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Lives of Doctor Wives: April 2015

Friday, April 24, 2015

Finding Happiness After a Disappointing Match

Match Day was years ago, but I still remember feeling my stomach drop when my husband read that he matched to the second-to-last program he ranked. His rank list was so long, and he had received such encouraging feedback; it was unimaginable he would match at a program ranked down in the double-digits. I ducked out of the Match Day party to weep, overwhelmed by shock and disappointment, and even a little bit of shame.

The cry you hear repeatedly is "We got our number one pick!" People say it so often it seems like no one gets anything except their first, or possibly second, choice. The reality is the only people who say anything are the minority of lucky students who matched at their top choices. The rest of us are silenced by stigma. Admitting you matched to anything other than number one is admitting that programs didn’t want you. Programs’ decisions for who they want most are largely arbitrary; they’re picking from a pool of well-qualified candidates they just met. This perceived rejection can make you believe the lie that you’re not good enough.

It took time to pick up the pieces of my lost dreams, but I’m grateful we matched where we did. My husband’s training has been solid, and the culture of his residency has been a better fit than he would likely have found elsewhere. His career will be fine. We’ve met wonderful people and had great experiences. We would still rather have our number-one pick, but we are happy and life is good. Life works out, but it can be an emotionally draining journey to make that happen.

When dealing with disappointment from the match, here are my thoughts for survival and growth:
  • Don’t envy those who did better in the match. It accomplishes nothing and poisons you and your relationships with your friends who had better luck in this fickle process. So much of it is arbitrary, and chance has a huge role in it. Congratulate your friends for their good fortune, even if it takes time for you to genuinely feel happy for them.
  • Don’t resent your husband or blame him for the match results. Let go of the "if only he had . . . ." thoughts, unless there’s a real lesson to be learned that can be applied to future experiences. Everyone has shortcomings and no one knows his better than you, but let them go. Go ahead and hate the match itself if you need to channel the anger toward something.
  • "Comparison is the thief of joy." (Theodore Roosevelt) Don’t dwell on what might have been because distant grass always seems greener. We aren’t close enough to see other programs’ warts, so we assume they are better than the life we are living with all its bumps and imperfections. For example, one program we highly ranked seemed fantastic. I spent too much time thinking "If only we were there, then residency would be better, he’d be working less, and life would be wonderful." Several years post Match, my husband spoke at conferences with their residents. The program had education problems and a malignant culture. The wonderful promises they’d made during interviews hadn’t been kept. But because all I’d known was their excellent presentation during the interview process, they’d seemed ideal. No residency is perfect, and if you can’t see their flaws, you don’t really know them yet.
  • Don’t badmouth your destination. Whatever institution you’re headed to has people who love it and are proud of it. Disparaging the program or the town can only burn bridges. So sure, tell your mom you’re disappointed, but limit that information to your inner circle and never on social media.
  • Dive into your new city with gusto. Every city has something great to offer, whether it’s world class museums, a great park, or a fantastic neighbor. There’s a treasure there somewhere. You just have to find it.
  • Establish your new place as home, both physically and in your heart. Home is where you and your partner live. It’s not where your parents live, and it’s not where you used to live. Invest a part of yourself in your new community.
  • Build a tribe. It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a tribe to survive residency. Reach out to your local medical alliance chapter, get to know your neighbors, join a club, and if applicable, jump into your faith community. You will need people whom you can call on during the many times disaster strikes and your resident spouse is not available. Start building those relationships from day one and residency will be far less lonely.
  • Build up and encourage your spouse. Being rejected by a long list of programs is likely just the first in a long series of residency experiences that will hurt his confidence and his feelings. Be sure to let him know that you are proud of the person he is and the doctor he is becoming.
  • Find things to love in your program. I’m not saying convince yourself this is a better outcome than your top choice, but find the things that can be appreciated about where you are. There’s something to love about his program, whether it’s great medical benefits and research opportunities or fresh cookies in the cafeteria. Find things to be grateful for, even if you have to dig deep. Gratitude seeds happiness and dispels resentments. Choose to be happy where you are.
We are now preparing ourselves for a competitive fellowship match. This time I have more realistic expectations and a better attitude. I understand that matching anywhere should not be taken for granted, and getting the last spot on the list is still an accomplishment we are going to celebrate. If there are any tears this time, they’ll be tears of happiness.

By Anon.

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Monday, April 20, 2015

Survivor Stories: Keep Yourself Busy

Oh, the pre-medical days of my romance with my husband.  Hanging out downtown, backpacking in the summer, skiing all winter, carefree and full of aspirations.  Then, medical school began and I found myself alone (often) and bored (sometimes), trying to replace those events in my life…in a new town, living in a different state, where I had no family or friends.

What I have learned, 10 years later, is that to survive a medical marriage you need your own hobbies.  The best way to push through his absence is to keep yourself busy.  So I thought I would compile a list of some of my favorites ways to do that.

Learn Something New

The Library
It’s free and every community has one.  Isn’t it fun to walk the aisles and grab a random book on a topic you know nothing about?  Okay, maybe that’s just something dorks like me do.  But still, the library is a great place to learn something new, and you don’t have to invest anything for that knowledge.  Also, many libraries use Overdrive, or a comparable app, so you can enjoy digital downloads and save yourself a trip.  If you love to read in general, the LDW Book Club is the doctors’ wives book club on Facebook, with reading discussions and great recommendations.

Professor Internet
Yes, I am a true believer that you can learn about anything on the Internet and you can teach yourself.  The problem lies in trusting the information you are getting.  Did you know many top universities have OpenCourseWare programs (like Harvard, Johns Hopkins, MIT, Yale, etc.)?  Here is link to a great site with free, online places to learn.  If you’re able to spend a little money, we’ve enjoyed some of The Great Courses.  Each course is a collection of online videos (also available on an app) that teach a variety of subjects, all led by experts in the field.  My husband has enjoyed a photography class, while I’ve been doing a culinary one.

Go Back to School
This is a good option when knowing some base information isn’t enough, or you need an actual degree.  Is it stressful to be in a medical marriage when both of you are in school?  Absolutely, been there done that.  But it doesn’t get any easier.  If it’s your passion to go back to school, just do it.  The timing will never be perfect in a medical life (for pretty much anything you want to do) so just go for it.


Religious organizations
Charity is a strong emphasis for many religious establishments, and if you have a religious community there are bound to be on-going events you can be involved in.  Just ask what you can do to help, and you may be surprised how many opportunities exits.

Junior League
Major cities all across the US have local Junior League organizations.  The emphasis is community support through volunteer and fundraising activities, while also having a social aspect to it.   Having been a leaguer at two different Junior Leagues I can tell you that they all differ a bit in their expectations.  So consider some new member events to see if your local League is a good fit for you.

Get Fit

Join a Gym
If you have the time, money, and resources in your area joining a gym can be a great way to have more energy, be more relaxed, and find friends who share your interest.  And then there's that whole benefit of a healthier lifestyle thing.

Find an Online Fitness Community
If you don’t have the option to join a gym, or prefer home workouts, there are so many options for getting fit at home.  You could do an at-home workout program with online coaching (like a BeachBody program).  Or, you can find endless workout videos on YouTube for free.  The LDW Fitness Club is a great place for motivation and ideas.

Get Crafty

Ok.  So maybe it sounds a little cliché.  Settle down with a nice doctor, have a few kids, and start becoming a pro in all things domestic (cooking, crafting, sewing, knitting).  But it’s not just a 1950s stereotype.  It’s actually really relaxing to do those things, and fun to finally have the time/money/ability to be home to do them.  So where do you learn?  The Internet again to the rescue.  I just learned to sew in the last year – mostly through online video tutorials.  YouTube is great because it’s free.  But if you want something more elaborate consider a class from Craftsy.com .  Or, your local craft stores, like Joanns and Michaels, will do classes throughout the year and provide a great chance for hands-on learning.  Don't forget the talented doctors' wives.  Someone is bound to have good ideas on how to start and what resources to use.

Surround Yourself With Family

Change Your Perspective
Okay, I know what you’re thinking “we live 1,000 miles away from our family, I can’t be surrounded by them”.  Yep, I know what you mean.  But it’s a matter of perspective.  To survive the training, you want to have some non-related “family” in your life.  I know, it’s easier said than done.  But there may be a spouse organization at your school/residency program, or a local woman’s group, or a religious group that provides a good fit.  It may be situational and temporary, but there are people out there who will become your friends and function like family at times.

Build Your Immediate Family
If you still find yourself getting bored when your husband has a 30-hr weekend shift, or night call for the week, consider the ultimate option to eliminate your free time – children.  Nothing eats up your personal time like those adorable, bubbly little creatures.  It’s a good thing…..most of the time.  :-)

So hopefully the next time you are dreading his rotation in MICU, or that away rotation during 3rd year, look back at this list and see how the world is an amazing place and this is an opportunity to embrace it.

About the Author
Amber is married to an ER physician in Colorado and write about all things domestic on her blog Chief Household Officer

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Friday, April 10, 2015

Choose Love

Just the mere thought of board exams still makes me shudder. I’m sure I am not alone. This is my story, I hope that it helps you get through this time when it is applicable or that you can relate because you have already been through it. As a spouse in this type of career lifestyle, I commend all of you for serving your families and enabling your spouses to complete a training path millions of people dream of. We are all strong, confident and independent individuals that are up for any challenge.

My husband started studying heavily for boards about six months prior to taking the exams. If I knew what I know now, I would have prepared myself better for it mentally. Our whole entire life changed the moment he committed to a study schedule. This meant that everything we used to do together, I had to do alone (e.g., food shopping, exercising, watching TV, cleaning the apartment, taking cars for maintenance, etc.). We do not have children, yet, so my home responsibilities were not terrible. What made it the most stressful was the emotional support I didn’t receive from my husband during that time. It was almost as though he had to become a robot to get through it all.

In his specialty, he had to prepare for two board exams that were very different from one another. He said that residency did not prepare him entirely for the tests, and it was up to him to read thousands of pages of information and well as review study materials in his spare time. His schedule was vigorous to say the least. For example, we were both up at 5:30 am; he was at work by 7:00 am for lecture prior to his residency assignment. He worked a full day and then would come home at around 5:00 pm. He would study until dinner was ready, have dinner and go back to studying until 9:30 pm. We would have about a half hour of wind down time before, going to bed to wake up and do it all over again. During this time, I had a busy career myself. I was an Office Administrator for a mid-size law firm. Often, my husband would leave later than me for work and come home before I did. As boards neared our schedule did not get any easier, it only got tighter. My husband battled a large bout of depression while trying to infiltrate the almost impossible job market. Someone said on the Doctor’s Wives’ Facebook group recently, "being married to a doctor is hard; but, being married to an unhappy doctor, is unbearable". I have to agree. It was extremely tough to see him that depressed. Especially, since I gave my all to help him with his job search. I contacted recruiters, filled out applications, created online profiles, filled out fellowship applications, etc.

My husband received his only job interview offer (after 9 months of looking for an attending job) in February and within one day we had a contract on a house and a contract for employment. All of the logistics for the move and purchasing our first home were my responsibility. The wind down time that we had in the evenings, turned into discussions about what paperwork was needed by the realtor, if we had enough money for the closing, etc. My nights were busy with cleaning our apartment and keeping our 70 pound golden retriever happy and quiet with frequent walks (we did not have a yard).

As Easter neared, I asked my husband if we could visit my family, and he said only if I drove 9 hours each way while he studied in the car. I did what he said and was extremely happy that I got to see my family. He had the same rule when we traveled to see his family. I had to drive both ways and he would study the entire time. We would travel often 3 hours each way in complete silence.

Just as soon as we got used to this schedule, I realized that when I would look in the mirror something didn’t quite look right on the lower part of my neck. I brought it up to my mother-in-law while she was visiting, and she said to show it to my husband. He looked at it and said "that looks large". I wasn’t sure what that meant, but I knew I needed to get it looked at. It turned out that my thyroid was encompassed by a very large tumor (non-cancerous) and I had to have immediate surgery because it was effecting my swallowing. When my surgery was scheduled my husband’s concern was not for my recovery, but for his board exam study schedule. He stated that I needed to figure out who could take care of the dog, because he could not with his schedule. I preface, by saying I was not able to walk the dog for two weeks following my surgery (I had 20+ stitches). The surgery was an overnight stay at the hospital and I was told by my husband that he would pick me up when I was released from the hospital. When he said those words, they cut right through me. I could not believe that he was the same person I had married three years prior. I didn’t yell at him, I didn’t give him an attitude; I didn’t have a reaction at all. I just stayed quiet and soldiered on. I contacted my parents and I asked if they could come and help while I recovered from surgery. They were more than willing to come. I was cautious about what I told them because I didn’t want them to hold a grudge against him; however, I made it known that my husband could not help due to his study schedule.

We closed remotely on our house on a Friday and I went in for a partial thyroidectomy two days later. In the end, my husband ended up going with me to the hospital; he studied in the waiting room and stayed with me that night in the hospital. When I returned home, he picked up my prescriptions and that was the last I saw of him. My parents helped prepare meals, take care of the dog and cat and clean our apartment. Once my family left, he called his mom and asked her to come and help. My mother-in-law had to wash my hair for me in the sink, because I could not get the front of my neck wet and make sure I didn’t lift anything heavy during my recovery. She was also there to walk the dog. As mentioned, my husband could not do it based on his study schedule. Three days after my surgery, I attended his residency graduation meeting proudly displaying my stitches; there was no way I would have missed that day.

One week after my surgery, I had my stitches removed and I was released to go back to work and accompany my husband on his out-of-town trip for his board exams. I was happy that I could fly with him and be there for him during his two day exam. I worked remotely for my job and was there for him after each long day of exams. He ended up passing both board exams and we moved at the end of June into our #itgetsbetter home.

The moral if this story is, choose love. Throughout all that we went through during board exam season, I made the conscious choice to choose love. I didn’t start blow out fights, I didn’t hold a grudge, I just kept moving forward. Prior to my surgery, I went to a Yoga class offered at my local gym, read a lot of books, walked and ran three days a week. Those activities helped keep my sanity. Make sure you have an outlet for your frustrations during board time. Do not expect emotional support from your spouse. You will have to find peace within yourself and support from your close network.

One last thing, prior to board season, I never knew what it felt like to be at home with my husband and still miss him! It was the weirdest feeling, because he was always behind the second bedroom door studying. Further, don’t expect your family members to understand what you are going through, just make sure they listen to your concerns and help where they can. In closing, the best thing my husband has ever "said" to me was written in my birthday card this past year. It said, "I would not be where I am in my life, if it were not for your help". That comment made everything we went through, worth it. Stay strong, you’ve got this!

- Anonymous

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Monday, April 6, 2015

Freshman Wisdom, 16 Years Later...

April. A week into April, actually. Time certainly does fly.

I have been having a reoccurring dream for the past few months that it is Christmas again and my husband is asking why I haven’t decorated yet and I keep telling him it is because I JUST put them away and how did I have the whole year go by and not realize it. I always wake up very relieved that it isn’t true, but in so many ways, it isn’t that far from the truth.

I distinctly remember sitting in my living room my freshman year of high school with my friend Holly and talking about how quickly the first year went by and how we would graduate before we knew it since it was really just a couple volleyball seasons, a driver's license, homecomings, Christmases, proms and county fairs away.

I was a 4-H/FFA kid… years were marked by your fair animals.  1999 was Stanley, the steer.

We were so right about that.  What seemed like a week later, we were waving at each other from the distance at graduation, not as close of friends as we had been, but both knowing how quickly it all went by. 

Though nothing like the light speed of my twenties. Did that even happen?

Here we are now. Almost exactly halfway into my 32nd year on earth and a 2/3rds and one week into DH’s first year of medical school.

There have been times when it has felt like it will never end. Mind, Brain, and Behavior block specifically come to mind (which I am somewhat certain is actually an experiment in sanity using the students as unknowing subjects).  It gets frustrating to know his whole weekend will be shot cause a podcast didn’t get uploaded in a timely manner or never getting much help around the house no matter how sick you are cause med school doesn’t care about your sick wife (which is kinda funny).

I am an extrovert and my work often leaves me alone and then I will come home to an empty house and I will go a whole day or more without talking to a human (thankfully my dogs are very talkative). Though I live in my hometown still, but we are all married, working and some with kids, so I spend a lot of time alone, which drains me.

There are many parts of this journey that can wear you down, your your body out, and your patience thin.

However, I still find myself this spring, much like I did back in the spring of 1999 with Holly, thinking how quickly this has all gone by so far, and how, really, graduation is just a few Christmases, a Step 1, a couple of away rotations and, God willing, a few kids away.

Before we know it, we will be deciding where we want him to rotate, apply to residency, how to rank, and most of all wondering where the time went, so we try not to wish it away, as difficult as that can be. 

Enjoy the time you have and these years that you will never get back!