcasts of society. That’s not the case. They happen to everyone.”
As Grimes was sharing the stories with other doctors of what they were seeing, she came up with the idea for a book that could bring home the personal reality of STDs. “Seductive Delusions,” published by the Johns Hopkins University Press, tells the stories of fictional characters that contract STDs. The characters are based on combinations of real patients seen by Grimes and her associates. The stories are of men and women who contracted the 10 most common STDs – cautionary tales that emphasize that it only takes one time to catch an STD and the decisions you make in your sex life can affect every aspect of your future.
Grimes said she wrote the book as a series of stories, because she believes people remember the stories they hear or see on television.
“Stories are far more powerful than statistics,” she said. “I decided to tell the stories of people I know, patients I see, who are just like you and me – and who get an STD.”
Each chapter in the book is told from a female and a male perspective and ends with facts on prevention, treatment and coping.
“This is not a book that says you’re bad if you have sex,” Grimes said. “I tried to take any finger pointing out of it. It is a practical, informative book that says, ‘Look – here are the facts about what you risk medically if you have sex.’ ”
The North East Independent School District in San Antonio just adopted “Seductive Delusions” as part of the curriculum for its Big Decisions program, which includes studies of human sexuality and abstinence.
NEISD Superintendent Richard Middleton said district administrators created the Big Decisions program and decided to adopt “Seductive Delusions” when they realized that 19 million new sexually transmitted infections occur in the U.S. each year, with more than half of those cases in 15-24 year olds. He said that statistics show that 48 percent of high school students participate in sexual activity, and one in four minors contract genital herpes.
“I tell kids, ‘Look, there are real-life things that can happen to you, and I can sit here and scare you all day long, but let’s look at what’s really happening out there,’” Middleton said. “This book gives them real-life experience. Jill is a very, very good writer, and she’s also a very good doctor. The book is well-written with a lot of statistics and a lot of facts about what is really happening to real people.”
In the last year, Grimes has become a national expert on STDs, traveling the country speaking to groups and giving out information on radio and television shows. She doesn’t mix religion in with her advice, and she isn’t on a crusade for abstinence, although, with what she sees working with patients could certainly make a case for that, she said.
“What I want is for people to make truly informed choices,” she said. “I want them to understand all the aspects of sexual activity, especially the emotional baggage. Teen pregnancy rates and STDs – it’s all just the tip of the iceberg. The emotional repercussions of that don’t just go away.”
Grimes said her daughters were excited when her book was published, and they used to get excited when they saw their mom on television or heard her on the car radio.
“Not so much anymore,” Grimes said. “It’s become a little old hat.”
Grimes and her husband, anesthesiologist Drew Grimes, talk to their children a lot about medicine and life. They hope their girls will pick a life and a career path that they are passionate about.
“They see us working nights and weekends,” she said. “They see our passion for what we are doing. They see the hard work, and they see that is rewarding. Hopefully, they see you can do what you think is important in life, and you can be happy doing it.”