Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Clean house, clean life.

Our first apartment together was a shoebox, a little afterthought built on top of a two-car garage with a hidden staircase around the back of the main house that snaked up to our studio. As newlyweds, we could fit our non-furniture belongings in our '93 Geo, which was good, given that our futon took up most of our floor space.

From the shoebox we moved cross-country to medical school, where we started out in an orange-tiled one bedroom: our square footage doubled! And our belongings grew with our space, as medical texts, professional clothes for me, and short white coats for him filled up our shelves and closets.

Our next move was to a townhouse with the same orange tile, and man, does a seven-pound baby come with baggage. After two years in our townhouse we moved again for residency, to a house! 1800 square feet to fill, and attic space to boot. Our old Geo (may she rest in peace) would be rolling in her junkyard if she saw all the stuff that eight years of marriage and two small children accumulates.

We have a few years yet before our next move, but we know it'll be back to an apartment, and probably a small one. And so I've begun the purge. 

I started with the medical books. My favorite place to sell books is Amazon buyback--Amazon will directly buy books for a set fee, and they cover shipping. Your only responsibility is to print a label, stick it on a box, and drop it off at your local post office. Hasta la vida, libros. If Amazon isn't currently buying your books, try a local used bookstore, especially if you have a medical school in town. The closest ones to campus are generally more willing to accept textbooks. If nobody bites, donate them to Goodwill, or to a local medical student. He or she will be more than happy to take them off your hands.

I'm a total e-reader convert, so I also sold some of my hardcovers that were taking up space. Buy the digital copies with the money you make if you miss them!

Clothes were next. I am a packrat, and I've hardly gotten rid of any clothes over the past . . . since high school. I had a very full closet plus several large totes in the garage, and let's be honest, my body's changed since having babies and the only time this full-time momma wears professional gear is when I'm curious if it still fits. (You guys! it does! mostly.) I was ruthless going through my closet. Haven't worn it in a year? Gone. Fits but will look better if I lose a few pounds? Gone. 

I separated the clothes into a few piles. I ordered bags from and; both are companies that buy old clothes. Pay attention to the brands they accept--ThredUp takes more brands, but pays less upfront. They also take more expensive items on consignment, which pays out well. LikeTwice is more particular about its brands, but their customer service is a lot nicer and they pay more per item. They also have an easier return policy if you want to get your items back for any reason. Between the two companies, I got rid of all my garage clothes and made a nice chunk of change in return. (And hey, if you want a hookup, I can email you codes to get $10 off an order at either place!)  Anything else, I donated to Goodwill.  

My last attack was on my kids' toys. After sorting out anything that was incomplete, broken, or unloved, about half their toys were left. I'm in the middle of organizing their remaining toys into bins and boxes for easier cleanup. 

It's a good feeling, having less stuff. Getting dressed each morning is easier, since all my clothes live in my closet and I love all of them. My kids have an easier time finding toys they actually want to play with, since all the distracting and broken toys (and...pretty much any toy that makes noise. Sorry, boys) are gone. And my husband is refilling his empty shelves with books that actually apply to his specialty. 

We still can't fit our belongings in a car, and our lives will never again fit in that adorable studio where we began our marriage. But we have less stuff than house, and I feel like my life is in order. 

Until the next box of toys from Grandma comes, I guess. 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Survivor Stories: #itgetsbetter

We use the hashtag #itgetsbetter often in our circle of friends, mainly to provide a light at the end of the tunnel for those struggling through med school, residency and fellowship.  But the reality is, there’s a lot about the post-training life that will always remain difficult.  And instead of painting a picture that it’s all rainbows and butterflies when training is over, I’d rather give you some realistic expectations about what #itgetsbetter really means.

Many of our posts would have those families in the training phase think that #itgetsbetter is just about money.  I’m not gonna lie – after scraping the house for change to buy groceries, it’s nice to finally walk into Whole Foods and buy all you need for the week.   But what I have actually learned, in our third year out of training, is that #itgetsbetter is truly a mindset.  And something you have more control over than you might think.

Understand your definition for #itgetsbetter
What does your “better” look like?  Is it more time with your husband at home?  Is it finally affording that dream home?  Is it having a chance to pursue your career, after supporting his for many years?
Whatever the case is, be sure you understand your goals in the “better phase” – and discuss this with your husband.
Life is a balanced scale.  But instead of the two arms of the scale, which teeter to either side, our lives are a multi-armed scale.  Some of the things our husbands balance include marriage, kids, faith, exercise/personal health, patients, career growth, financial goals, sleep/rest, hobbies, friends/social, and the list continues.  The main point is that each of these things takes time and effort – and they can’t all function at 100%.  If a dream house with a big price tag is important to you, then having a husband who is home more than he is at work is likely not a reality.  We have to be honest with ourselves, and our spouse, about what our goals are for the post-training life.  Which leads me to my next step.

Communicate with your husband about your goals for the #itgetsbetter
Are you hoping he is home more?  Than perhaps that medical director position isn’t a good idea.  Are you hoping to pay off your loans quickly, than maybe living near family in a more desirable area is not as cost-effective as the huge bonus package from that rural hospital.  Many factors can go into a future “better” but they can’t all be achieved simultaneously.  If your goals are aligned with your spouse, or at least a compromise can be achieved, then you will be able to share in the same dream that will keep you pushing through.

Remind yourself of the #itgetsbetter goals on those difficult days
There are days when you’ll hate the call schedule, or you’ll wish he was around for a particular holiday, or you’ll cry as the credit card reaches it limit.  But remember that if you can be flexible to some constraints, your #itgetsbetter is within reach.  And sometimes smaller #itgetsbetter victories occur.  I can’t even count how many times, when things felt like they couldn’t get any worse, that an opportunity, or some other angel, helped us through a situation.  Sometimes it’s a matter of perspective and remembering that “this too shall pass”.

Celebrate when #itgetsbetter along the way
If we had to wait for the end of fellowship to finally reap any of the rewards of medicine, we would never get through it.  The reality is, that we have little moments of #itgetsbetter throughout the process.

Intern year is difficult, but by that second year they feel more comfortable as a physician = #itgetsbetter. 

He may never have off Christmas day as a resident, but by the third or fourth year your family will finally understand that reality and stop giving you guilt trips = #itgetsbetter.

It’s a financial and emotional strain, but sometimes an angel – be it an in-law, an LDW sister, or an attending – can help out in ways you didn’t expect.  And the gratitude will be so appreciated it will make you cry. = #itgetsbetter

Ultimately, you will be a stronger person and more appreciative of your #itgetsbetter when the time finally comes.  My holiday wish is that you all get to experience an #itgetsbetter moment this season.  Look around and you’ll find it – ‘cause they might already be around you.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Celebrating Christmas

A confession: I've been a wee bit Scrooge-like this holiday season. While we are ever so grateful that Michael is in a residency that we both like quite a lot, considering that it is still a surgical residency, I feel compelled to bah humbug a bit about spending our first Christmas in a new city not only without our extended family, but also without our own little family of four all together. Michael, it turns out, will be spending the twenty-fifth day in December at the hospital.

After Grinching about for the better part of a week, I had this thought: What are we celebrating, anyway? We know from our friends in Whoville that it's not about ribbons or boxes or bags, or trees, lights, or reindeer-shaped cookies. It's not even about the music, although you guys, Pandora's been locked on the Mannheim Steamroller station since before the last trick-or-treater left our neighborhood.

Christmas, then, is about family, a special family, that winked into existence as all families do with the birth of an extraordinary baby. Christmas celebrates that child who grew up to be Christ. Who never turned away the sick or lonely, and especially not the children, not when He was tired or it was inconvenient, and probably He went out helping people on Yom Kippur and Hannukah, even when His ever-graceful mom just wanted to have a sit-down meal with the whole family together.

And if that's how He whose birth we celebrate spent His time, how can I begrudge Michael's residency giving him the opportunity to pay tribute to Christ by tending to the sick and showing compassion to those who would surely also rather be home with their families?

So here's our Christmas: we will celebrate on the twenty-fourth or twenty-sixth with the music and the food and the presents and the children festooned with ribbons and bows. And on Christmas, we will celebrate Christ.

Friday, December 5, 2014

When it rains it pours

by: Jennnifer Engorn

We've all heard the phrase “When it rains it pours,” and the same could certainly be applied to snow. In fact, during my husband's fourth year of Medical School, living in the mountains of Virginia, we experienced a blizzard of epic proportions- both literally and figuratively.

My husband, I believe, was made to be a surgeon. Not just because of his bluntness or his ever-so-logical way of viewing situations. Not just because of his dexterity or physical and mental stamina. My husband was made to be a surgeon because of his hard-working nature, his teamwork mentality, his perseverance, his ability to think quickly. He has adaptability, sound judgment, ethics, and incredible compassion. Most of all, my husband was made to be a surgeon because that is what he wanted, hoped for, worked for and invested his life in. He is a man that puts his heart and soul into everything he does, and refuses to give any less than 110%. Orthopedic Surgery was no different.

Jeff spent all of his Medical School career preparing himself for Orthopedic Surgery residency. With whatever free time he had, he shadowed Orthopedic Surgeons- on days off, weekends, holidays, birthdays- you name it. He spent his entire research month of school waking up at 3 a.m., so that he could commute for an hour and a half in one direction, just to shadow an Orthopod in the area. I paint this picture not only to rave about my husband, but also to show how much he had invested and how much he had on the line. The bigger the risk, the bigger the reward...or the loss when things don't go as planned.

Fourth year of Medical School started off with Jeff taking Step II of his boards and leaving the following day for his first of five month-long audition rotations. This left me with one friend within about a hundred mile radius, and five hours from any family. Needless to say, this was a time with many stresses. Little did my naïve mind know, the struggles were only beginning.

About a week after Jeff left for his first audition rotation in Tennessee, his grandmother- to whom we were extremely close- had a massive heart attack on her way to the casino with a friend. Yes, the casino- she was in remarkable shape- and this came as a huge shock. With Jeff working about a hundred hours a week and barely able to have a phone conversation, this left him in a helpless position and me as the sole representative for our tiny family. I went to Baltimore, where our families were, to visit his grandmother in the hospital and then in Hospice. During this time, Jeff's mother- who is also one of my very best friends, lost her best friend of twenty years to Cancer. Shortly thereafter, Jeff's grandmother also passed away. My heart was so heavy with grief, with sadness, and with loneliness for my husband. Jeff came home on a Friday night after his fourth week in Tennessee, we had the funeral for his grandmother on Sunday, and a few hours later he left for his next rotation in Ohio.

The weeks came and went, barely seeing Jeff for a few days per month- if that. We celebrated our first anniversary with a friend's wedding the night before- where we left the New York wedding at 2 a.m. so    that Jeff could work an early shift in NJ. I then proceeded to continue the drive alone to Baltimore, where I spent our actual anniversary with my family. That was okay, though, because I was hoping it would all pay off on February 10- Match Day. On February 10, Jeff received an email stating that he did not match, despite having five interviews- a comfortable number for D.O. Orthopedics. We spent the rest of the day, and week, calling programs for General Surgery and Emergency Medicine. Jeff got phone calls from Internal Medicine and Family Medicine programs that were also trying to recruit. He received interview offers but, because he had not yet gotten his results from his COMLEX PE, no program could take him. On the night of Wednesday February 12, I called my mom repeatedly, as we had been staying in close contact and I had not heard from her all day. I was finally able to reach her on her cell phone at 11 p.m. when she told me that she was at the hospital. The HOSPITAL?! She proceeded to explain that my grandmother, who was an active, driving, still-working woman suddenly could not get herself out of the bathroom earlier in the day. They ran numerous tests and discovered that she had a brain tumor and would need immediate surgery. I was stunned. Additionally, the forecast was calling for a huge snow storm, making a visit to Baltimore impossible for the foreseeable future. By Friday, Jeff had signed a contract for a Transitional Rotating Internship position in NJ, and my grandmother had her brain surgery scheduled. We were all still in shock from the week's events, and we were snowed in, with over a foot of snow, in our townhouse with our two dogs in Southwest Virginia.

The weeks and months to follow were depressing. Jeff and I moved to New Jersey and started to build a life there, and my grandmother made leaps and bounds in her miraculous recovery. She began to walk again- first with assistance, then on her own, and soon it became her new favorite activity. A few weeks into his TRI position, Jeff noticed a new Orthopedic program listed on the AOA website. He called and emailed them immediately and heard nothing back. Then, about a week later, he was contacted about his inquiry and they asked that he send his CV, ERAS application, Letters of Recommendation, etc. immediately. Within two days of doing so, he was contacted by the program director personally, who asked for the phone numbers of Attending physicians that he could speak to on Jeff's behalf. Granted this was a Saturday and time was more of the essence than ever before. Jeff, fortunately, had built exceptional relationships with many doctors over the past few years, and he found several in his cell phone that he could have the program director contact. We waited on pins and needles for any feedback or updates.

Early the next morning- on the one-month anniversary of moving to NJ, Jeff received a phone call from the Orthopedic Surgery program director who offered Jeff a first-year position, to begin immediately, at his new program in Miami. We were shocked, thrilled, and emotional. This truly felt like a miracle. The past six months had been a roller-coaster of emotions, and we were finally able to see the positive experiences. Now, here we are, about 3 months after he got his Orthopedic residency offer, and my husband is happier than ever. Although intern year has its own set of time commitments and demands, Jeff is happy and eager to handle them. My grandmother, is a walking, talking and now driving miracle, as well. I feel so blessed to have my loved ones so happy and healthy, for which I am thankful every single day. We now live in Miami, with Jeff in his first year of Orthopedic Surgery residency, an the weather has yet to be lower than 80 degrees. Although the blizzard of life that occurred in February will never leave our minds, we are eternally grateful for all of our gifts, and we see no snow-tangible or metaphoric, in our forecast.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Survivor Stories: The Next Chapter in A Different Kind of Survivor Story

Last month, I wrote about my husband's background, and how that began his journey towards a career in medicine.  He and his parents, along with some of his mom's siblings and their families, were refugees from Laos in the early 1980's.  It was a risky choice, to say the least, crossing a river at night with toddlers aboard, hoping to reach Thailand safely.  They spent 18 months in a refugee camp in Thailand before American missionaries helped them settle and start anew in Massachusetts.

When I've asked V about how early he knew he wanted to go into medicine, he tells me it was in his teen years.  Although stereotypical Asians excel in school and pursue professional careers after attending college, the numbers are somewhat different within his culture.  Many teens from his country, from his generation, got into gang culture and never went too far from home--geographically or ideologically.  V embraced Western culture, and his parents always had extremely high expectations for him.  It was understood that he should do well in school and live up to his potential.   I think they always knew he was capable of great things.

V did excel in school, enough so to have his choice of universities and scholarships.  Here is where he and his family took another huge leap of faith:  V decided to attend a private university three states away from his family.  Within their social circles, made up primarily of family and friends from their homeland, V and his parents found themselves to be rather odd.  First, V was going out of state, for college.  Second, he seemed to have no intention of working in his dad's small business and/or taking on ownership of it someday.  Third, his parents did not expect him to hold a job during college; they wanted him to focus on his pre-med studies.  Fourth, they assisted him financially because they could and they wanted to.

His parents continued to believe in him and support him after college, when he wanted to work in a biology lab on campus until he was absolutely certain that medicine was what he wanted to pursue.  Around the same time, he asked a fellow alumnus, also working on campus, on a date.  Within the next two years, he knew that he wanted to apply to medical school, and he also knew he wanted to marry that young

I was on a walk through campus, passing the building in which V took his MCAT.  I was in his living room when he opened his acceptance letter to his top choice of med school.  That was around the time he told his parents he wanted to marry me.  His family hasn't had the best experiences with their men marrying American women, so although they were thoroughly cordial to me, they were open with him about their concerns.  "She'll be a distraction...she'll get pregnant and you'll drop out of school..."  I have to applaud my husband for his defense of me and our relationship.  We got married amongst great joy and hope, and both sides of the family, a month before med school started.  That was 13 years ago.

Even as I write this, I'm realizing how many risks V and his family have taken to get to where they are now.  There is more to his story, which I can add to if there continues to be interest.

My husband's story captivates me because of the fascinating results that have come from his family's decisions to take risks.  His story encourages me because lately he has been saying that he feels like there is more to his calling, yet to be seen...

I am married to an ENT physician, and together we have two children, ages 9 and 5.  We live in Florida and enjoy playing outside together, and gathering both sides of our family in our home for good food and fun.  

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Let the match be the bad guy, and other advice to get you through your holiday dinners

I kind of hate that the match spans the holidays, because instead of focusing on turkey and presents and thanks and families, there's always this sneaky voice in the back of your mind saying "the maaaatch is coming cloooooser." And then there are the louder voices of well-meaning relatives who are so innocently curious about the match process.  

It's been a few years since we matched, but I still remember agonizing over some of the questions and commentary we got from our families. For those of you in the midst of matching this year, here are some tips of how I wish I'd handled things when we were matching.  

First: Avoid specifics, and don't make promises. When Grandma tells you that there's a program near her, and you know the program's not a great fit, you can reply: "Oh Grandma, it would be so fun to live closer to you! I'll let you know if they invite us to interview there. And could you pass the gravy?" Oftentimes, explaining that not every program is right for you is a much longer and more emotionally perilous conversation than you want to have over dinner. Mention its positives and that if they invite you, you'll go, and conveniently forget to mention that you didn't even apply there.

Second: Blame everything on the magic of the match. If Uncle Steve asks where you want to match, and your dream program is an eye-watering two-thousand miles away from family, you can say, "Just to cover our bases, we're applying all over. We're definitely looking at [program near family], and also at [a few other places you're applying]. We're so excited to see where the match will send us! How's cousin Mike doing in school?" Later, you can follow this up with, "We're as shocked as anyone that we matched [far, far away]. We're going to make the best of it, though, and we're so, so excited we matched! Come visit!" Let the match be the bad guy. You don't want to move far away, but the match is making you. 

Third: Don't (necessarily) share your rank list. When your mom tries to pin down your rank list, you can say, "Man, I wish my husband would make up his mind about it! I think he'll be up until midnight on the night it's due getting it sorted out. Why didn't Aunt Emily eat anything but jello salad at dinner? Is she on another crazy diet?"

That third point might need more explanation: when my husband was a second year, we heard of a couple that refused to share their final rank list with a single soul outside of AMCAS. I thought they were crazy, and two years later we happily spilled our list to everyone. I have since seen the wisdom of the other approach.  Here's what happens: as soon as you mention "We're hoping to match at X," your family and friends hear "They're going to match at X!" This invites all kinds of comments, ranging from "When you're at X, we'll come visit you! They have an amazing museum there that I've always wanted to visit!" to "Why X? What's wrong with the programs closer to home?" Maybe this doesn't make you feel crazy, but for me, I felt like if we didn't match at our number one, we were letting everyone down.

We didn't match at our number one. Or two, three, or four. We matched about halfway down our list, at a far-away program we now love but weren't very familiar with during the interview process. We spent the week following the match in mourning for those programs we didn't match at and, unfortunately, some family members did too. My poor, sweet husband kept getting asked "So...what do you think you did wrong at the other interviews?" (Answer: not a single thing. Ortho is competitive!)  Keeping your match list to yourself, or at least to a small, select support group, can help avoid those awkward moments.

Fourth: Support your significant other, completely. When your cousin says, "You need to get your husband to apply in X field or Y location,"or "I can't believe he's taking you away from us!" remember this phrase: "Becoming a doctor is my husband's dream. I am so happy to support him and his dream, wherever it takes us, just as he's supported me with mine." 

And as long as you mean those words when you say them, you'll get through whatever the match throws your way, together. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Moving to new places is like finding the right relationship

Moving to new places is like finding the right relationship

by: Whitney Crisafi
DrH and I just completed a move to the great Mid-West for his first year of residency. We'd lived on the West Coast, the East Coast, and the Caribbean, so seeing the Mid-West just made sense (plus, the program seemed like the perfect fit). While our great Buckeye state has its quirks, we are settling in quite nicely. We can almost see ourselves wanting to stay forever! But, don't get me wrong. I, personally, have not always been so adventurous. Growing up, I was ignorant of anything east of Utah and moving to the East Coast was not something I particularly took to. It was cold. And windy. And full of pot holes.

I'm not going to lie: it was easy to complain about the things I didn't like there. The Costco was always crowded. Our power went out for 14 (14!) days. For some reason the city hated dogs. It was easy to lose perspective. Adjusting to a new place is never easy. For some who had a hard time adjusting to where DrH went to medical school it was easy to complain about say, people getting mugged or the water going out or the grocery store not stocking their favorite licorice for months at a time (that was just me). And just when we felt somewhat settled, it was time to move again for The Match. All this moving made me want to have a nervous break down. 

However,  on a cold night as I was doing the dishes, I had a thought. Because my best thinking occurs over dirty plates and the lack of a dishwasher. 

Moving to new places is like finding the right relationship.

 Remember when you were 16 and you had your first "serious" boyfriend and your dad was just like, "What are you doing?! Don't you want to just date a lot of people and...find out, you know, the type of person you like....what you like and don't like? Or never date anyone ever?" 

Yeah, moving is like that.

I've lived in quite a few different places. My hometown was homogenous and my mind. was. blown. when I moved to California for the first time. Every time DrH and I move, there are different aspects of our new city to get used to. That's the tough and, ultimately, the awesome thing about moving so much.

You get to experience different "types" of cities. Different people, different cultures, different food, different weather, different attitudes, different religions. Somewhere along the way, you find you have preferences you didn't even know you had! You find yourself thinking where you want to live when you ultimately (finally) settle down. Whether a big city with tons of nightlife is your thing. Whether the most important thing to you is having nice weather year round (what did I say about staying in the Mid-West...?) or whether you don't mind having to put on a thousand layers when you go outside with your crazy dog who has to go to bathroom in complete, uninterrupted privacy. If you like having a car or think walking everywhere is awesome. If good quality grocery stores that stock the best peach cobbler ice cream in the world are a want or a need (Need!).

Or whatever.

The point is: it's a pretty amazing opportunity to live in so many different and new places and experience so many different cities. Even if you don't exactly enjoy where you're currently living. Even if you're basically at the mercy of The Match. It's a challenge. It changes you.

And when you finally find the right place and finally settle down in one spot (which we will. Someday!)...well, that...that will make all the other places you've lived seem pretty worth it. :)

(At least that's what I'm going to tell myself as I brave the Mid-Western winters.) 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Pre-Med Perspective: It's the climb.

The infamous MCAT is behind us. The applications are in. Secondaries are complete and fees are paid. Now comes the all too familiar waiting game. Ever since I've been married to DH, it's been a test of our patience for our lives to move forward. Seven months after we were married, my husband was deployed to Iraq for 15 dreadful months. After DH was gone for only 30 days, I received news that would play a huge part in our life's course. On Halloween night as I sat by a bonfire with my best friend, my phone rang at 11:36pm. My husband had been hit by a roadside bomb. My heart was beating from my chest as I heard the words coming from my point of contact over the phone. For the next few hours I was restless and prayerful until the moment I heard his voice over the phone. It's surreal to me. It's so hard to understand the pain he felt and I cannot imagine what he lived through. As horrifying and dark the incident was, I am thankful. There is always something good to be found in even the most awful events. From this single event came my husbands desire to become a Doctor. He was the first to administer first aid to the other soldiers wounded in the explosion. It changed him. It sparked a fire in him that I've never seen before. Though his recovery was long and difficult, his doctors impacted his life in a big way and he knew he wanted to do the same for others. So here we are trekking up this mountain. While I am counting down the days until we reach the top, I have to remind myself to enjoy the climb.

Friday, November 7, 2014

What I learned about being a doctor’s wife from being a doctor’s kid

What I learned about being a doctor’s wife from being a doctor’s kid

by: Emily Roberson

My mother is a cardiologist. She started medical school when I was two and finished

training when I was 13. When I started dating my husband, everyone in my family

laughed - “Why would anyone do this twice?”

Many years later, we’ve survived med school, residency, fellowship and now the first

few years as a practicing physician. We have three kids and a happy marriage, and

the lessons I learned as a doctor’s daughter have served me well as a doctor’s wife.

So here they are:

1) It doesn’t matter what day you celebrate on, just that you celebrate – The

year I turned 16, my mom had to work on my birthday. My dad and sister and

I went out to dinner. We told the waiter it was my birthday and I got cake.

Then the next night, my mom was working, but we tried to go out anyway.

She didn’t get done in time to meet us. We told the waiter it was my birthday

and I got cake. That weekend, my mom was off so we went out to dinner as a

family. We told the waiter it was birthday and I got cake. You see where I’m

going here – instead of a birthday, I had a birth-week (and a lot of cake).

Bonus tip: Have your birthday cake and sing in the morning before and

work, so you aren’t waiting for the doctor to get home.

2) Nobody wants to be at the hospital on Christmas – When I first married

my husband (when he was in medical school and still had Christmas off)

his mother was worried about how we would do Christmas Dinner. How

would we organize it with the two families? Would she need to change her

traditional time? I had to laugh. We have one family Christmas tradition. We

open our presents and eat Pillsbury cinnamon rolls. If my mom has been on

call, we wait till she gets home; if she’s working, we do it before she leaves.

The rest of the day is eating popcorn, watching movies and playing with your


Bonus tip: You don’t have to celebrate on the actual day. Thanksgiving

Dinner tastes just as good on Saturday.

3) Don’t call a million times asking when they’ll come home – when they can get

home, they will get home – Sick people are inconvenient. They don’t follow

schedules. They don’t care about your dinner reservation. If you don’t want

to lose your mind, you have to remember that your doctor wants to leave the

hospital. Just sometimes they can’t. My sister and I used to page my mother

endlessly to ask when she would be home. Now, I understand that this only

made her irritated and delayed her return. I’m a grown-up now, so I really try

not to call.

Bonus tip: Bring a book or magazine if you are meeting your doctor at a

restaurant. That way you are not that lonely woman waiting at a restaurant,

you are that independent, interesting woman with a full life... waiting at a


4) If it’s really important to you, schedule it for a day off – My mother is famous

for underestimating the amount of time it will take her to do something. She

would say, “I just have to round, I’ll be done by 1:00.” So we would make

plans to go to a movie at 2:30. Of course, 90% of the time, she wouldn’t be

done and we’d be waiting at the theater. The lesson I got from this is that

if something is really important to you, tell the doctor and get it on the

schedule, early.

Bonus tip: Sometimes this doesn’t work, there are always emergencies, but

you shouldn’t stop trying.

5) Be the cruise director – When I was growing up, we went camping. My dad

packed us and organized us and got us out there. We picked my mom up

when she got off work and took her with us. When you’re in the woods,

staying in a tent, you have to interact with each other. Maybe camping

isn’t your thing, but something is. It is really easy to get used to the doctor

being gone and to forget to make it fun when they are home. Don’t wait for

vacation; plan special times as a family.

Bonus tip: You are going to be the one organizing everything, but know that

your doctor will probably come in and mess up your planning. My dad always

complains that my mom repacks everything he packs – don’t stress it... It will

be a funny memory someday.

Those are just a few of the lessons I learned about being a doctor’s wife from being a

doctor’s daughter.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Survivor Stories: A Different Kind of Survival

Learning about someone's background often helps us know more about who that person is today.  Questions about my husband's background usually begin when someone is intrigued, befuddled, or overwhelmed by his last name:  Phommachanh.  It's really quite simple once you get the hang of it.  "Po" (like the panda); "ma" (like pa's wife); "ch" (as in chair); "ahhn" (just like it looks).  Anyhow, those 11 letters only begin to tell V's somewhat unique story, and how he came to have that name embroidered on a long white coat with the letters "MD" after them.

Once people ask about his last name, I'll add that V is originally from Laos.  Sometimes, people say, "wow, really?", and sometimes they look a little lost, as if they're hoping I'll remind them exactly where Laos is.  Just to make sure we're all on the same page, Laos is in Southeast Asia, and it's the landlocked country nestled among Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia.

Even if most people know where Laos is, many don't know its role in the Vietnam war.  Without getting deep into international politics,  I'll just supply this fact:  from 1964 to 1973, the U.S. dropped the equivalent of "a planeload of bombs every 8 minutes, 24-hours a day, for 9 years--making Laos the most heavily bombed country per capita in history."  If you type in "Laos most heavily bombed..." in your search engine, you can learn more.  Following this catastrophic season, Laos was in chaos and was under Communist rule.

Let's get to where my husband fits in to this story.  Born in 1977 to a humble Lao farmer and his wife, whose family was more urban and more highly educated, V was born in his family's home in the capital city of Vientiane.  His birth certificate is a piece of paper that records the date, but not the time, or length/weight of the baby.  His grandfather signed it to make it official.

By the time V was about 2, his parents and some other family members from his mom's side had made the decision to leave Laos, with the ultimate goal being America.  Because of the politics at the time, leaving had to be secretive.  They purchased passage on a small boat that would cross the Mekong River at night, into Thailand.  Little V stayed quiet, and they crossed safely.  I get goosebumps every time my mother-in-law tells this story, and I've known V for 15 years!

Once in Thailand, V and his family lived in a refugee camp for 18 months.  At one point, a fire ravaged the camp, leaving the meager accomodations in shambles.  V's uncle sent us a picture of the camp after the fire, and it stops me in my tracks.  I look around at our new, large, beautiful home, and think of our own little ones...and then remember just where my husband started his life.  It's some serious perspective.

Christian missionaries helped V's family leave Thailand and settle in Massachusetts.  Southeast Asians in Massachusetts doesn't make a lot of sense to me, but it was a step in the right direction, to be sure.  The family learned English as my father-in-law studied to become a machinist and my mother-in-law worked in various factories.  They shared a home with V's aunts and uncles and cousins.  There wasn't a lot of personal space, I'm sure.

This story is getting perhaps too long already, so I'll fast forward.  V's family moved to St. Petersburg, FL, in 1985, after V's sister was born.  They are still there today.  V's dad owns and operates a small machine shop.  V's mom helps take care of our niece while her parents (V's sister and her husband) work.  They are all doing well.

My husband obviously excelled in school, and knew medicine was calling him, by his teen years.  I think I'll have to write "chapter two" about his path into being a doctor, if there is interest in more of his story. I am still amazed at how our paths came together.  V's family truly could--and still can--"do hard things"!

I am a stay-at-home mom in the Bradenton-Sarasota area of Florida, though with our son in 5th grade and our daughter in pre-K, I do more driving around than staying at home.  My husband is in his 5th year of private practice as an ENT physician.  We like to play outside and host family and friends in our free time.  V and I got married 13 years ago, right before he started medical school.  We like to think we've not just survived, but we have thrived!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Doctor's Strange Life: Or, How I Learned to Stop Hurrying and Love the Call.

You guys have no idea how long I've been waiting to use this title. 

My husband and I can talk. Our first date, we planned on doing dinner and a movie and we chatted so long during dinner--I remember he brought up Hegelian dialectics to impress me and I still have no idea what that means, but obviously it worked--that we didn't make it to dinner and, when he took me back to my apartment six or eight hours after the date had started, we still hadn't run out of things to say. We still haven't eight years later. 

So when we found out that he matched at the program that takes the most call out of any of our ranks, we were concerned about how it would affect our relationship. He's Q4 for the almost the whole first four years--that is a YEAR on call. Miserable. 

Which I was, for a while, and I rushed through each call day just trying to get it over with faster. And then I realized: spending an entire year of residency hurried and miserable sucks. 

Thus began operation Learn to Love the Call: 

  • When DrH has to take weekend call, our sons and I sometimes go on a date to a restaurant and talk about whatever they have on their toddler-sized minds.
  • If the hospital's slow, we meet DrH at the cafeteria for dinner...until we're interrupted by his pager.
  • We give ourselves license to eat hot dogs, pancakes, cold cereal, or once, memorably, nothing but cheese and raisins for dinner. Nothing fancy unless we feel fancy!
  • We snuggle up on the couch and watch Thomas the Tank Engine,
  • Or have a crazy dance party in the basement.
  • And get into pajamas whenever we feel like it. Sometimes it may still technically be morning.
  • When the kids go to bed, I catch up on my trashy reality TV shows,
  • Or the latest book I'm into,
  • Or I call a friend and talk until I'm all talked out.
  • I've learned to refinish furniture,
  • Clean the bathtub 'til it shines,
  • Sew a quilt from start to finish,
  • And bake too many brownies, cakes, and pies.
  • (Consequently, I also try to catch up on my wall sits and crunches.)

We're almost halfway through residency and maybe two-thirds of the way through call. And I'm thrilled that calls are no longer miserable, but this I will admit: the moment when I turn off the light and call it a night, alone? I don't think I'll ever learn to love that.  

Although I've found that sleeping diagonally across the bed really does take the edge off.  

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!)