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Lives of Doctor Wives: Choose Love

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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