Friday, October 24, 2014

Why I get on Stage in a Sparkly Bikini and Flex

Why I get on Stage in a Sparkly Bikini and Flex
 by: Emily Sanchez Otero

On Nov. 1st, 2003, I was on stage doing my first Figure competition in Sacramento, CA.  Earlier that morning, I had driven the two hours north from Stanford, where I was a senior, a pre-med History major, a Pi Phi sister, and a very independent woman.  Period.  My boyfriend (DrH, now), was snapping pictures in the crowd, cheering.  He was an honors-bound, pre-med Biology major who had just finished his Medical School applications.  Smart as hell and hot, too.  But, right then, he was my #1 Fan.  And, I was in the spotlight for once.  It felt scary…and nice.  I got 13th place.

Fast forward six weeks.  I was sitting in my 1998 forest green Saturn in the parking lot outside of Student Health, and I was crying.  The test was positive.  DrH was in St. Louis at his first Medical School interview and he was on the other end of my cell phone call—surprisingly calm.  “We’ll make it work,” he said.  “St. Louis seems like a great place for a family.” 

And that was it.  That was the end of me as an independent, sky-is-the-limit, might-be-a-doctor, too, intelligent, Woman.  Everything changed instantly.  And, eight months later, I was a mom living in the Midwest, married to a medical student, too uneducated (with my Stanford degree) to get a job that would pay enough for childcare.  I spent my days nursing and trying to figure out how to live on $1700 per month (DrH’s MSTP stipend).   There wasn’t a pretty wedding or a diamond ring—just a civil ceremony and a $40 band…that I bought for myself.  But, I knew that I was lucky to have snagged a future-DOCTOR.  So, I played the part of young, happy, new wife-and-mom.  I worked tirelessly to lose my baby weight and to figure out the ins-and-outs of WIC and Food Stamps and Medicaid.  Meanwhile, my new husband disappeared into his books, getting smarter and smarter and smarter…while I just got older.

In 2010, however, everything changed.  My youngest was two and potty trained, and with three kids under 6, we were DONE.  I had given up trying to live on nothing, as we had private Kindergarten and ballet lessons to pay for.  (It wasn’t our kids fault we had them too early; they would not lack any opportunity if we could help it.)  So, I was working as a personal trainer every free minute I had.  While the job was stressful and the hours painful (most people work out before or after work), it inspired me to get back to my own fitness goals—to get back on stage. 

Looking back, the idea of competing at that time was just short of insane.  Prepping for a fitness competition is 16 weeks of working out at least two hours, daily.  It is a constant ache of hunger, and never-ending stress—prep meals, do workouts, practice posing, repeat.  The process is hard for a single person with no kids.  For a working (50+ hours per week) mom-of-three, with a husband just about to start his away rotations (one of them would be 2,000 miles away for eight weeks); prepping for a show seemed impossible. 

And, it was…almost.  It was a messy, difficult, stressful, emotional experience that almost tore my marriage apart and made me question my ability to be a mom.  But, on July 9, 2010—seven years, 2,000 miles and three kids away from Sacramento—I stepped back onto the stage.  And, my DrH was there, just like the first time, cheering me on, supporting me like I had him through his MD/PhD years.  It felt so strange, so scary…and so good.  I got first place in Beginner Figure and Novice Figure, and I was hooked.  DrH carried both of my trophies around with him all night while we celebrated, and he bragged about me to anyone who would listen.  It was good for both of us.  It was healing; we felt like we were back on track.  He had felt bad for what life had taken from me, and I don’t think I realized it until that night.  But, there we were, on the other side of the hardest seven years of our lives…and we hadn’t just survived; we had killed it!

That, my dear Doctor wives, is why I am a Figure competitor.  It gives me something to think about besides “when is this going to be over?”  It distracts me from the impossible life that we have chosen and gives me a chance to make and follow my own dreams, now.  It makes me feel like I’m not “just getting older,” but rather, getting a little bit better.  But, most of all, it gives my marriage a brief moment where I am the one on stage.  My competitions allow my DrH a brief reprieve from being the star and give him the chance to be the supporter, the encourager, and my #1 Fan, again.  It turns out that we both needed that.

(And, hey, let’s be honest…the sparkly bikinis are super duper fun, too!)

Friday, October 10, 2014

Remaining Romantic in Residency

My name is Celeste Holbrook.  I'm a sexual health educator and consultant, and I am married to a PGY4 Emergency Medicine resident.  I talk to a lot of doctor's wives in my practice as it is so very difficult to continue to remain sexually intimate with a partner who has such a grueling and emotionally taxing schedule.

I recently wrote an article for my own blog that takes a humorous approach to foreplay with a physician.

Celeste Holbrook, Ph.D.
Sexual Health Consultant and Educator

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

More husband than doctor

I didn't want a doctor when my world fell apart. I'd already consulted Dr. Google and knew the differences between melanoma in situ (please, please let it be in situ) and stages one, two, three and four, which I read through tears so thick my four year old started spinning around me and singing, "let's be HAPPY!  No more being sad!"

Which is a lot easier when my mom, my too-young-for-this, healthy-as-can-be mom, hasn't just been diagnosed with cancer, staging undetermined.

I didn't want a doctor. I wanted my husband to come home and forget everything he knows about cancer and mortality rates and treatments, about pathology and incisions and turnaround times and make me feel better.

He did.

He held me and I cried. He took the boys outside to play so I could cry some more. He made dinner. He bathed our kids and got them ready for bed, and then he went back to work.

Between patients, he called me. "I have a fracture coming in soon, but I wanted to know how you're doing," he'd say. "I love you. Your mom will be fine. Try to sleep, and you'll feel better in the morning."

And in the morning, when things were a little better, a text: "I'm headed to clinic, but I love you. Your mom will be fine. Try to keep your mind off it. We'll know more soon."

And in the afternoon, when I was doing a lot better: "I'm studying now. Call me if you need me and I'll come home."

And a few hours later when, suddenly, I wasn't: "Leaving now. I'll be home soon."

Residency doesn't allow time off to comfort your wife while she's waiting for pathology to call, and while he was able to sneak away the first day, he was Q2 for the next week. But when he couldn't hold my hand, he held my heart together with prayers and sweet words, and day by day we got through it. And when we found out that she was just a a single surgery and an awful, beautiful scar away from being cancer free, he comforted me again while I shook with relief and disbelief, because how can I be so lucky that my mom, who for a week I was sure would miss my sons' first days of school, their baptisms, their high school graduations, their weddings, was just at stage one and was going to be okay. And my husband. My husband.

He's a great resident. On his way to becoming an exceptional surgeon.

He is an even better husband.

Friday, September 26, 2014

I guess you could say I had it pretty easy growing up

I guess you could say I had it pretty easy growing up. Besides living out of state for the first couple years of my life (which I obviously don’t remember) my family moved once. I was 13 years old and it was a mile up the road. Neither my schools nor friends were affected.  While I couldn’t admit it then, my teenage years were easy and carefree. I lived with both of my parents and my 3 siblings and we had what we needed. My biggest challenges were AP tests and upcoming swim meets and water polo matches.  Oh, and boyfriends.  Life was just fine and change was a term I probably didn’t even understand the exact definition of. In fact, since we are only OMSIII, I still probably don’t…

Imagine my reaction when I found out we were moving out of state for medical school. Out of state?! What a swear word! People in MY family don’t do that. I had been married for almost 4 years and would have my second child by the time we moved. It was the end of the world, clearly. I guess I should mention that we moved one whole state away, which turned out to be about 11 hours driving. Knowing what I know now, I should be embarrassed for my “Drama Queenery.” But then, this was HUGE. I didn’t even know what to expect. We would be moving from Salt Lake City, UT, a place where I felt extremely comfortable and protected, to Phoenix, AZ. All I knew about Phoenix was that it had cactuses, scorpions, and it was one hundred and a billion degrees in the summer time. None of those things have proved to be wrong, but I’ve found so much more.

I grew up on the east benches of Salt Lake City. When I looked out my front room window I would have a majestic view of the towering Mt. Olympus. Whether is was Spring, Summer, Fall or Winter that peak had all sorts of secrets to offer my eyes when I peaked through the blinds. It is beyond beautiful.  When we wanted to roast marshmallows, we drove 5 minutes to the mouth of the canyon and were immediately buried in towering trees and 100 foot cliffs and our ears were inundated with the sounds of rushing water. The parks around my home had the softest, greenest grass and everyone in the neighborhood had lush gardens full of colorful flowers. When we wanted to cool off from the “hot” summer we sped up Parley’s Canyon to the legendary Park City, and just a little further to beautiful lakes and rivers.  It really was a dream. Even the dreaded winters were beautiful (when blankets of haze weren’t covering the valley). So the biggest problem I had with Arizona? It’s beauty, or lack thereof.

We had just driven through Las Vegas and I’m not sure what I was expecting to see but I wasn’t seeing much. There was a pile of rocks there and a bigger pile of rocks over there. Then there were cactuses. Those entranced me for two miles and then I realized something: there were no mountains (at least what I consider a mountain) and none of the “trees” had leaves on them. Wait, were there any trees? Then we finally got to our destination and I opened the car door. You know that feeling when you open your oven door when it’s 400 degrees inside? I felt like I was walking into a 400 degree oven.  I had come to a conclusion. Arizona was ugly. Ugly. Ugly. Ugly.

We had gotten settled and I hadn’t really changed my mind about what I thought about the physical appearance of my new home. That was until we experienced our first monsoon. It was the beginning of August and the wind was blowing dust like mad.  I was receiving warnings on my phone about a massive dust storm, the “mythical” haboob. They DID exist! Once the dust died down, nature performed the most awesome light show I had experienced in my life and then it started to pour. Like buckets. And guess what? It was BEAUTIFUL! That night I turned a new leaf (hahah, leaf, those rarely exist in AZ). I was going to find all the beautiful things Arizona had that Utah didn’t. Now don’t get me wrong, I still laughed when people told me I was lucky to be living so close to the mountains that I could go hiking everyday. Sorry, but those “mountains” you speak of are literally the size of the sledding hill at the local park back home. And those “hikes”? Those were more like a walk around the block. But on a more positive note, here are some of Arizona’s beauties I discovered with my change of attitude:

-Sunset: The myriad of colors those things produce on a nightly basis are breathtaking. And there are no mountains to get in the way of those. Nothing but a wide-open spectacular of the sun retiring for the day.

-Cactuses: While there are countless numbers of these pokey creatures ALL OVER the state, did you know they bloom? Yes, those painful plants actually produce a flower. And not just a simple flower, they are gorgeous.

-Bunnies: Everywhere. But cool nonetheless. There isn’t a lot of wildlife back home that come out at night to eat your grass. I mean, they’re a lot better than raccoons and skunks, but unfortunately cause just as many stains in the road as one another. I may or may not be a culprit.

-Coyotes:  Beautiful? No. But completely awesome and different? YES! Just a few months ago I was on a morning jog and was greeted by a coyote that thought it was being sneaky by running along side me concealed by the brush.

-Road Runners: Beep Beep. Enough said

-Lightning: I know I already mentioned this before, but it’s definitely worth mentioning twice. When it storms here, it is lightning non-stop. I could just stand outside and stare. But I don’t, that would be dangerous…

And much, much more.

This experience on finding the physical beauty in Arizona has been so refreshing to me, and the farther along my family moves in our medical journey, I’m realizing how metaphorical it is. There will be so many times where we are let down and things don’t go the way we planned or hoped them to go. But there is always beauty. Beauty exists everywhere. Sometimes we just don’t see it at first because we haven’t experienced that type of beauty before. Whether it’s finding the beauty of being alone, or changing jobs or specialties, I believe beauty can exist in every situation, we just have to open our eyes and hearts to see it.

And for those of you still dwelling on the fact that you have no idea what a haboob is or if it is an actual word, it is. They say it on the news, so it’s real. Now watch this:

Don’t you just want to go stand in that? I do. But husband says I can’t. I’ll get something called Cocci. Whatever THAT is.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Things Our First Month In Have Taught Us...

We are three weeks in. Really? Only three weeks?! Truly, it seems like months at least. Everyone has told us about how quickly this goes by, and I am sure eventually we will look back and say that it did, however, that is not today!

These are the lessons that we and I have learned so far…

      We are different. Out of the class of 125, there are less than 15 that are married. There are less than 10 that attend religious services of any kind regularly. I myself am 6 years older than the average student in his class. We don’t really have a whole lot in common with many of the students. Orientation parties that start around the time we usually both get in bed with our books till we get sleepy made that very clear. Our books and pillows were far more enjoyable in our eyes, and probably their sore, red eyes the next morning. 

     My outlook on this process is different than his family's. Let's be frank, family are bystanders, and we are in the thick of it. At White Coat Ceremony, parents were beaming, his own parents were crying tears of pride. I cried, but it was later, one tear, because of something that was said to me by one of his family members, whom I love very much. His Dean is a very nice lady who was the wife of a med student before she was a med student herself, and said that being the wife was harder than being the student. As a wife, you are waiting a lot, having your life thrown upside down with no control and just trying to hold it all together. I was expressing by relief to hear that one of the Deans understood and how it was refreshing, and this family member told me that my attitude would cause a divorce. I was going to cause a divorce simply because I said it was going to be hard at times. I let one tear go, and avoided her the rest of the evening. It was still a fun day, and exciting to see him get his coat, but let's face it, family will support you, but they are not going into this the same way a spouse is. They can't know or ever really understand what I am going to go through as a spouse anymore than they can understand what he will go through as a student. It's easier to empathize with the student you are so proud of though at times than it is the spouse at home doing the dishes, and making the paycheck to make it all so. For parents and family, White Coat is about pride and reminiscing. For the student and spouse, it is some of that, but also the closing of a chapter of life and their marriage and a total change. They won't get it, and you have to get that.

      Studying for medical school is a different animal altogether.  8-10 hours a day, 7 days a week.  I think as he gets more acclimated, it will get better, but is has been a bit of an adjustment for both of us.  The days of him studying while watching football all day are gone, so at least there is that. 

      We are a special kind of broke. I say we are a special kind, cause there isn’t a whole lot of ways to improve our situation and we know it won’t change for a very long time. In fact, if it does, it will probably get tighter. We cut corners where we can, but still have to live. Prioritizing is key. I’ve decided we should stop eating. Considering I am very hypoglycemic, that should last about 3.5 hours. Dangit, I am hungry.

Sex is important. Ooooo that’s right, I said it. I have always been a little insatiable according to my husband.  We both waited a loooooong time, (just shy of 29 years for me) so we have not been ones to take that area of marriage for granted. However, now it has become a way to feel far more connected to him when he has been so busy. That time in the bedroom is more bonding than twice that watching TV.  Don’t deny yourselves or them, ladies. It will keep you closer, more secure feeling and can you think of a better stress reliever? Remember, just like prioritizing money, it is about prioritizing your time and each other. Besides, talk about cheap entertainment... 

       I am apparently THAT mom. We don’t have kids yet, but I am already THAT mom. I took him to school the other day wearing my PJs, hair a mess and hadn’t brushed my teeth. A construction worker pulled out in front of me at the school and nearly caused us to crash. I wanted to go to the foreman I saw and complain. I was asked by DH to please not embarrass him. See, I am THAT mom.  No children required.

All-in-all, it isn’t too terrible. Do I miss him sometimes? Absolutely. Does hearing him explain the details of all the horrible ways you can die based on what he learned that day become a bit overwhelming at times, and make me doubt my meal, having children, or leaving the house? Oh yeah. Do I wish I didn’t have to ration money to buy seeds to plant in the garden and look for the perfect intersection where Pinterest and what’s in the house meet for possible DIY Christmas gifts? You betcha.

That all being said, some cool stuff has happened too. We are more excited for time together. We really think about what matters to us (and for DH it is the more expensive bread at the store instead of a movie). We learn to sacrifice more for each other, whether it’s me keeping everything going so he can study, or he deciding that the extra hour of studying won’t probably make a huge difference on that test, but may make a huge difference in my day.

Our marriage doesn’t look like it did a month ago, but in a lot of ways it looks better.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Being poor was expected and scary

by: Christie from Kansas City
This summer a miraculous thing happened. My husband had two blissful months off for summer vacation. The first year of medical school splatted me flat like a cartoon character being crushed by a falling piano. It was something we had worked and dreamed about for years; and then it was finally here and it was as if someone had gifted me a big flaming bag of poo. I did not expect my part of this journey to be so hard.

Being poor was expected and scary.  However, it was the doing everything solo that killed me. Being ripped away from lifelong friends and family, leaving my career, having a new baby in an unknown place, never seeing my husband; it was a lot of life changes all at once. I flailed and faltered and tried my best to gain my footing. I did whatever I could to cope and make our lives better here, but it was hard.

Then summer finally arrived and I could feel the ease and joy of life creeping back into my heart. Its amazing what having an extra set of hands to help carry the groceries up the stairs can do for a girl. For the first time in a year I feel relaxed and happy and I am so scared to let this go. So while my head is on straight, I'm going to write down the most important things that helped me survive the first year as a medical school family matriarch. That way when my husband is studying for boards and the baby is teething and the house is a mess, I won't just survive - I will thrive.

Tips for thriving as a wife/mother during medical school:

1. Accept that you will be alone, a lot. Remember that you will feel lonely, but you are not alone.  Technically I was with my toddler 100% of the time, so I was never literally alone - but that is another blog post entirely. Remember there are thousands of medical wives going on this journey with you, and we are all in it alone together! Also even if you are physically alone in caring for your kids, household, yourself etc; you still have a partner in your spouse! Sure, he doesn't help with the midnight feedings, he doesn't take a turn scrubbing the toilets, he may not even have time to eat dinner with you; but you are still on this journey together! 

2. Friends matter. I didn't realize what a huge role friends would play in my new medical life. Without a husband to help you, your medical "sister wives" will help pick up the slack. See if your husbands school has a spouse or partner group you can socialize with. Join the "lives of doctor wives" group on Facebook for virtual support. Make friends at church, the library, playgrounds. Hell make friends at the McDonalds play place if you have to. Just make friends. They can distract you from your loneliness, swap free babysitting, and more importantly give you someone to talk about "The Bachelor" with. When your husband is going on a study bender, you will need the moral support. 

3. Embrace adventures in your new city. I moved to a supposed non descript mid west town. I was not excited, but I have been blown away with what I've found! Museums, parks, markets, restaurants, attractions. Every city has them, it's your job to go find them and make fun memories in them. Life doesn't stop for you just because your spouse is studying. Distract yourself with adventures sightseeing. It's a lot of fun. 

4. Become a frugal guru. Medical students are poor, it comes with the territory. Find confidence and even a hobby through being budget savy. Learn how to coupon, find sites that share free activities in your area, start thrifting. It's fun and often necessary. Every month I get free magazine subscriptions, free photo prints, free samples, and more all from just from a little looking around online. There are so many little tricks, fun rewards apps, it's addicting and a real tangible way to give back to your family's bottom line. 

5. Accept charity. This one can be hard, but you will need peoples help. I have been given great hand me down toys and clothes for my son, extra vegetables from neighbors gardens, leftovers from church dinners. People understand medical school is difficult on young families and they want to help. It can be hard, but let them. You can pay it forward when life gets better. 

6. Remain positive for your spouse. It can be easy to misplace all of our resentment towards the hard process of medical school onto our husbands. If you are having a pity party all the time, it will effect your sweet husbands outlook and ultimately it will effect both of your futures. Plaster positive quotes around the house, go on dates after tests, say lots of prayers. Make goal charts, send him encouraging texts, leave love notes in his books. Whatever you can do to stay positive, do it. If you focus on what you can do to make him and your kids happy, its truly works that in turn you will be happy.

7. Have an outlet. Journal, learn a language, do yoga, watch trashy tv, host a book swap with friends. Do something just for yourself that you love, it will do wonders. 

8. Reset often. You will be tired and make mistakes.  You will skip play dates with your best friend. You will nag your husband before you catch yourself. You'll buy something you can't afford at Anthropologie. It's ok, be kind to yourself. Give yourself a pep talk and start over. Medicine is a marathon, not a sprint. 

We can do hard things. We will be better for it. My heart is with you all

Monday, September 8, 2014

Survivor Stories: It All Comes Down to 10 Seconds

I may hate a lot about this medical lifestyle.  The long hours, the physical drain (on both husband and wife), the financial debt to get here.  The list goes on and on.
But this is a Survivor Story and the best story I have is when my husband’s 4 years of college, 2 years of graduate school, 4 years of medical school, and 3 years of residency all came down to the most important 10 seconds of my life.

Most physician wives, and especially emergency physician wives, will tell you that you better have a knife sticking out of your chest to get any sympathy and attention for your medical “problem.”  If it’s not life threatening, it isn’t a problem. I have heard the statement “Don’t worry about it, it’s no big deal,” so many times that I began to think that nothing medical was ever a big deal to my husband. 

Until the day our daughter stopped breathing.

It was early December and our “Christmas baby” ended-up being a Thanksgiving baby.  Despite being almost 6 weeks early, she came home from the hospital with me and was doing great on day 10.  The rest of the family was fighting a cold.

Shortly after breastfeeding, I was holding my 10-day-old daughter swaddled in my arms, just sitting on the couch watching my 15-month-old play.  I was about to lay her in her bassinet for a nap when DrH walked by.
The conversation went like this:
DrH: “How long has she been doing that?”
Me: “Doing what?
DrH: “Her color change.  How long has she been dusky?”
Me: “She’s not dusky, it’s just the lighting in here.” (says the tired mom with little sleep)
DrH: “Bring her over here.”
(I went over to the kitchen where the lighting was better.)
DrH:  “Quickly pack a bag and get everyone loaded in the car.”

Normally, I’m fairly obstinate and I don’t like being bossed around.  So, most days I probably would have replied with some snappy remark.  But I could tell he was very serious and that meant something was wrong.

We then drove from our house to the children’s hospital in the next state.  DrH assured me our local hospital would just airlift our daughter to that children’s hospital anyway.  We had my father-in-law (also an EM physician) on speakerphone confirming each hospital we would drive by in case we had to urgently stop.  I sat in the back seat tickling my baby’s toes and lightly pinching her to keep her alert and awake – as instructed by my husband.

We arrived at Children’s with a bright, alert, pink baby who was hungry for a feeding.  The staff probably wouldn’t have even brought us back to a room right away if DrH hadn’t explained his job and what he had witnessed.  I fed our baby and she fell asleep.  I thought maybe we had overreacted.

Then, her respirations started spreading out….3 seconds apart, 5 seconds apart, 10 seconds apart.  Fortunately, we had the attending, resident and ER nurse watching her respiratory changes inside the room.  Once she hit 20-second gaps between breaths they decided to intubate.  The room very quickly became packed with hospital staff and multiple pieces of machinery. My husband asked if I wanted to be out of the room and I said yes.  We sat together in a waiting room and he explained to me what happens with an intubation while I cried on his shoulder. 

It was the first time I truly understood his job.

Our preemie daughter was on a vent in the ICU for three days, released from the hospital in 6 days, and was able to go off from continuous oxygen at 4 months.  I know, had I been home alone that day (as I often am), I would have put our baby to sleep for a nap and she wouldn’t have awakened.  My husband’s training, his experience, and his keen eye for a spiraling patient had saved our daughter’s life.

So no matter how frustrated I get with another holiday when my husband works, or the student loan debt that feels like will never go away, I remember the time that my husband saved our daughter’s life and I know that had he chosen any other career this story would have ended very differently.

So hug your kids tonight, and let you physician husband know how proud you are of him and how grateful you are for what he does.  And take comfort in knowing you have that amazing knowledge right in your home.  Perhaps that is the greatest benefit of this medical life.

I am a stay-at-home mom to two healthy girls, now 3-years and 20-months. My husband practices emergency medicine in Colorado.  We have been married for 8 years and together since graduate school.