Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Survivor Stories: How Residency Interviews Became the Best Memory During the Training Years

It’s easy for a “survivor” to recall the tough times during medical school and residency.   The tough times are truly numerous.  But since I like to keep the survivor stories light, I recently asked my husband to recall the best memory of his training years.  Having been with him since graduate school (and before any of this medical journey) I had a feeling I knew the answer he would give.  “The trip with my dad.”  He said.  The same answer I expected he would give. Although I would have phrased it “Your residency interviews.”  It was the same trip, just a different perspective of the memory.
When we think about residency interviews as a medical student, our pulse quickens and palms get sweaty.  How many places do we have to apply to?  Did we choose the right away rotations?  Did we do enough away rotations?  How many interviews will be offered?  How many can I afford to attend?  What will my ranking list look like?
There are dozens of questions, and even more factors to complicate the matter.  We had the usual complicating factor – specific desired location.  At the time, we were in the Midwest for medical school, where my husband grew up.  But as a Colorado girl, I was used to warmer weather and much more sun.  I couldn’t handle another 3 years in the Midwest and desperately wanted to get closer to home.  
Here moves in the second complicating factor.  There are few programs in the Western states around Colorado (at least for ER – my husband’s specialty).  
And our last complicating factor is that my husband doesn’t fly.  As we neared the end of third year, we wondered how we would make this work.
Ultimately, my husband chose to do his fourth year elective months in Dec and Jan.  The electives he chose allowed schedule flexibility, so he was able to manage a 4 week break that placed Christmas through New Years near the end.  His Midwest interviews he scheduled around 3-day breaks in November and early December, and the Western states he planned during the 4-week trip.  His dad, a recently retired ER physician, joined my husband for the journey along with our 1-yr-old golden doodle. 
For the journey, I made my husband a binder with a map of the US on the front and individual pages for each of the locations.  I had areas for him to write down notes related to the program director/staff, hospital facilities, other residents, best areas to live, etc.  Each location had a two-page spread for him to capture thoughts.  I also included printed mapquests, hotel recommendations, things to see and do at their destinations and along the way.  I stayed back as I was working full-time and unable to take that much time off. Although a road trip this extensive is more suitable for the boys anyway.
On their way to interview destinations, they visited Mount Rushmore, the Black Hills, the White Sands, the border to Mexico, and Saguro National Park – to name a few of the highlights.  We rendezvoused in Colorado at Christmas with both of our families.  
Overall, by driving to all of his interviews, my husband developed a great feel for each of the areas we considered.  He was able to see the surroundings and outdoor activities (just as important to him as the program).  And, it made for interesting conversation during his interviews.  People would ask about the adventures, what sights had he seen, how our puppy was holding up through the travel (very well, by the way).  I would like to think it helped him be more relaxed, allowed his personality to show through, and helped him stand out in the memory of the rank list panel when the time came.  His father’s wisdom, as a former academic ER physician, was hugely valuable in determining questions to ask and how to process all he had learned through the interviewee experience.  It was a powerful trip between a father and a son, and one they speak of often to this day.  He matched at his number one, and we enjoyed spending the next three years continuing to explore our surroundings – as much as a residency schedule allows.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Residency Roundup: The Good

Its easy to dwell on the negatives of residency. Many, many posts focus on the (understandably)hard and long parts of training. I thought it would be refreshing to share some positives I have found through the last 3.5 years.

My Five Favorite things about Residency.
1. No administrative stuff!- We are not responsible for any staffing, billing, RVUs, contract responsibilities, office maintenance, advertisement of practice...

2. Time off does not mean less pay- We just returned from a 5 day family trip and didn't have to think about making up the time or finding coverage over the practice.

3. Attitude toward our finances- I appreciate that during residency other people I meet don't have falsely high expectations of my lifestyle.  A huge home, a German made car, perfect skin care, kids in coordinated outfits, magazine worthy home decor and many other ideas I have overheard that a 'doctors family' is assumed to have.  While each of those items are a great/fun thing to have, I relish the time in residency where none of those expectations exist.  

4. Benefits- Our program has amazing Medical, Dental, and Vision coverage.  We paid nothing for our third child's birth!

5. Co-residents = instant friends- We feel extremely lucky to have matched with another family very similar to ours.  They know exactly what we are going through because they are the only ones in the same program!  Rarely in life are you 'matched' with someone so closely. 

We all have difficult times!  We survive.  We move on.  But, as we move on, we all need to remember that life currently has great stuff happening:) 


p.s. What are your favorite things about residency??

Monday, February 9, 2015

Before and After

I distinctly remember the first time my husband wasn't there for me.

I was sick. Sick to the point that I almost passed out in a shopping mall and my Dad had to haul my listless, sweaty self out to the car and drive me to an Urgent Care Clinic. My family sat there with me for hours. As we walked out to the parking lot after I was treated and released, my husband pulled up in his patrol car to check on me. Concern was etched into the lines on his face as he asked how I was feeling. I don't remember exactly how I responded (I have a feeling it was neither kind nor graceful), but I do remember exactly how I felt. I was hurt, frustrated by the demands of his job, and embarrassed that a married woman still needed her family to step in and save the day.

This story occurred BM- Before Medicine. It seems somehow appropriate to categorize our lives into BM- Before Medicine and AM- After Medicine.

Our journey started several years ago when we decided that B would leave his full-time job as a police officer in the pursuit of becoming a doctor. The next few years were spent doing the one thousand things required to turn the dream of medical school into a reality. And we did! My husband is a first year medical student. Overall, it is going really well. Between adjusting to life in a new city, a demanding school schedule, and a new job for me, the transition has felt a little drawn out. But with the new year and the second semester in full swing, I think we are finally finding our rhythm.

However, one thing that seems to have taken the longest for me is shifting my mindset. It's like all of my mental energy over the last couple of years was focused on getting him here. To this point. The first year of medical school. I just couldn't afford to look past it until that happened. But now that we are here, how am I supposed to feel? I feel grateful, of course. Excited, nervous, hopeful. But I also feel...abnormal.

Every time I stop and look ahead at the really. long. road. in front of us, all of a sudden everything about the medical life feels abnormal. The hours will always be long, the demands are high, and there is no end to it. This is forever. We have committed to a lifetime of medicine. I will admit, it felt a little heavy at first. Add in the fact that we are also non-traditional (a.k.a. "older" *ahem*), and that instantly compounds the abnormal-ness. But I figure even the 23-year-olds fresh out of undergrad are probably watching their non-medical friends get real jobs, make real money, and buy real things...all while putting their own plans on hold due to the decade of training in front of them. I am willing to bet that even those spry 23-year-olds don't feel very normal most of the time either.

I learned so many important things Before Medicine. Things that are serving me well at this very moment. Heck, I even learned about abnormal. One might even think I should have mastered abnormal by now. After all, I am the same girl who went to bed alone most nights just praying that her husband would find his way safely there before sunrise. Not necessarily a normal way to live. I definitely learned that important jobs require sacrifice. That in the future, if B can't show up for work, he puts those who serve alongside him and the community of people who rely on him at risk. And that sometimes I will need to sacrifice on my end too so that he can be there for people who need him more than I do. Looking back on that day at the Urgent Care Clinic, I feel glad to have learned that lesson early in my marriage and I am certainly glad to have learned it Before Medicine. And when I picture that sweet, concerned look on his face that day, I regret the harsh words I spoke to a noble man who was torn between duty and family. It wasn't the first time and it certainly won't be the last...even in a totally different career.

So for now, I am going to do my very best to stop looking out so far ahead and bring my mindset in close, to where we are in this very moment- the first year of medical school. And what I realize is...we got this. We are surviving medical school. We even try to go out on dates pretty often. I also find comfort in knowing that at some point, the hours and hours and hours (I think you get the point) and hours and hours of studying will translate into true survival. Real life application. Actual life and death decisions made on behalf of real people. That's a far cry from normal. That's extraordinary.

Turns out, normal isn't everything it's cracked up to be.

come visit my personal blog, thehappyredhead.com, for more med school musings and general happiness.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Pre-Med Intro: Erin

Good Morning, Lovlies!
My name is Erin, I’m new to the LoDW community. 
I’m really excited to have been added on as a Pre-Med Wife contributor! 

My husband, Jake, and I are from the central Columbus, Ohio area. (O-H!!)
 We met in high school, through marching band my senior year, and have been together ever since. 

We have a little boy, Jaxon, who is 10 months old this month. 
He is the love of our lives and such a happy baby. Right now he is working on big boy front teeth and cruising the furniture. 

Jake has always known that he wanted to be in medicine… Well there was a small stint where he wanted to be a grocery store clerk because his cute little 6 year old self thought that they got to take home all the money.

Anyway, medicine and the idea of being a doctor has always been Jake’s passion. Once college started, he felt called to serve our country and join the Army National Guard as a Radiology Technologist. Jake’s decision to serve in the National Guard took his 4 year undergrad to a 6 year process. This included a 6 month stint in San Antonio and another 6 months in Washington DC for Advanced Training as a Rad Tech and clinicals, which was amazing for his professional development, and a year-long deployment to Afghanistan. 

It’s been quite a journey to get us to this point in Jake’s schooling. Challenges have always been present, whether it was just working full time while doing school full time, or Jake’s training and deployment.


We began the MCAT process while I was pregnant and Jake was taking his final semester of classes. Jake decided, after trolling the boards, that he was going to take his first MCAT without taking a course. Since a majority of his schooling has been online, Jake wanted to see what his ‘Base line’ would be.  It was an interesting time, for sure.

The first MCAT didn’t go as Jake expected. Even though he felt prepared, and being/just finishing all his science undergrad course helped.
His total score was lower than he wanted. It was a decent score, weighing a little heavier in one category… But not good enough for his standards. The distraction of our newborn, me being home on maternity leave, and just having moved in with his mom and step-dad didn’t help, I’m sure.

So the process started again. We didn’t have enough time to enroll him in a course and have it completed before the new year, and new test. So, independent study it was, again. This time he knew what to expect and his studying was set up differently. 
His score only went up by one point, overall. Each of the categories evened out… But that means he lost points in one category, while gaining in the others.
He was so disappointed in that fact and it was a shadow that we dealt with for a few days, but he had applications to complete, so thankfully he didn’t have long to dwell on it.


The first round of school applications were due 2 weeks after the 2nd MCAT. My husband, the king of procrastination, who is amazing under pressure, has only preliminarily started his applications… It was a frantic 2 weeks, with a flurry of phone calls, emails and constant stress. We sent out the first applications the week before Thanksgiving. Unfortunately due to the lateness of his MCAT and the time crunch, we didn’t really know what we were doing and transcripts were returned to us.
We decided to rescind our applications and go forward only with our February applications.
I guess the doors closing on the empty applications is just pointing us in a more solid direction with Jacob's eventual school choice.

His applications for the February due date are now in. 
Praise the Lord!

I do believe that as his wife and the mother of our child that is my responsibility to make his experience with med school as easy and stress-free on the home front as possible. So, I try to make myself available for our family. 
Currently, until we get into med school, I work part time and send our little boy to my sister for babysitting during my working hours. This frees up time for my husband who is working second shift at the hospital. Our evenings together are few and far between. 

This set up, I believe, will prepare us for the years of irregularity that Med school and everything that comes with it. 

The life of a doctor and his family is very special one and, in the words of Dave Ramsey, you have to live like no one else, to live like no one else.

(If you are interested in learning more about me, I have a personal blog, Enamored & Elegant. Check it out!!!)

Friday, January 30, 2015

Husband Hobbies

My husband and I have had a huge, ongoing debate about what his hobbies should be when he isn't working. We are currently in the 'better' stage of life; he is six months into his first job after residency as a hospitalist. Why do his hobbies matter so much to me? Because when he isn't working or studying, he is attached to my hip. I can't complain and I should actually enjoy his constant enthusiasm to be around me, but sometimes a woman just needs her space! I am so used to doing everything on my own when he is at work (typically, seven 12-hour shifts on, then seven days off), that I get really thrown off when he is home for days and days at a time! Enter: husband hobbies.

After weeks and weeks of debate, my husband has decided that he wants to buy a gun. Now, a little background: I am a pretty liberal Midwesterner that is (or was) completely against gun ownership, I don't understand the need for men to shoot guns, I don't want one in my house, and I love Bambi... I don't want to eat her. My husband, on the other hand, has gone completely 'Texas' (where we are currently living) and decided he wants to learn how to hunt. Fine. I've held him off for a very long time... secretly hoping he would find a more suitable hobby, but alas, here we are.

I guess my biggest complaint is that he just spent an awful lot of money on a hobby that he doesn't even know he likes! That was my argument the whole entire time. 'Why spend money on something you've never done before?' to which he replied, 'Remember when you went Paleo without thinking twice about it and spent $300 at the grocery store? Remember when you then went vegetarian a few months later? Oh, and how about that time you thought it was vital to buy not one, but three different workbooks on anxiety because you thought you needed help?'. Oh, yeah... oops. So maybe I'm not the most qualified person to tell him to hold off on his new hobby and to wait a little while before deciding to spend money. I clearly don't take my own advice.

Lesson learned.

Do you ladies ever cringe at what your husbands do on their days off? Have any secret/crazy/funny hobbies yourself?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Survivor Stories: The Waiting Game

My husband and I started dating even before he was certain he was going into medicine–almost 16 years ago.  To say there have been rich life experiences, periods of growth, great heartache, toil, tears, and triumph, would be the tip of the iceberg.  I’m not sure how much of our experience I’ll be able to put down in writing.  Some is too private, some is too complicated.  But as I was thinking about how to begin sharing what this life is like, the word “wait” sounded in my mind.
Wait…for the acceptance letter to medical school.  Wait…to get married.  Wait…for him to be done studying for the night so we can go to sleep or maybe have a conversation.  Wait…for those weeks of exams to be over so we can relax and have fun together.  Wait…for God’s leading into a specific field of medicine.  Wait…for him to come home from residency interviews.  Wait…for “Match Day”, to find out where we will spend the next five years.  Wait…for our first child to arrive.  Wait…anxiously every night for him to come home during those grueling years of training, even if that waiting extended into the next day.  Wait…for him to have enough energy to talk about anything of substance.  Wait…for those precious days off as a family.  Wait…to show him each milestone of our baby’s tender life.  Wait…to get really plugged in to a church as a couple until after residency, when things settle a bit.  Wait…for wisdom about what life should look like after residency.  Wait…to heal from a miscarriage.  Wait…for interview offers from practices.  Wait…for the right offer.  Wait…for our second child to arrive.  Wait…to get settled into a new home and new practice.  Wait…to build that practice and gain rapport with new patients.  Wait…to see if the other docs in the group will support him in opening a new office.  Wait…for the new office to open.  Wait…for those first patients to start coming in.  Wait…to decide whether to stay or go.  Wait...to find a different place to settle.  Wait...for the second try to succeed.  Wait...wait.  WAIT.
I’m realizing that for the first time in our life as a couple, we aren’t really waiting for anything.  This is it.  This is what all the toil, tears, prayers, and life have been aiming towards for the past 16 years.  That’s kind of a big deal!  If we didn’t start out as goal-oriented people, I’d say we certainly are now.  Not having life broken up into units, rotations, years, levels, hospitals, or programs is liberating to be sure, but I think it’s a little unsettling, too.  Now that we’re here, what?  Is this what we expected?  What do we do if it’s not what we expected?
There is just too much to pick apart in our lives to delve into our expectations and realizations here and now.  What I will say is that our paradigm of living is beginning to shift out of necessity.  Our daily existence is less like running mile repeats and more like running a marathon or ultra-distance race.  There are fewer checkpoints and less feedback.  My husband can not measure his success in grades, or new rotations completed.  Things are far more subjective.  Of course one can look at numbers–how many patients, how many procedures, how many consults while on call–but it has to be about more than the numbers.
What is our goal, then, now that the smaller and more quantifiable goals have been met?  Life now is more about keeping going, “running the race”, if you will, and running it well.  We still believe that this is the course we are to be on together.  We heard a message recently about the aftermath of any much-anticipated, major life event.  We were challenged to think of where we are, not as the final destination, but as a milestone.  Yes, celebrate, give thanks, and breathe a sigh of relief, but know that this isn't where it stops.  In fact, when we achieve these goals and reach these important mile-markers, we are exactly where we need to be for what's yet to come!  My husband and I are quite content.  We have immeasurably more going well in our lives than we'd ever hoped or imagined.  But, we also know that this isn't "it".  There's more, though yet unknown, and that excites us greatly.  In a sense, we never stop waiting when we are constantly looking ahead and dreaming new dreams!

My husband is in private practice as an ENT physician, and I am a hardly-stay-at-home mom.  We live in Florida and have two children, ages 9 and 5.  We have been married for nearly 14 years!

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 ThredUp.com and LikeTwice.com; 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 lady...me.

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.)