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Lives of Doctor Wives: February 2013

Monday, February 25, 2013

Survivor Stories: Great big dreams, itty bitty living space

by Jennifer Hunt

I’ve hesitated writing on this topic for a while now because it always seems to come out as extremely pretentious and materialistic — and anyone who knows me well knows that those are the two qualities I loathe most.  It’s not (I hope) me at all, but after talking it over with my BFF/Survivor Sista, Gretchen (she and I went through the trenches together and came out alive), she agreed that what I have to say is good advice.

OK, here goes.  Let’s talk housing, girls.  Specifically, how crummy it can be when you’re in training, but how it is OK to dream and plan because you know that it will get better in a few (long) years.  

We lived in a tiny condo during med school and internship. Our first child was born during MS4, and I used to take her for rides in her little red wagon around the parking lot of our condo complex.  The kitchen was so small that you couldn’t open the dishwasher and the refrigerator at the same time.  But it was home, and truly some of our best memories come from that itty bitty apartment.

During residency, the size of both our house and our family grew.  We added another munchkin to the mix – they shared a bedroom, and all four of us shared a single bathroom.  I had to step around rubber ducks and foam letters every time I took a shower. The kitchen was slightly larger than our last one, but I could still rinse out the mop in the sink and stretch the handle across the kitchen to rest on top of the stove.  We didn’t have a pantry, so we used the hall closet.  But it was home, and we were happy.

My husband grew up in a small town in a house situated on 7 acres of woods, and he had a fantastic childhood among all those trees.  Our dream for our family has always been to have something similar — lots of trees, lots of room to explore, and the “cool” house where all the kids want to come over and play.  Early in our marriage, we dreamed of and prayed for our home to be a “safe place” where everyone was welcome, where kids could come and know they are loved and cared for — not only our own children, but all of their friends as well.  Our dream started to take shape as we grew in our marriage and as our kids started to grow up, but we knew that the fulfillment of this dream (at least the “cool house” part) was years and years away.  And that was OK.

Sometime in the middle of residency, we went on our first of many Parade of Homes tour.  Many cities do this.  The individual builders within a local homebuilders’ association showcase some of their new homes in hopes of drumming up some business and getting their names out there.  In any case, it is the perfect opportunity for young, poor doctors’ wives to dream a little bit and, most importantly, do some mental planning.  We would walk through these gorgeous homes, notepad in hand, carefully observing all the amazing features, taking note of what we really liked and what we didn’t.  I started a file folder with the notes I had taken during the tours, floor plans, and pictures from magazines of features I really liked. (Most tours won’t allow you to take pictures.)

We walked through one home with Gretchen and her husband — this house was something like 7000 square feet.  It was enormous.  Gretch and I commented to each other how it was just too big.  You could “lose your kids in this house”!  The next week, we were sitting in her tiny kitchen in her tiny house while all four of our kids ran laps through the narrow hallway, through the kitchen, into the tiny sitting room, chasing each other, yelling at the tops of their adorable lungs.  Gretchen looked over at me with a sly smile and yelled above the noise, “Remember that house?  YOU COULD LOSE YOUR KIDS IN THAT HOUSE!”

I struggled with this topic because I don’t want you to be discontent with where you are.  These long years are going to give you some precious memories.  I promise you will someday look back on this time fondly. These years will give you time to grow in your marriage, to struggle together, to dream together.  As I’ve said before, if you can survive these years, you can survive anything. 

But I want you to know that it is okay to dream because it’s not always going to be this hard — or this cramped.  Looking through magazines, watching home design shows on TV, going on home tours — all of those things can give you a little bit of hope to keep going, keep persevering, keep struggling. Houzz is a fantastic resource with thousands of pictures and ideas from architects, builders, interior designers, and home owners. You can create “ideabooks” with pictures and notes, like Pinterest for houses. (Here are some of my favorite things in our home.)

When Michael was nearing the completion of his training and signed on with his new practice, we went to our new city to search for a new home.  From all of our years of dreaming, we had a fairly good idea of what we wanted, and we found a great house.  After living there for several years and going on several more home tours, we had an even better idea of what worked for us and what we could live without.  Armed with more than ten years of dreaming and a hefty file folder full of pictures, notes and magazine clippings, we drew out a rough sketch of our dream house and took it to an architect.  He had to tweak a few things to make Point A meet Point B, but his plans are almost exactly what we sketched. We moved into The House on 2.5 acres of woods just after our fifteenth wedding anniversary. (The entire saga and more pictures are here.)

Two years later, I still walk through my home with giddiness. It has all the warmth and comfort that we dreamed of for so long. It is perfect. We’ve hosted parties for soccer teams and choirs, a huge 40th birthday celebration, New Year’s Eve parties, and holiday dinners. We’ve had friends and family stay with us, each finding the unique rest they needed. Last weekend, our house was filled with seven giggly, energetic, and VERY LOUD 8th grade girls for a church retreat — many of them coming from homes that are very far from safe and comforting. For one weekend, we gave them a fun, safe place to be loved.

So go ahead.  Dream.  Take notes.  Be content where you are, but form your opinions. Build your marriage while you build your file folder. It might be a while, but someday you’ll have a little more freedom to spread out.  

You may even get to lose your kids in your house.


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Moving: Helping Children Adjust

Like many medical families, we are preparing to move this June.  Again. This will be our family’s third move in three years!  Moving can be taxing both physically and emotionally on adults, but we've found that it can be just as stressful for children. 

When we found out on match day that we would be moving twice: once for an intern year and once for residency, we were slightly overwhelmed at the prospect of loading up our house, moving to a new state, and then doing it all over again in just a year’s time.  At the time, our kids were just 4 and 2-years-old and I was pregnant with our third.  But we were mostly excited to have matched at our top choices.  The future seemed bright and though packing our house was a daunting task, we were mostly positive.

Our 4-year-old, however, began to exhibit symptoms of anxiety.  She started waking up in the night and even began wetting her pants during the day, things she hadn't done in almost 2 years!  She would constantly clear her throat and said it felt like there was something stuck in her throat.  She would ask us the same questions over and over and cry when we refused to keep repeating our answers. 

Worried about her, I took her to the pediatrician.  He told me this type of anxiety was normal in children when a big change was taking place in their lives, whether it be moving, a divorce, a new baby, a new school, a job change, etc.  He told me that the best thing I could do is love her and be patient with her and that she would get through it.

Here is how I used his advice and found the best ways to help my children cope with moving:
1)      Be positive.  At the end of my husband’s third year of medical school, we had the opportunity to move into a home because the owner could no longer take care of it.  In exchange for caring for the home, we got free rent.  The situation turned out to be less than ideal though, and I complained a lot.  My attitude rubbed off on my daughter who would constantly talk about how much she hated living there too!  I learned from that experience and the next time we moved I tried to keep my complaints to myself.   When I acted as though our big move out of state was an adventure, the kids went along with it and really learned to like our new home.
2)      Be adventurous.  When you first move to a new area you may feel disoriented and homesick.  Force yourself to get up and get out. Get to know the area, try out fun things, explore.  You will be happier and your kids will too.  If you are in a location temporarily this may be your only chance to explore that part of the country!
3)      Find friends.  I tend to be a home body.  When we moved to a new state for my husband’s intern year, I didn't feel highly motivated to make new friends because I knew we’d only be in that city for a year.  And making friends is a lot of work!  But I have a daughter who is extremely social and thrives on friendships with children her own age.  So I had to go outside my comfort zone and make new friends so that my daughter could have friends too.  I also immediately enrolled her in swimming lessons and preschool so that she could have more social experiences. Looking back it made our year in that city much more fulfilling for our entire family because we made some lasting relationships.  Plus, if you don’t have friends who will you call in a time of need?  Like when you go into labor in the middle of the night…
4)      Acknowledge their fears and get to the root of them.  Before moving out of state my daughter had some pretty serious panic attacks.  We just assumed her anxiety was about the move in general since she didn't vocalize what was bothering her.  Then one night when I was putting her to bed, I asked her calmly, “What do you worry about?”  She replied, “That when we move someone else will sleep in my bed.”  And then we understood where her anxiety was coming from and were better able to address it.  We also tried to acknowledge her fears rather than dismiss them.  From that point on I tried to involve her in the process of packing up her own things so she wouldn't worry about them being lost in the move.  I was also careful not to let her see me throwing things away as I “de-junked’ since she was worried about her things.

Parents can make moving a positive experience when they are sensitive to the impact a move will have on their children. Moving can actually be a positive experience, enhancing a child’s emotional and social growth, adaptability and self-confidence. If a move proves to be too much for you or your child, don’t hesitate to seek emotional help. What tips have worked for you in helping your kids adjust to a move?

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Friday, February 15, 2013

Ten Tips for Surviving Medical School

by Desiree Jang

Hi LDW Readers! I wrote the following article 4 years ago as an MS-I Survivor, representing the “married with children” segment of our med school student advocate group. We are now grateful survivors of medical school and embracing residency life for the next few years. Everyone’s journey is different, but here are some of my practical survivor tips for the first year (or two!) of medical school when your student’s days are dominated by lectures and exams.

1. Send food – healthy food, snacks, entrees. Unmarried friends really appreciated my food, too! Not everyone has a family member nearby to feed them. At our campus there were no on-site food options aside from vending machines, and nothing within walking distance, really. Even if there had been, providing healthy options from home is a great life-saver when your student is learning about the horrors of junk food on the body. When I was out of town (which is a great test-week strategy), I froze lots of food back for him in individual containers.

2. Come visit often. Don’t be afraid of the school! It may not be a long visit, but students can’t study for hours on end without a break. We started med school with an infant, and taking him by for short visits was a highlight for my husband – and a welcome break for his classmates, too. Our little one was quite a popular stress reliever and some of my fondest memories of MSI-II are taking him to the school for study breaks.

3. Try to understand how busy students are. Keep the end goal in mind. Realize that everyone has a different schedule – some manage to study at home, some at Barnes & Noble, but my husband preferred to study in the library or a break-out room. That meant hours and hours away from home. I won’t lie – it was really tough. However, our down-sized space meant that the baby crib only fit in the office (or his desk only fit in the nursery, if you will) so it was really his only option. I’ve observed that different classes of students often study in similar ways – in our class, nearly everyone studied on campus. One thing that helped us was to have a “set time to call” – I asked him to call if he would be home later than x-o’clock. (For us, that was midnight. It seems extreme now that I type it). That way I didn’t have to bother him and didn’t have to worry.

4. Use technology to your advantage. It’s much easier to text than to talk during the day. Jumping on the smartphone bandwagon that first Christmas made our lives SO much easier. I was able to keep him updated on all the mundane details of our day. Even though he didn’t often or always respond, he liked feeling like he was part of our day. Later on, we used Facetime and Skype sessions during his away rotations. I also made sure to send frequent updates to both our families, even though “he’s studying, the baby and I are doing fine” got mundane after a while.

5. Set zero expectations – this goes for more than just chores! I shook my head when a friend of mine complained that between her husband’s crazy schedule and his chores at home, he never had time for family! Eliminating any chores or duties he had before med school will give you more family time. I’d much rather have him hanging out with us than mowing the lawn – and he was still helpful when I asked, he just didn’t have any set jobs. If your student is one of the “lucky ones” who has a photographic memory or likes washing dishes for stress relief, fantastic! But take away that expectation… For his unmarried friends, help from family was greatly appreciated – just picking up a bag of groceries, doing some laundry, or basic cleaning were all tasks they had trouble fitting in.

6. Remember you are their buffer… family and friends from life before med school will probably go through you (because your student may not ever answer their phone or reply to messages anyway). It was extremely helpful for my parents to attend Admitted Student Day and hear first hand that they needed to set zero expectations for students to attend family events. My husband missed my sister’s wedding, but because I didn’t make it a big deal, neither did anyone else. He was married to medicine now… it’s expected. I made sure to send pictures and updates to both sides of the family and quickly started blogging to keep everyone updated on our life in med school. If you keep giving information, you’ll get fewer “how is he / how are you / how do you like it?” messages.

7. Be an encourager. Students are constantly beaten down in medical school. That’s the natural result of taking a group of incredibly smart people in the same place… there’s bound to be a bottom 90%. Students are extremely competitive, and there aren’t many secrets in med school when it comes to exams. Students are going to have bad days. They will probably fail at least one exam, which has likely never happened before. At some point they are going to question if they are good enough, and if med school is the right decision. Your job is to keep encouraging them - one test doesn’t matter. It’s not unusual for a number of students to fail the first test. It often comes down to the final for most. Students will have bad days when they want to give up. Always stay positive. If you have no words, offer a hug. They need to hear that you believe in them and it will all be okay. On a side note, your life is also going to change dramatically, but it’s important not to vent to your student – make friends with other med school spouses / significant others, get involved in a local church, and use these people as your outlets. Word of wisdom: be careful whom you vent to – people who aren’t in a relationship with a medical student just don’t “get it”.

8. If your student is really struggling, encourage them to use resources available: MSIIs are great mentors and always willing to help, especially with practical things. The school has resources as well. A huge number of medical students experience depression and anxiety. It is in the school’s best interest for your student to succeed. Don’t doubt that they will want to help.

9. Just when you think you are never going to see your student again, one day he will show up at 5 o’clock and ask where dinner is! This usually happens after a big exam, so keep up with the test schedule on the school website if said student is too busy to tell you. Plan ahead for after test night. After big exams (in our case histo and anatomy were the big ones first semester) your student will be exhausted and will want at least a 3 hour break – or 12 hours in my student’s case. Use these times to relax and rejuvenate as a family. If you’re living far away, be sure to call your student after the test – send food, and be a support.

10. Find a mentor or mentors. Along our journey, before there was even a LDW blog or the Facebook group, I had people in my life ahead of us on the medical journey who encouraged me, listened to me, believed in me, and helped me find the joy in our often difficult journey. Join your local student advocate group, and attend things you’re invited to. If no group exists, invite some significant others over for coffee or a play date! You need face-to-face / individual interaction. As you survive past 1st and 2nd year, BE a mentor to new significant others in your shoes. It is rewarding and you make connections that will carry you through.

The first year will go by faster than you can imagine. Set zero expectations and you will rarely be disappointed, and sometimes be pleasantly surprised. Make friends with others in your situation, and you won’t feel so alone and you can bond over shared experience. Live each moment together with purpose. Don’t wait for the end of the semester, or graduation, or the end of residency to live your “real life”. This is your real life now. Embrace it and enjoy the ride with the rest of us. We can do this, together!

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Monday, February 11, 2013

Med school madness-Moving

Moving again?!

We have entered moving season in the medical world. A very exciting time to be sure, even if we don't know where we are moving to. We are medical families. We don't need to know such ordinary details. We just know that we are moving.

Some are getting ready to move for third and fourth year rotations, others are busy ranking residencies all over the country and some of you are planning for that last leg of the journey called fellowship. Whatever your case is, know that a lot of us are going through the same thing and I really think most of us go through some of the same emotions. We are super excited to be moving one day and the next we'd rather not move ever again and hate the whole thing. Some med wives will be moving with very little help from your other halves. Our dear husbands will be in the middle of boards around move time, others are just working all day, every day, and a few of you brave souls have husbands who will have to move before you so they're just not physically able to attend your moving day.

With our upcoming move in June or July, I am experiencing a great amount of happiness as we are moving 'back home'. We are excited that our five year old will play with his cousins whenever he wants. I am grateful that we will have babysitting by grand parents again. I am looking forward to those little things. With all that happiness, I forget sometimes that we have no idea how this move will actually happen. We had plan A and of course, it will not work out at all. A certain company will not rent us a trailer to move stuff since we drive a Ford Explorer. We don't really want to rent a huge, yellow truck because we honestly don't need it. We got rid of so many things to ensure this move would be light, quick and it would not require a 'big yellow truck'. Hubby doesn't want to drive a huge truck for 700 miles ever again. Plan B will come, this I know. I just hope it comes before the week of the move.

Perhaps you are a tad nervous yourself and stressing out over the wheres, hows and whens of it all. If you are, I wish I could share every horror story I've seen or lived when it comes to moving. Not to add to your stress, but to let you know how at the end of it we turned out fine and some have managed to be very happy. Things have a tendency to work out and be fine. Moving companies eventually get hired or someone helps you move last minute. Those 'rent unseen' places turn out fine. We eventually find the right school for our kids. It takes time, energy and some stress but it usually all works out.

Moving during the medical training can be especially trying for those of us who are a bit Type A or have 'control issues'. Before medical school I needed to know and plan for everything. Med school has taught me to be more flexible, to constantly adjust my attitude and roll with whatever comes. A flexible attitude didn't make all problems go away but it helped me deal with some unexpected and unpleasant things. Most med wives I know are fairly flexible, maybe not by nature but by trade. There so many things in the journey that are not what we expected that we just learned to go with it. If you are moving now or sometime very soon, wherever you are going and however you get there, I wish you all a happy or at least an uneventful move day.

Please join us at our Facebook group where we have discussed moving at great length, everything from our new cities to what moving services we have used to get us there.

Happy trails all!


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Monday, February 4, 2013

Medical Schools...How Many? How Do We Choose?

The decision to head on to medical school is the easy one.  Then comes the application.  Whether you apply to MD only, DO only or both, the application process is filled with much stress, anxiety, anticipation and at the end…relief! 

With 141 MD schools and 29 DO schools in just the United States, applying to all of them would break the bank!  The hardest part thus far in the process, is choosing which schools to apply to and how many.  You can Google “how many medical schools should I apply to?” You can check out Student Doctor Network, but there really is no right answer.  Applying to only 1 or 2 probably isn’t the best bet.  But then again, there are people out there who apply to only 1 school and get in.  I once read somewhere that the average applicant applies to 15 schools. 

It’s important to realize too, that with every application comes a secondary application.  Some schools screen for secondaries and only send them to select applicants.  In my experience, most schools just automatically send secondaries.  Each secondary usually was a few more essay questions and more general information plus a fee of $20 up to $150. FOR EACH ONE!  There were a few dream secondaries that were just fill in the blank information.   So if you apply to 20 schools that have secondaries that are $100…you’re in for another $2,000!  Just something to keep in mind.

Here is what is important to remember when applying…of course this is my list so your ‘important things’ might differ.

·         Location.  Can you handling living there for 4 years? Is it close to family? Is it far from family?

·         Ease of Travel.  Can you get to and from an airport without driving for 8 hours?

·         Weather.  I hate the heat.  Some hate the cold or the rain.  Definitely something to think about.

·         School Mission.  Do you want to do research?  Make sure your school choices offer research. 

·         Size.  Do you want a small campus or a large campus?  Do you want a class of 300 or a class of 50?

·         Public Schools.  Do you have kids?  If so, you might want to check out local school districts
·         Job Opportunity.  Do you have a career and want to find a job at your new home?  A marine biologist might struggle if your move from the West Coast to Kansas.  But then again, I don’t know.  J

·         Cost.  Even though student loans are accessible, do you care if you pay $40,000?  $60,000? Cost might be a factor.

·         Relationships.  Do you already have relationships built at a specific medical school?  Do you know an instructor?  Is anyone in your family an alumni?  Those might make a difference.

·         Religious Affiliation.  Many private schools are associated with a religion.  Are you comfortable with that?  If not, that school may not be the place for you.

·         Public or Private?  State schools tend to take most applicants from their state.  Being from out of state and banking on a state school, may not be the best plan.  Not to say it doesn't.

·         Cost of Living. The financial part of medical school is hard.  It’s expensive and often times involves moving to a new place.  Checking out cost of living might weight heavily for you, as it did us.  Being able to rent a 4 bedroom house for $950 compared to a 2 bedroom apartment for $1500 made a difference when we chose schools.

This by no means is a full list of anything and everything you should consider.  It’s just main points that I thought of along the way. 

The journey to just get into medical school is stressful and full of anxiety.  But trust me, that first “yes” from a school will make it all worth it!


Friday, February 1, 2013

Is This Hotel Pager Friendly?

Hi LDW Readers! My name is Amy and I am the author of whenlifegivesyoumedicinemakemartinis.com. I am thrilled to be a guest blogger for the LDW blog. Being a part of the doctor wives community has been inspiring, fun and one of the best support groups a girl could ask for. My husband is a PGY2 in Orthopedic Surgery and I wanted to share with you one of my favorite posts that I think so many of us can relate to about the dreaded pager. Enjoy!

I bet you are questioning this above device because you think you know what it is.  But why would anyone want to resurface a device that hasn’t been thought about by the general public since the 198o’s?  Well my friends you are right.  It is a pager and no one uses these things anymore unless…you work in a hospital.  When Mr. Dr. was in medical school I used to make fun of the fact that they still use pagers.  Well nowadays I wish I could go back to those funny beeper jokes because it has gone from a silly joke to a not so fun real life addition to our family.  In a decade of tablets, paper thin computers, bluetooth headsets and video web chats the most efficient way for communication among doctors, nurses and other lucky ones in the medical field is through the beeper.  Really??  Unfortunately…yes really.  But hey I guess it’s only fitting considering the beeper was first used in a Jewish hospital in New York.  I did not make that up.  So like I said…fitting since that is Mr. Dr.’s life.
The excessive pages coming out of that device that usually resides on Mr. Dr.’s belt loop or next to our bed is out of control.  He has the luxury of home call for a few months and as glamorous as that sounds it means dreading the beeps that come out of that mini device.  Sure it looks innocent and harmless.  And just when you get comfortable on the couch or sit down at a restaurant to get something to eat it attacks like a lion hungry for it’s prey.  And our peaceful home call Friday night turns into a sleepless and interrupted night for Mr. Dr. – oh the joys of home call and…the beeper.
Part of me thinks that hospitals still use these so they can justify not paying for the phone plans of all doctors.  I swear Mr. Dr. is on his cell phone more than I could have ever imagined.  Whether its texting, emailing or phoning whoever it may be (nurse, chief, attending, patient) his cell phone is constantly in hand and in use after hours (loose terminology as I think after hours is not clearly defined in medicine).  And as soon as that beeper goes off that means he is calling back the hospital within 20 minutes.  It’s like having a booty call.  Only…from our experience these booty calls aren’t usually pleasurable or desired.
Let’s face it.  Even in the popular comedy The Hangover when Alan asks the hotel concierge why his beeper wasn’t getting a “sig” you can’t help but laugh.  Because no one…I repeat no one…still uses one of these suckers.
At this rate I’m not sure hospitals are ever going to turn away from Al Gros’ mind-numbingly brilliant invention.  It just makes too perfect of sense for hospital workers I suppose.  It’s efficient, a money-saver and has proven to be effective.  I like to think it won’t be around forever.  But I mean come on.  Orthopedic surgeons are putting prosthetics in people that end up competing in the Olympics and we can’t find a cure for the beeper?  Seems strange.  In the meantime maybe I will consider sending the following letter along to one of America’s favorite corporations.
Dear Apple ,
You invent lots of amazing devices.  You are always thinking one step ahead. You design and create revolutionary technologies.  PLEASE for the love of God can you please find a substitute for the 1949 beeper?  My plea to you is to invent something with the following criteria:
-Doesn’t make noise
-Doesn’t interrupt our life
-Lets Mr. Dr. sleep more
-Saves time
-Eliminates most patient emergencies
If you could create and send it my way I would greatly appreciate it.  I realize it may seem I am asking you to make magic but I think based on your successful track record, it’s possible.
Your Truly,
Mrs. Dr.
By Amy Looze