Grocery stores often mean nostalgic anecdotes for Dr. Lauren J. Mickey.
“People stop me in grocery stores and ask, ‘Aren’t you Dr. Elaine Fichter’s daughter? Your mother saved our baby.’ Even today, people still appreciate her work. She was a pediatrician whose work ethic was unreal; she had compassion, intelligence and devotion.”
Fichter demonstrated that devotion the day she embraced a grieving mother in a local store more than 20 years ago.
On Sept. 11, 1995, Anne and Jim Lockhart lost their 14-year-old son Brent as the result of an accident—during a church youth group event—on Bayou DeSiard. Brent’s mother vividly remembers the afternoon, a few weeks after the accident, when she encountered Fichter, who cared for both Brent and his younger sister Lauren.
“We cried together in the cereal aisle,” Lockhart said. “She told me her joy was helping children feel better, but losing a child broke her heart, and her heart was breaking for us.”
Fichter, now 97, practiced for 40 years in Monroe before retiring in the 1990s. She loved her job for two reasons, she said: “the children and their mothers.”
Lockhart describes Fichter, now living in Dallas, Texas, as “diminutive in size, but larger than life.”
“When she smiles, her eyes squint, almost close, and her whole face lights up. That’s how someone might recognize her, but it’s how she was with her patients that really defined her. Entering the exam room, you immediately felt your anxiety melt away because your child was first held and loved before any poking and prodding.”
Fichter grew up in West Hazleton, Pennsylvania. Her mother died when she was six months old, and she was mistreated by several stepmothers. Fortunately, Mickey said, “She found solace with her German grandmother, with whom she spent most of her time.”
Fichter was her high school’s debate team captain and “capably delivered the constructive argument and the refutation,” according to her yearbook. She graduated from Maryville College and then attended the only medical school to which she applied: Duke University School of Medicine.
Her commitment to her profession was often challenged. Her daughter said her mother was once engaged to a man who wanted her to quit her job, stay home, and raise children.
“He told her: ‘No woman, however smart, could ever do justice to a family and a career.’ My mother replied, ‘Hit the road, Jack.’ It broke her heart, but it was a sign of the times.”
Fichter later proved she could succeed at both career and family. While on rotation in Denver, she met and married Lorin Mickey, an obstetrician-gynecologist. They moved to Monroe in 1955, where they opened medical practices and had four children, three of whom became physicians.
Their childhood was not typical of the 1960s.
“When we sat down for a family dinner, they always talked about medicine. Their jobs were their lives,” Mickey said. “They loved us, and they took great care of us, but to participate in the table conversation, you had to understand medicine. We were not a traditional 1960s family, but it was normal for us.”
Mickey also recalls the phone ringing “constantly, day and night.”
“I can still remember my mother’s phone conversations. If a baby was sick, she would tell the parents how to ease the child’s pain with homeopathic remedies. If she thought they needed to meet her in the emergency room, she would do it.”
Mickey said her mother was “incredibly driven” and prioritized patients before herself, often arriving home at 7:30 p.m., especially during flu season. Sometimes, her mother experienced self-doubt regarding “not being enough” for her children.
“Occasionally she would get a guilt trip about not being the stay-at-home mama, because most everybody else in the 1960s was. She would ask us, ‘Do you wish I would stay home and take care of you?’ We responded: You’re fine, Mom, we love you, go to work.’”
The children had “around-the-clock” in-home childcare, but Fichter also made time to help with her children’s homework and tuck them into bed.
She also invested in their futures. Mickey imagined several careers, but her mother insisted she become a doctor because she did not want her daughter to depend on a man.
“She saw a lot of young mothers stuck in bad situations because they didn’t have careers. She said to me, ‘You need to take care of yourself because you don’t know what’s going to happen. Medicine is a great career for women because you can be your own boss, and set your own hours, and no one can fire you but your patient.’”
Mickey chose to do just that. She graduated from Newcomb College and Louisiana State University Medical School in Shreveport.
“My time as a student, resident, and doctor was so easy compared to hers. She was and is, an incredible trailblazer. I just slipped in behind her, walking in her footsteps. It was easy because she invented the wheel. She was maybe one of three women in a class of over 100 men, and I was one of 10 women in a class of 100 men.”
Mickey tried several surgical specialties and eventually committed to ear, nose, and throat in the mid-1980s.
Initially, her male colleagues were not supportive.
“The first thing they said to me was, ‘Women don’t do well on our rotation.’ I didn’t care what they thought. As a woman studying medicine in the 1940s, my mother was treated poorly, but the tables had turned a bit when I entered the field. I knew I was going to do equal work, if not better, because I was brought up by my mother.”
By the end of her six-week rotation, Mickey had gained her colleagues’ respect and became the first female resident at LSU Shreveport in the ENT department. She eventually built friendships with her male counterparts.
The mother of three daughters, Mickey taught her children to never let anyone make them feel inferior.
And as a working mother, she learned it was vital to “let go of guilt.”
“It is incredibly hard to leave your baby,” she says. “But, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. If you choose to be a career person, you give up some mothering, and vice versa. You have to make peace with that.”
Mickey, in addition to operating her private practice, has performed surgeries at P&S Surgical Hospital for almost 20 years.
P&S CEO Linda S. Holyfield said, “Dr. Mickey is a remarkable person, and a highly-skilled surgeon. She will do anything for her patients—just like her mother.”
By Laura Clark