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Lives of Doctor Wives: May 2014

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

How We Got Here

Wow! Can it be? Is it possible that our time as a 'pre-med' is drawing to a close?

Looking back at our journey, I suppose we really got serious about pursuing medical school in the fall of 2011. My hubby brought it up from time to time throughout our entire marriage (married in 2005), but something changed in 2011. An invisible switch was flipped. We decided to go for it. We prayed, planned and scrambled. We paid off as much debt as we could and restructured our finances so that we could live on my income alone. By April of 2012, he was able to leave his full-time job. Of course, we told no one about our plans until March. We gave our loved ones just enough time to process our major life change, but not enough time to talk us out of it. 

We were on a mission.

He started school full time the summer of 2012, knocked out 43 hours of science prerequisites over the next year, took the MCAT in 2013, and applied that summer. Oh, and somehow managed to finish up his MBA somewhere along the way. I am exhausted just thinking about it. At times, it feels like the last several years slipped by in the blink of an eye. At other times...it feels like a lifetime. 

Yet, here we are. In 2014. Mission accomplished.

In eight weeks, we will move. To a city ten hours and four states away. To a city that we have visited a grand total of two times. 

In eight weeks, I will proudly watch my man don his short white coat. Then be witness to the insane amount of time, effort, and energy he will put into his dream. 

In eight weeks I might be unemployed and uninsured. But we will accept that first installment of student loan money with joy instead of stress. 

This path, this life we chose, is a privilege. It has strengthened our marriage in immeasurable ways. My husband's decision to pursue medicine has stirred within me a desire, no a demand, for a more adventurous life. A life lived simply, yet full of passion, freedom, and catch-your-breath excitement. 

We cut our income in half to do this. We sold our home and most of our belongings to do this. We changed our entire lives to do this.

And in eight weeks, we finally get to do it. 

I'm ready. 

visit my personal blog at thehappyredhead.com


Friday, May 23, 2014

Married to Medicine

Married to Medical Innovation

When I married my husband, I was well aware I was marrying medicine. However, I had no idea I was marrying medical innovation as well.

While doctors and surgeons have differing styles of approaching medicine, I think, we, doctor’s wives would agree our DrHs are very intelligent, focused, and driven men. After all, completing medical school, residency, and fellowship is no simple task.

Like many others who enter into a medical career, my husband dove head first into medical school, residency, fellowship, and now professorship, with the sole intent to save lives and to give patients a better quality of life. He operates through rose-colored loupes.

Yet, making a difference in people lives, one patient at a time, was not fulfilling enough for my husband. His innovative spirit and mind worked even while his body rested, and eventually, after years of dreaming of a new medical technology, he found the right time, resources, and talent before him to bring his innovation to life.

There on our kitchen table, which was technically an outdoor teak picnic table, I stood and witnessed my husband and an engineer map out the medical device they would spend the next five years laboring over during their “free” time.

It was our first start-up, and, as any “first”, there was a hard and furious learning curve.

We learned the patent process. We learned why retaining multiple attorneys was a must. We learned why it was imperative to incorporate in the state of Delaware. We learned all about raising capital, and the difference between founder, preferred, and common stock. We learned the pros and cons of accepting rounds of funding. We learned the internal structure of a Board of Directors. We learned it was okay to stand our ground, and fight for our beliefs.

And, perhaps most importantly, we learned to trust our gut. 

Medical innovation is like medical training; they both require time, effort, focus, drive, and financial support. However, an interesting dichotomy comes to play when the medical doctor, the innovator, mixes together with deep pocket investors.  While they share the common goal of a successful endeavor, they mostly mix like oil and water.

While the doctor is innovating in an effort to better medical technologies to help patients, to make medicine simpler, less invasive, and find cures for hideous diseases, the venture capitalists are working to, well... capitalize on their investments.

It’s understandable. Like the doctor’s job is to cure, the investor’s job is to bring a return on investment. And, preferably, the highest return possible. These investors are educated in business, economics, finances, contracts, and legal-eze. Meanwhile,  doctors are educated in anatomy, histology, neurobiology, etc. There are no business classes within the medical school course catalog.

My doctor husband found himself in strange waters. Many times, he found himself on the opposite side of the table... and he sat there all alone. Medicine on one side of the table and investors on the other. Often times, the two sides did not congeal in agreement, and because the scale tipped in the investors favor, we found our hopes and wishes for the technology and business, being outweighed.

While the innovation aspect of business was thrilling, the business endeavor was a battle; an appreciated battle. Our investors were wonderful teachers, indoctrinating us in the world of biotechnology start-ups.

No longer green, no longer naive, no longer idealistic, but more realistic, and with more business savvy, my DrH continues innovating as I work beside him responsible for the business development, grant writing process, and marketing collateral of our new corporation and fresh, new technology.

Yes, I married medicine, but I married medical innovation as well.

Menée Hill is a freelance content writer and social media coach in her free time. In addition to being a doctor’s wife and CEO of her household, Menée’s strong background in marketing, business development, and real estate have lead her to her current position as a biotech start-up CEO. You can find more of Menée’s doctor wife stories at DoctorsWivesLiving.com . Follow Menée on Twitter.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Survivor Perspective: Make New Friends...

This year I am leading my daughter’s girl scout troop. It is official. I have become Ella Griffin-my mother. But that is an entirely other topic.  Anyway, as many of you remember, one of the fave songs in girl scouts is “Make new friends”. The lyrics are something like “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other is gold.”  I have found this song truly grates on my last nerve, but the premise of the song strikes a chord with my life.  Part of being a troop leader is the endless explanations you must provide on every girl scout tradition. In addition, you must then provide answers to the alarming amount of questions on said traditions. While dealing with the deluge of questions following the philosophical explanation of this song, I was forced to explain my friend inventory to my daughter and the other girls. It was not something I really had thought about at all. The “keep the old” part is done-I am an expert at that. However, the make new friends part is definitely giving me a bit of  trouble.   In training, I found having friends in medicine was an absolute necessity. We truly are the only ones who “get it”. There is no need for explanation of Q3 call, or the fact that your husband absolutely cannot leave the OR to attend your 3 year old’s star performance of “This little light of mine”. It is how I survived. I was very lucky to make other friends, but all my best friends are/were doctor’s wives.
So now that we are post-training, I have realized that I may actually  be quite nervous about making “other” kinds of friends. I have made “other” friends, of course as I am an extremely social person. But allowing them into our lives, into our daily situation is difficult. In the 8 years we have lived in Nashville, I have only allowed 3 friends into my inner circle that were not in medicine. 3 people. Period. I have  a ton acquaintances of course, but these 3 have made into the inner circle. All 3 of these chosen ones have husbands who have similar schedules: one is a very successful a song writer, another is a CEO and the third is Financial Planner and they work constantly. This realization has made me wonder-am I a friend snob? Or has medicine shaped my life so much that I no longer have time for anyone who has a husband who is actually home by 5:00 and available to go to lunch or make every PTA meeting???  I am hoping the answer is none of the above.

We often  talk about how medicine affects our children. And I am a firm believer that my children are better for this journey. Does that seem the same for me? In many ways, I am stronger and happier because of it, but is the friend thing say something terrible about me? I have decided that it does not. Being a doctor’s wife is a strange life. Our husbands deal with life and death daily. They spend their weeks saving those they can, and loving on families of those they cannot. They are expected to be super human in many instances and robotic in others. The words “how was your day?” are never easily answered. We are a special lot.  Our children are special people and  they deserve a special kind of protection. After much thought, I truly believe this is what drives my friend selection. I am overwhelmingly protective of my family and my husband. I was always been that way-but medicine has brought out an entirely new form of this in me.  Without even realizing it, I have truly become crazy about protecting us.  Now that we are not under the umbrella of training and constantly surrounded by other resident/ fellow families I am still gravitating towards that safety net of familiarity. My husband’s job is keep people alive, but mine is to guard our hearts. Without even knowing it, I have become an expert at this and I am grateful. Just another life skill that surviving training has provided to me and I will wear this guardian badge proudly. “Guardian of hearts” looks pretty great on my resume –I think I like it.


Survivor Stories: What We Found in the Backpack

You never know what you're going to find when you go through your child's backpack at the end of the day.  Most of the time, I find spelling lists, study guides, a planner, and some textbooks for homework.  L was in third grade when this happened, so sometimes there were some random doodles and prizes from the class treasure box, or maybe a lollipop, and always several pencils and pens.  One time, we found a paper airplane and had to discuss appropriate activities to do in class if/when he finishes seat work early.

One night, I was truly taken aback by what I found.  L had drawn and labelled the structure of the inner ear, quite accurately and intricately.  I was so curious to know when he had time to do this, and from which book he copied the information.  V and I were intrigued even more at his interest in the ear, as V's specialty as a physician is none other than ear, nose, and throat.

As L has grown, his career aspirations have of course changed, and of course, he was only seven and a half.  There have been times when he has named "doctor" as one of his dreams, but lately he has staunchly said he wants to be a scientist, and at that, one who might find a cure for cancer.  He has also spoken of being a teacher, missionary, farmer, inventor, and entrepreneur.  All along, we listen, dream along with him, and tell him to keep learning as much as he can and to keep praying for wisdom.

When I talked with him the next morning about the picture, he told me that his class was learning about sound.  When he saw that part of their studies included details about the inner ear and its workings, he was very excited to share with his classmates that his father is something of an ear expert, among other things.  I could hear the pride in his voice, and I wished that V hadn't already left for work, that he could have heard all of this the first time around.  Not surprisingly, L had finished the reading quickly for that section, so in his free time, he copied out of his science book the anatomy of the ear.

One picture certainly doesn't decide a career path, but I can think of few better tributes L could have paid to his Daddy.  Love gets us to take a closer look at what interests the object of our adoration.  Love inspires imitation.  Love opens our minds to ideas we might have otherwise dismissed.  Love gets us to speak up and boast.

V finally got to tell L how much he had enjoyed seeing the ear picture that evening when he came home from work.  I know already how proud V is of his son, but there was a unique beauty in seeing just how proud L is of his Daddy.

This happened a little over a year ago.  L entered the world at the end of V's 4th year of medical school, attended his daddy's graduation as a 4-week old baby, and moved for V's residency with us a few weeks later.  This precious boy was a baby and toddler and preschooler during V's 5-year residency.  Now, at age 9, he is still very proud of his dad, still wants to be a scientist, and loves having more Daddy time!

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Friday, May 9, 2014

Autism is not the end of the world.

by: Sandra Turner Zeigler

I remember the first time I heard the term Autism.  My son was approaching 2, and we were at my grandparents’ house.  We were all looking in awe at the tower Peter made of those mega, mega blocks.  It was 3 feet tall, a perfect 4 block by 4 block, colour coordinated tower, every block in its perfect place.  That was when my mother suggested talking to our pediatrician about having him tested for Autism.  I already knew that my son was a gifted lad.  He knew his alphabet; upper and lower case, by the time he was 18 months and could pick individual letters out of words. He could tell you not only what it was but what sound it made.  He could count to 50.  If you handed him a box of crayons, he would line them up, end to end, in colour order.  And cars.  And trains.  And blocks.  And food.  You get the point.  I also knew that something was wrong.  When I took him to play groups, he would take a car, go to the corner, and spend the entire time huddled in the corner, lying on the floor, watching the car roll back and forth in front of him.  He wouldn’t interact with anyone but his father, his baby sister, and myself.  He didn’t talk much, either.  Aside from pointing to things and naming them, there was nothing.  We were lucky if we got 2 word sentences at 22 months.  For months I thought it was my fault, that I didn’t give him enough social opportunities due to my own anti-social tendencies.  Or, maybe it was because of something I’d done that had caused his problems.  So, the first thing I thought when I heard Autism was “Wait, it might not be MY fault?”  That was followed by “What the heck is Autism?”  I learned the answer to that question very, very fast.  We spent the next two years trying to get my son tested for Autism.  We were told that because he showed affection (which he most definitely did), he couldn’t have it.  We were told that he was too young to have Autism.  This was 9 years ago, things have – thankfully – changed on that part.  I was told that he was too smart to have Autism.  I was told that since he was playing his favourite game of ‘name the shape’ with the medical student in the room, he couldn’t have Autism.  He entered a special-needs preschool just after his 4th birthday, and they gave us a grain of hope by referring us for testing based on what they saw.  Finally, 3 months shy of his 5th birthday, we were able to get in to see the developmental pediatrician and have her say “Yes, he does have Autism.”  I know that many describe these words as the worst moment of their lives, the moment where their world shattered.  For me, it was followed by a feeling of relief.  Finally, after almost 3 years, I knew that not only was it NOT my fault, but there was a reason for the behavior that controlled our lives for so long.  However, something else was gained from this appointment.  On almost every question the doctor asked us, from “Does he flap his hands” to “Does he avoid eye contact” to “Does he present with echolalia” (repetitive speech patterns), was answered by me with “no more than I do” and followed with “YES, he does” by my husband.  So, as we were adapting our lives to the increased insight into my son that we received from his diagnosis, we started looking in the very real possibility that he had actually gotten it from his mother. 

I am on the Autism Spectrum.  I have Asperger’s.  My eldest son is also on the Spectrum, he has High-Functioning Autism.  Add to that two of my sister’s children and (we suspect) my own mother, I am no stranger to the Autism epidemic.  I know that there are almost as many different types of Autism as there are people with it.  One of my husband’s cousins had Autistic-like traits, which turned out to be a physiological reaction to sugar.  Once the sugar was cut out of his diet, his symptoms disappeared.  A friend had a child with Autism that was due to gluten intolerance, and once that was cut out of her diet, the symptoms went away.  Yet more children’s Autism has been linked to genetic reasons, such as a chromosomal abnormality.  However, the cause to the vast majority of Autism – including that of myself and my son - is punctuated by a great big question mark.  This is why the puzzle piece is the symbol of Autism to many, since Autism is a puzzle.  Every person with Autism is different, with different levels of function, different symptoms, and different needs for dealing with it.  There are also as many theories of the ‘cause’ of Autism as there are people with it.  Vaccinations.  Tylenol.  Aspartame.  Food colouring.  Pollution.  Food additives.  Chemicals.  Genetics.  The list goes on and on.  However, not one of these things has been shown to ‘cause’ Autism in anything more than a correlation link.  “This happened around the same time as the Autism presented, therefore it must have caused it.”  I’m not going to go into the difference between correlation and causation here, because that’s not what I’m here for, really.  What I’m going to say right now is, I’m sure, going to be a shock to some who have read story after story of how “Autism ruined our lives,” or “I lost my child to Autism.”

Autism is not the end of the world.

Yep, a novel concept, no?  I’m not saying this to minimalize the sacrifices, pain, and suffering of those who are caregivers to people with Autism, EXPECIALLY those with low-functioning Autism.  It’s a job and a half, and it’s devastating at times!  I know, I live it.  Every single day, I live it.  I go to the IEP meetings and fight for the rights of my kid.  I watch him try to figure out the rules of a society that demands conformity.  I struggle every day with trying to help him learn how to control his Autism instead of letting his Autism control him.  It is HARD!  I’m won’t even start to tell you how even much harder it is to be on the other side, trying to cope with it in yourself.  But, it’s not the end of the world.  I read all these stories about how people blame whatever “cause” they chose to blame for their child’s Autism.  In my case, I blame genetics.  My mum has it, I have it, and my son has it.  Go figure.  Doesn’t take much detective work to figure that out.  That said, however, I am in most circles a well-respected, asset to society, fully functional member of the human race. My challenges are just different than most peoples'. Did I make my mother want to strangle me? Most definitely. Was it hard for my parents raising me? Yes. Is it hard to raise my son? Yes. But it is such a blessing at the same time. Autism has made me such a stronger person. I can see things from a different way than 'normal' people, and sometimes the world needs that! I can say from personal experience that I am a better person due to what I have gained from having Asperger’s. I find it interesting that I have never met a person on the spectrum who didn't feel similarly. Given, everyone I've interacted with and spoken to about this has been high-functioning, but not a one of them - us, I should say - has ever said anything that makes me feel that they see their Autism as anything other than an inseparable part of what makes us who we are.  I could not imagine doing away with my Asperger’s any more than I can imagine doing away with my love of books, or my right-handedness.  It is a part of who I am, and I am better for it.  Frankly speaking, I wouldn’t WANT to change who I am, and I suspect that the vast majority of those on the Autism Spectrum feel the same way.  Everyone I’ve talked with does.

That brings me to the crux of my hatred of the whole “such-and-so made my son/daughter Autistic.”  By blaming oneself for Autism (or any other disability, in fact) it communicates to the person with the disability that they are less of a person than their 'typical' peers. By saying “this thing I did MADE you have Autism,” that says loud and clear that due to your Autism, which I caused, you are defective.  Let me tell you, Autism is not a defect.  It is a challenge, it is a trial, it is a pain-in-the-neck, but it is not a defect.  It is simply a different way of being, and different does not mean wrong.  There is nothing WRONG with being Autistic.  Autism does not need a cure, Autism needs the understanding that we simply have a different way of contributing to the world than others.  Take my son, Peter.  Anyone who knows him knows that the world is a better place for having him in it.  He lights up the room when he enters it.  He is a model of unconditional love toward everyone he meets, always ready with a compliment or a hug.  His is insanely smart, as many with Autism are.  Remind me again how this is a bad thing! 
In all my years of interacting with people who parent children on the spectrum, and in interacting with people who are on the spectrum themselves, I have learned that every single person with Autism is special because of those challenges.  I don’t mean “special” like Sit in the back of the class with the safety scissors and glitter special, I mean improve the world in their own way special.  Maybe once we come to realize this, we’ll stop worrying about what ‘caused’ the Autism.  Maybe we’ll start seeing what Autism has to offer, and how we are short changing those very children we are trying to protect by acting like Autism is a disease to be treated, instead of a challenge to embrace.  

I stand proud in my status on the Autism Spectrum.  I am actively mastering my challenges, and stand ready to share with the world my unique viewpoint, my personal skills, and the strength that my Autism has given me.  I am an Aspie.  My son is Autistic.  And we are ready to take on the world.

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