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Lives of Doctor Wives: Survivor Saturdays - Truly Awful Doctor's Wife

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Survivor Saturdays - Truly Awful Doctor's Wife

If you don’t already have an Awful Story, you probably will by the time you finish training. Or maybe not. Maybe I’m the only Truly Awful Doctor's Wife. But in case you don’t have an Awful Story, I thought I’d share mine in hopes of saving you the shame and disgrace of being a Truly Awful Doctor's Wife.

So Michael was in his fellowship year in Pediatric Ophthalmology. We had been married since MS 1, and now he was PGY 5. That’s a long time. On this particular day, I was a little weary. Between caring for our (then) two kids and the house and everything else, I was pulling a load of laundry out of the dryer when I noticed my once-lovely black twin set sweater amid the t-shirts and blue jeans. The sweater set that my mother had bought for me. At a department store. In the Name Brand section. The one I couldn’t afford on Michael’s meager PGY paycheck. The one that very clearly states in itsy bitsy font on the underside of the tiny little tag on the inside side seam DRY CLEAN ONLY. The sweater that was one of the very few nice pieces of clothing I owned because when your husband is in training, you shop at consignment stores and Target. The sweater set that I could dress up, dress down, and wear with every pair of pants and every skirt hanging in my closet. Well, almost.

The sweater set I now held in my shaking hands was shredded. Shrunk. Grossly disfigured. Completely ruined.

The doer of such an evil deed? My beloved pediatric ophthalmology fellow who, of course, was presently at the hospital.

I grabbed the phone, angrily punched in his pager number with all the force that my size 4 fingers could muster, and waited for him to return the call.

Calm down, I told myself. Breathe. Do not yell at him. Breathe.

But of course, when the phone rang, I let him have it. I yelled. I insulted. I fumed.

And he took it. Graciously. Humbly. Apologetically.

Whew! I feel better now, I thought. OK, I’m calm now. I took a deep breath and casually added, “So how is your day going?”

“Well,” he replied, “I just told two parents that their baby has retinoblastoma. He’ll probably have to be enucleated.”

(Retinoblastoma: a rare and ugly cancerous tumor in the eye occurring in young children. Enucleation: complete removal of the eyeball.)


Michael sees retinoblastoma about once a year, and every time, he is devastated. He takes it really, really hard – often to the point that he can’t sleep at night. And the parents of these kids? I can’t even imagine.

And my stupid, stupid sweater was ruined.

And I just yelled at my husband, who was fighting to save a baby’s life.

Truly. Awful. Wife.

Never mind that he was doing the laundry. Never mind that he is the kindest, gentlest, most generous, most humble person I know. Never mind that he didn’t purposefully set out to ruin my clothing. He was trying to help. He was trying to lighten my load. And no one deserves to be treated the way I had just treated him.

So there you have it. I was a Truly Awful Doctor's Wife. I’m embarrassed to say it took another year or so after that horrible incident before I really understood what it means to respect my husband. I needed a few more kicks in the rear before I quit being so insanely self-absorbed.

He hates it when I beat myself up. He sees something in me that I find almost impossible to see myself. He is quick to sing my praises and tell anyone how much I have sacrificed for him, how he couldn’t do it without me. And even though I don’t think I deserve such adoration, I love him for it.

The lesson here? Spare yourself the humiliation. In your justified frustration, remember that he loves you. Remember that he is doing really important work. Remember that someone else’s very life is in his hands. Take a breath, and love him back. Try to keep it all in perspective.

There will always be another sweater set.

Jennifer Hunt
Survivor in Ped. Ophtho.

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Blogger Tasha said...

That certainly sounds like something I would do (he's only beginning third year, so it hasn't really happened yet). Thanks for the advice--I'll try to keep that perspective!

May 23, 2009 at 7:18 AM  
Blogger Amanda said...

Thank you for that! I remember a time when my husband was in one of his first years of residency and sort of got in trouble for yelling at a nurse. I feel he was justified in yelling because she wasn't taking his medical orders for a patient seriously, but still, there are tactful ways of doing things. Anyway, he told me about the situation when he got home. The next time we were at his parents' house, I opened my big mouth and mentioned the incident to his mom, who just happens to be a nurse. She gave him a bit of an earful, too. When we were on our way home, I brought up the conversation, and he told me it had embarrassed him that I mentioned it to his parents. Oops. I felt so ashamed and, immediately, apologized. He learned how to be tactful when working with his co-workers (which he always is and was; it was just an isolated incident, I think), and I learned how to be a more understanding (and more tactful, as well) wife.

May 23, 2009 at 9:54 AM  
Blogger Alexandra said...

Great post Jennifer. It is so easy to get caught up in me, me, me and forget that stuff doesn't really matter. It's hard to remember sometimes to thank them for all they do on top of their already busy schedule and stressful work, and even though sometimes they don't do things right, it's the thought that counts and it means even more when they are helping with things that aren't even their jobs at home! Really puts things into perspective!

May 23, 2009 at 10:07 AM  
Blogger Desiree said...

Yikes! I've had several similar incidents with ruined special clothing, so I just try to keep my over-helpful hubby from ever doing the laundry again. Thanks for the perspective in case it happens again!

May 23, 2009 at 11:53 PM  
Blogger MW said...

Thanks for sharing! I get funny about stuff, particularly gifts, so I feel your pain over the sweater.

While his day certainly put things in perspective and it sounds like you really overreacted in how you expressed you disappointment over the sweater, I don't think his job gives him a full-time out-of-the-doghouse pass.

He's a doctor. There will always be some baby to save. The type of stress and emotional turmoil our husbands have to endure as their job is at an entirely different level than anything most of us ever have to deal with. However, that doesn't mean we can't have expectations for mundane things.

So maybe you got too upset and should have waited until he got home and phrased it like, "thank you for doing the laundry! But... could you please check the label next time? That sweater I love got ruined in the wash." But that would be the case regardless of his job (unless ruining designer sweaters was a repeated offense).

That said, a little perspective is always good. :)

May 25, 2009 at 9:56 PM  
Blogger Married to a med student - Marissa Nicole said...

I have totally freaked out at my husband for doing laundry incorrectly! Everyone has their days when little things make them go crazy, for you it just happened to be bad timing. Thanks for the reminder to always keep things in perspective!

May 26, 2009 at 1:55 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

MW, so true, so true. He still screws up at home, and I certainly let him know about it - but the difference now is exactly what you said. I have to choose to confront him/correct him respectfully and with a tone that lets him know I appreciate the effort. Like when he was getting something out of the attic last weekend and slipped on a board and knocked a H-U-G-E hole in our ceiling... lots of breathing and restraint on my part! hee-hee!

They shouldn't get an elitist pass on everything, but they (and everyone we encounter, whether doctor or waiter) deserves to be spoken to with respect.

Thanks for all your comments!

May 26, 2009 at 10:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post! It makes me feel a bit more normal. Sometimes it's just hard.

My husband and I married MS2. He's now finishing a glaucoma fellowship.

May 27, 2009 at 9:19 AM  
Blogger JLee said...

Thanks for the post! I read it right after my husband left to study (he's an MSII with step 1, just around the corner). I have seriously had it with putting the kids to bed by myself the last few months while he has to study so I told him I wished he could stay and pouted :( I know that it makes it harder for him to leave to go study when I'm upset/sad about it or whatever so I sent him a text apologizing and thanking him for all his hard work he's putting in for our family...

May 28, 2009 at 10:57 PM  
Blogger Wildlife said...

Thanks for your post... it's cathartic to read that there are other people who understand. I married my high school sweetheart just before he started MSI and as we speak he is preparing for step 1. Tonight I realized that one of the most difficult things for me is to let all this studying 'count' as a contribution to our family. I know that it is an investment in our future but right now it just feels like I'm all alone and this isn't a team at all. I'm finishing the last drafts of my own research and finishing my own graduate program and it just doesn't seem to matter. Having a 'medical marriage' dictates that I rethink what partnership is, and what relational contribution is. Sometimes I feel like no matter what I say I'm always going to lose. If I let him play the 'I can't do that, I'm a med student'card I feel like I'm cheating myself of the relationship and partnership I deserve. If I request that he take some responsibility for some menial household chores, or family events etc., I feel guilty for not fully supporting the man I love to meet his goals. My frustration now is that I feel like I'm staring down a long road filled with situations just like this. I know it's not going to end when step 1 is over. How do we find balance? What makes it easier is knowing that my husband apperciates me. It also makes it easier to know that my husband doesn't 'expect' me to do everything I do.

May 29, 2009 at 3:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wildlife, I feel your pain. My husband just started his intern year in IM and started in the ICU. I quit my job (which I loved) to move across the country, I packed our home up and I moved us into our new home while caring for our infant. I now haven't seen him for the last month except after long days of work or when he is out of his mind tired. I don't even feel like he is my husband any more. I resent him for that as well as for me giving up my job and having to now play the "stay at home mom/wife" role. I don't do good at it. I feel like we should still be sharing it. There have been times when I have been the horrible doctors wife and many more when I have just held my tongue but then feel such anger that he wonders what is wrong. It is a no win situation.

I do know that this too will pass. I felt the same way his first year of medical school and while he was studying for his boards. The relationship that my husband and I have is 50:50, an equal and a shared partnership. Unfortunately due to the career "we" have chosen it is not always equal. There are definitely tough times when he just can't be there for me or the family as I would like but those are limited times. There will be other times, like 4th year, where he will be there a lot. Unfortunately I knew that MSIV would spoil me... and it did. I just hope this new transition passes without too much resentment on my part. I hate feeling this way. I know he tries hard but just doesn't have much when he comes home at the end of the day.

Thank you all for listening and sharing... it certainly helps to know that we are not alone!

July 18, 2009 at 9:06 PM  

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