Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Program Size Does Matter

As I was thinking about my previous post I realized that things might be different if our program was larger, or was located elsewhere. This area in the Midwest has a Neurosurgery program and a Family Practice program. The surgical program is the larger of the two and the two don't really mix. The next residency program of any kind is an hour away.

If we were in a larger program the chances of us feeling so out of place would be lessened, but not necessarily. The size of this program didn't really enter into our decision making, probably because I didn't realize how much I would appreciate the support of someone who was also living a similar life. But at the time we were interviewing and matching I don't think we even considered it, that wasn't as important as the quality of training he would receive. Most likely I over estimated my endurance. In runners terms I have hit the wall! The point where you don't think you can go on anymore, but somehow your legs keep moving.

We have also been transplanted the farthest. The residents with families live within a 5-10 hour drive from their extended families making it possible for them to get back home frequently. I am sure our situation would be different if we lived closer to our families. A three day drive back home just doesn't work. Or maybe I'm not making it work. The thought of driving by myself for three days to get home doesn't sound any better than what we are doing here, but really we don't have the money to get there anyway, and if we did we would have to stay for a month to make it worthwhile. I can't leave my husband for a month!

Because our program(s) are so small there isn't a lot of attention paid to the family part of the doctors life. I always imagined that if we were to stay here as an attending that I would start a program for families. Monthly get togethers for the wives so they can meet each other without their husbands. As I write that now, I realize it is me who needs it now. If the demographics were to remain the same few people would really benefit, but maybe not. Perhaps I assume too much.

For our last year here how am I going to make the most of it? Well, I'll just keeping doing what we've always done. I'm having a baby, that will certainly make the time fly faster and then we'll be off for a fellowship in another state and maybe by then I'll feel more at ease, knowing that the end is finally almost here.

I think my ah-ha moment just came! I knew a blog would help me figure this stuff out. I mentioned long distance running a few paragraphs ago. Some residency program are like running a 10K, others like a half marathon, a marathon (26 mi), and this one is an ultra-marathon (50 mi). Things were fine at the 4 year mark, and had that been the end of our journey my view of residency would have been different. As we close out the 5th year so many things have happened that have drained our resources and left us weary. The 6th year I hope we get our second wind and can finish the stretch strong. Maybe I'll consider the fellowship year like the cool-down lap as the race ends. All that matters is that we get to the end.

Monday, May 30, 2011

We May Be Different But That's OK

In honor of Memorial Day one of the "real" doctors had the residents over to his home for an afternoon BBQ. This particular doctor had previously been a resident in this same program and has been an attending for the last 3 years. We haven't had many occasions to to together with the residents, their wives (or significant others), and their families partly because we are all so busy. But even when the opportunity arises it becomes very clear that we don't fit the mold.

1.) We have children. Not just children, but in 4 weeks we will have 4. The next closet resident has 2 and they are done. Others have one, and most have none, or are not married. Our entire residency has been one endless round of pregnancy and child-rearing. When we moved here I was pregnant. Of the 11 total residents our family has 45% of the children. We stick out.

2.) We don't drive nice cars. As we left the house I made the comment that leaving there I felt a little like we lived on the wrong side of the tracks compared to the other residents. Our older mini-van sandwiched between a new Mercedes-GL, Dodge Viper, Tahoe, and other late model cars. I suppose if we didn't have kids we could afford nice cars. As it stands we drive cars that are 10 and 8 years old. We pray every day that they keep running because we can't afford for anything to go wrong.

3.) We don't have luxurious things (sunglasses, shoes, handbags, clothing). Let me rephrase, our things are nice and well kept, but it is obvious they are not in the same field. We don't shop at the same places.

4.) We don't know the best places to eat, vacation, or the latest movies playing. We haven't been out to dinner in over 2 months, haven't had a vacation in 2 years, and I think the last movie we saw in the theatre was over a year ago.

I always come away from these outings feeling like I am doing something wrong.  In reality, we aren't doing anything wrong. This is what our lifestyle is, and it's just different. Our life revolves around our children and our family. Our spare time, money, and energy go there first. I would love to have a newer car maybe even two, but what we have suits our needs. We live within our means, don't use credit, and live what I would consider to be a frugal life. I don't work and with four kids it would be a near impossibility to pay for child care. It certainly isn't glamorous or always fun, but that's the way it is. The way it has to be for now, I don't see any other way around it.

So what do I take away from this experience?  One day we will own a new car that we pick out to our specifications. One day we will own a home that reflects our style and values. One day our income will exceed our expenses with room to spare and our needs and wants will be met. In the meantime, we'll continue doing the best we can with what we have and try not to think too much about what we are lacking. But I still rack my brain trying to figure out how they do it!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Thankful for Marriage

I am trying to bring to the front of my mind the many things I have to be grateful for. Sunday always seems like a good time to do that.

Today I am thankful that I am married and have a partner in life. Sure I compare being a residents wife to that of a single mother, or a deployed military spouse (which is often true). In the end I know that all of these experiences will ultimately be for our good. The lessons we are learning through this period of our life together and the sacrifices that we are jointly making will surely be invaluable tools for living the rest of our life together. Hopefully, when we look back on them we will see them in a different light than we may do now. I hope we can laugh and proclaim we survived, and maybe with a little distance recall that it wasn't that bad! Early on-set Alzheimer's might help :-)

There are still so many things we have to work on, that I need to work on. But those things aren't unique to spouses in the medical profession. Thankfully we aren't perfect and have many opportunities to do better. Have a great weekend, try to have some fun!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Some People Will Never Get It

This morning as I was lying in bed I remembered an incident that happened a few years ago that perfectly illustrates how few people actually know what this life is like.

If I had to explain it now I would say: Imagine your significant other works two full time jobs, sometimes over each of the 7 days but only gets paid for 1. How much time would you have to left to spend together? It's the ultimate 3rd grade story problem.

The situation I started to explain at the beginning of the post began like this:

Some women in our church would meet every Friday at a park for a playgroup. At the time my children were 4, almost 3 and 16 months. My husband was doing a specialty pediatric surgery assignment in a major city 3 hours from home. He lived there for 6 months and came home when he could. Someone at playgroup asked when my husband would be home. I think he was coming home the next day. (It is important to note that even when he was able to come home it was only for an afternoon and night. He was up at 4:00 the next morning to get back to work).

That evening I got a call from one of the women who had "overheard" that my husband was gone. Her request was "I heard your husband was out of town, would you be available to watch my two boys tonight so I could go out with my husband to dinner and a movie?"

I am pretty sure my jaw dropped. I didn't know how to respond at that moment without becoming verbally abusive. So I responded that "the kids and I had already made plans for the evening". Which wasn't technically lying. We did have plans. Those plans included having an early dinner and putting them to bed so I could be alone for a while. I wasn't willing to give up that time so she could have a great night out with her husband. What I wanted to say is I can't watch your kids tonight! I've been alone with my 3 kids for the past 5 days. I haven't had a break. Why don't you watch mine and I'll go out to dinner and a movie!

What strikes me as ironic is that we weren't friends. I barely knew her. She might as well have been asking a stranger. What I would have appreciated was her offering to watch my kids when my husband did make it home so we could watch a movie and have dinner together. I would have gladly watched her children that night had she shown some empathy to the fact that I hadn't seen my husband in almost a week and might like to spend some time alone with him. Maybe that is what she intended, but that isn't what she said. There was no offer of returning the favor at some time.

This period of time was not the best for me. I didn't ask people to watch my kids because I wasn't physically or emotionally available to reciprocate. I was trying to survive, I was exhausted. Of course I am sure it looked like I was handling this all like a seasoned pro. That's what I do and that is probably what gets me in trouble most.

No matter how many times people ask what my husbands schedule is like they don't ever really seem to understand the scope of what it means. They can comprehend what a day looks like, but not how those days accumulate week after week, month after month, year after year. And there is really no way to tell them.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Disappointed Children

The down-side of having children during residency is that they are frequently disappointed. Today's example: camping.

Our church is going camping this weekend. I am 36 weeks pregnant, I am not camping. The plan was that our 6 year old son and his doctor father would go camping together and the girls and I would meet them at the campsite for dinner and breakfast, but would be sleeping at home in our beds. Luckily the campsite is close, only a 10 minute drive.

This morning my son didn't even want to go to school because he is "going camping". He is so excited! What we discovered at 10:00 this morning is that my husbands case didn't show up on time and therefore the entire day has been pushed back two hours, and that's just the start time. I was warned last night that the case would be a long one, and that it might mean he would be late. Now he will not only be late, he will be absent. So I have the next 5 hours to come up with a way to explain to a little boy who wanted nothing more than to camp with his dad, that his dad will not be there and camping will have to wait for another day. Sadly, that day rarely comes.

This is the part of parenting that is hard. This isn't the first time the kids (or I) have looked forward to something only to have it cancelled at the last minute because the doctor cannot make it. I don't even recall the number of events we have had to miss, or the number of invitations we have had to turn down because of this job. Nor do I want to think about the number of times we have just gone on without him, like he wasn't even part of the family. After a while showing up alone with your kids gets old. I gets old looking at other complete families having a good time while I'm just trying to keep it together. It gets old being alone, just me and the kids all the time. It gets old feeling like I am the only one doing this.

I'm not in a particularly good mood today. Probably because I'm getting ready to have our 4th child and thinking to myself "what have I done"? I'm left holding the bag once again with children who are too young to understand that their dad really wants to be here, but can't. Too young to know that mom is hanging by a thread.  I often wonder what our relationships will look like in a few years. Will the kids stop asking when dad will be home? Will they stop being excited when he does come home? When he is home will we even notice?

I know I said in a previous post to just go for it, have children, what are you waiting for? I do mean it. Children have been a wonderful blessing. But regardless of having them during medical school, residency, fellowship, or as a practicing physician this is life for us. We didn't pick a specialty with a short residency, we picked one of the longest. We didn't pick a specialty known for it's predictable schedule and lifestyle, we picked one of the worst. We didn't choose to stop with a residency, we've added a fellowship. Waiting I don't think would make a difference. I do hold out some hope that when he has established a practice, in a few years, he will have more control over his schedule. A girl has to hope for something!

In the meantime, we try to go on as best as we can. I think tonight will be a McDonald's and ice cream night, again.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Non-Transferable Skills

There are certain skills that a surgeon possesses in aces: dexterity, eye/hand coordination, ability to work in small spaces, precision, to name a few. Those same skills are ones I would look for in any manicurist/pedicurist. The surgeons skills, however, are non-transferable when it comes to painting toenails.

I have reached the pinnacle of pregnancy where I can no longer see or touch my toes. This makes painting my own toenails an impossibility. So I asked the dear doctor to assist. It was bad. I think I may have been able to do a better job even in my state of pregnancy. I was even so bold as to ask him (of course after I thanked him) if he did it badly so I would never ask him to do it again. Did you ever see that episode of Everybody Loves Raymond where he advised his brother Robert to do a terrible job so his fiance would never ask him to do it again? I thought for sure that is what was happening.

Those skills that are so useful in the operating room have no application here at home. How is that possible? All I know is that for the next few weeks I will be getting a professional pedicure from someone who possesses the same skills as my husband, but will charge me considerably more. Or maybe I'll ask my 4 year old to give it a try and see what she comes up with.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Thankful For

Today as I look back over all the things I wish were different I can't help but feel grateful for what I have and what I don't.

I am thankful that we are safe. We live in tornado country for the moment, and after seeing the devastating pictures of Joplin, MO I am so glad we haven't been hit. This morning did give me a good scare though. We are under a tornado watch and this morning at 4:45 am the thunder, lightning, and hail started. It was still dark so I wasn't sure how we would know a tornado was coming. Could we even hear the sirens above the noise of the storm? I've always been told that before a tornado strikes it goes quiet and then sounds like a freight train is coming through. We had some moments of quiet that had me anxious, but we made it through the morning and we are safe.

I am thankful that we are healthy. I have a friend that I used to work with who is battling breast cancer. She has 6 kids, the youngest is the same age as my eldest (6). She has lost all of her hair, and is going through chemo yet again. The dentist we see has been diagnosed with a brain tumor (GBM). He has had it removed, but the prognosis isn't good. Our family has been blessed with excellent health. The only time we see the doctor is when I am pregnant and when the children have their regular scheduled annual exams. We haven't broken any bones, we don't have unexplained fevers, we are healthy. 

I am thankful we can have children. We know several couples who are unable to have children without expensive and emotional interventions. For some they have worked, for others the treatments haven't. Fertility is a gift we have taken for granted. Our first three children were conceived without much thought. We decided we wanted to have a baby and on the first try it was successful. Our fourth attempt at conception was a little trickier. I didn't happen the first month, or the second, in fact it took 4 or 5 months - and I was beginning to worry there was something wrong. I only had a glimpse of the pain and frustration that accompanies infertility.  In the end, we are pregnant and expecting a healthy baby in a few weeks.

I am thankful we have a job. In this economy not everyone is fortunate enough to say that. While I won't go as far as to say our job is guaranteed, I'd say there isn't any expectation to the contrary. The world is in need of doctors we are in the position to be able to fulfill that need. We have friends in other fields that have been laid off or hours reduced. We know people who have lost their homes. We know people who have filed bankruptcy. While a resident might not bring in the largest salary, it is one that is dependable and takes care of our needs. 

I am thankful for the gospel of Jesus Christ. How could any of us make it through life without the sure knowledge that our savior has paid the price for our sins and provides a way for us to make course corrections in our life that will lead us back to Him? It's comforting to know that He knows how to succor us in our afflictions, and that when it appears there is no one here that He will always be there. I am grateful to have that knowledge.  I have a purpose and plan on this earth.

This blog can't be filled with my peeves in it's entirety. I am a thankful and hopeful person. One can't go through life without seeing the suffering of others and be grateful that the shoes they have been given to wear are their own. Regardless of how much I may complain, this is the life I have freely chosen and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Having the Doctor Home isn't Always What I Want

For all my complaining about how much the doctor works and how we wish he were home more I need to add a footnote. We do like it when he is home, but is has been my observation unless there is something specifically planned to do with large blocks of that time, having him home sometimes drives me crazy. The expression you can't have your cake and eat it too, seems to apply here rather well. I'll explain.

We are so accustomed to getting along without him, that when he is home for a full day (especially during the week) it really throws my day off. We have a schedule and routine that we adhere to, almost religiously. When the doctor is home, it upsets the whole balance. I find I am less productive and even grouchy when he is home for too long. Nothing seems to get done, and it feels as though I've lost an entire day.

Case in point: Yesterday he came home early so he could drop his car off at the dealership for some repairs. This man drives his car hard, mostly the miles, so it's no surprise that it needs some work. We had yesterday afternoon and now all day today. He has his ideas of what he would like to do with his free-time and I have my ideas of what I would like for him to do with his free-time. The two don't always mesh.

Yesterday it was swimming, studying, sleeping and online car shopping. I am hoping to get some things crossed off the honey-do list today but his list is pretty long too. Bike ride, eye doctor appt, dentist appt, and pick up the car.

I need to do a better job communicating what I need from him when he is home, but I seem to temper that with feelings that the poor man doesn't get a day off to just "chill and relax". The last thing he probably wants or needs is a wife who is keeping him busy all day. What is a woman to do?

Monday, May 23, 2011

It Could Be Worse

I remember when we were first dating and my then medical student was deciding on what speciality he was going to pursue. I knew what he wanted to do. He would tell me stories about being drawn to journals in that field during his undergraduate years. He warned me that it meant that he probably wouldn't be around much. At the time that possibility didn't seem like a bad thing at all. I had spent the last year living alone and was used to the peace and quiet that comes with that state. I believe I even told him that I enjoyed being by myself and didn't think that would be a problem.

There is a big difference between being alone, as in alone by yourself, and being alone with children, as in all by yourself. Having never had children I didn't realize how significant the difference would be. 

So here we are. Four kids later, and a lot of alone time - but not the kind I had imagined and thought I could cope well with. I am grateful that I am not truly alone. I am grateful that I have my children who provide free entertainment and dazzle me with nearly everything they say and discover. I don't think I could have managed this long without my children. My children have also been the tools responsible for meeting some of my dearest friends. They get this home body out and about in the real world among other moms. Play groups, museums, gym, dance lessons, library, school, we are never short on things to do to keep us busy and occupied.

In the end it could be worse. My husband could be in a job he hates, punching the clock to provide for his family, and miserable. Even if we don't get to be with him as often as we might like we know that he loves what he does, that he does this regardless of what they pay him (one day we hope it really pays), and that even though he may come home tired, he is never miserable. I'll take that over the other any day.

There have been two times during the course of this residency when I have just about had a break down and didn't think I could go on. This dear man would change his plans for me and our family in the blink of an eye. Not because his speciality doesn't mean that much to him, but because we do. I know that our happiness is ultimately his happiness. Knowing that he would do that if I asked him means everything to me. And because I know he would I will never ask. We've made it this far and we can make it farther. 

Saturday, May 21, 2011

You Can Be Too Specialized

What I've just realized is that #1 specializing reduces the number of jobs near home. And #2 obtaining a sub-speciality further limits the number of opportunities. Advice: if you want to find a job near your family and friends, don't specialize yourself out of the market in that area.

We've started the job search, and it doesn't look like we are heading back home unless there is divine intervention. If any intervention is to take place it would need to show up in the next 6-12 months. How's that for a deadline?

The options available right now aren't the most exciting. Maybe we can just continue doing fellowships until the "perfect" job shows up.

Friday, May 20, 2011

What Other Profession Does This?

I confuse my family and friends all the time with the process of medical training. For example: we have landed a prime fellowship position, but it won't start until the summer of 2012. That's an eternity. Who else applies for a program 18 months to two years before they ever have any hope of starting it. Only medicine. The next move is searching for a job. Same thing, looking 18 months to 2 years before they are even available to practice. It is a strange thing. So many variables potentially could change over the course of a year.

My husband tried to justify the process to me by citing the sheer number of people involved in the review of applications, CVs, and then coordinating schedules so that all the big players are available on the same day to conduct the all day, all night, interviews. Then they all have to get together and decide who they are going to select. I will admit that logistically it may be a nightmare. Do you know what job you will have 18 months from now? Do you know where it will be located? Would you even consider accepting a job that wouldn't start for that long?

The business of medicine works almost completely opposite of the way it does in the business world. When the employer I worked for wanted to hire someone, they wanted them now - not next year! I will give it to these doctors, they must really be a future thinking group. Proactive instead of reactive. Is it possible that they can be so sure of a decision so far in advance? I hope so, we are gambling on it.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Keep It In Your Pants

If I hear one more story of an unfaithful man cheating on his wife I think I may scream. When I checked my email a few days ago the main page listed the days biggest headlines, one of which was of a certain California governor who had knocked up one of his house staff. I'm sure this wasn't the first time. But really, his wife is a beautiful, talented woman who gave up her career when he began his political ambitions. They have a lovely family, and all because he couldn't keep it in his pants it is over. Maybe that wasn't the only reason it is over, but I'm sure that played a huge part.

I've warned my husband that he will be castrated if he even thinks about it. I didn't marry him and endure medical school and residency thus far to have him throw a lovely life away and destroy the innocent bystanders. That and I will be helping him select his office staff :-)

I used to think that the antics portrayed on popular medical TV shows (ER, Grays Anatomy, etc) were just for the ratings. Oh, no! That stuff actually happens. Maybe not the medical mysteries they are solving, but the doctors sleeping with nurses, the nurses hitting on married men, the flirting, innuendo, and dirty jokes. I really don't know how a good, upstanding, God loving man has a chance when this stuff is going on all around him. And I don't know who to be more mad at, the nurses or the doctors. I hate knowing that I'm sending my husband to work all day with people who have no respect for monogamy, vows, and families.

My husband is a catch. I know he loves me, I know he is faithful to his vows, I know he is above the baseness of some of those he works with, that isn't a question. My big question is: when did such a noble profession (medicine) turn into such a cesspool?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Children and Residency

The opinions expressed in the following post are mine and mine alone.

Oh the dilemma! To have children or not to have children while in medical school and residency? I will be the first to admit that it is hard. But I can't imagine waiting FOREVER to start a family. There are no guarantees in life. If we waited to start a family until we were done with DH training, he would be 40. Not such a big deal for a man, but as his wife I would be pregnant at 37! That seems so old. And even if we decided to wait that long who is to say we wouldn't have problems getting pregnant, or that DH would even be around more to help. After all, isn't that what we would be waiting for? Or who is to say that we would live near family to offer help and emotional support. None of us know where we will end up. Waiting to have children seems almost more risky than just having them now.

So we did. We had one during medical school and three during residency. We survived! Albeit my mental condition may be in question. And you may agree.

Why I would say DON'T WAIT!
  • You are young and still have the energy that pregnancy and rearing children demand.
  • Having children is a great way to bond with your spouse.
  • What else are you going to do that will be as significant as raising a child?
  • Having kids is like having 24/7 entertainment.
  • Sure they are hard, but they are worth all the trouble.
  • When you need a "pick me up" there is nothing like a hug or kiss from your own offspring.
  • You'll see your husband in a completely different light.
  • All this hard work now... you'll know what it is all for, right now - not later.
  • Your family may come visit more often!
  • They keep you from dwelling too much on the YOU and what's happening to poor YOU. 
  • If you can stay home, you'll always be available when your husband is.
  • Your husband will appreciate what you do even more than before.
So what are you waiting for? What is so important that you feel you can't give up? What are you afraid of? Get naked and see what happens!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

I'm Not as Alone as I Once Thought

As I begin to read other blogs of doctors wives, it is readily apparent that I am not the only one struggling with this journey. In fact, I may not have it as bad as some, but on others days I would have to disagree. So where does the line between venting and offering support begin? Are we all feeding into the steam machine and not really offering outlets for productive and meaningful conversations? I am still too new to this arena, and therefore not the authority.

I am so grateful for little breaks here and there that make the journey bearable. Like a break from the torrential rain where the sun peaks out and warms your skin. I know it is going to rain again, but I am loving the sunshine. I am also grateful to know when we finish this residency we will be going somewhere. Having a destination, albeit temporary, it still knowing. And having the knowledge of where we will be going and for how long means the job search can start now and we can envision the light at the end of the tunnel. So for today I am going to enjoy the sunshine. I am going to let my skin soak up the rays and watch the clouds waltz across the blue sky. Maybe if I enjoy it enough the rain won't bother me so much when it comes.

Friday, May 13, 2011


The good news just keeps coming! I'm half expecting to open my door and have the sweepstakes van pushing money into my hands:-)

Last night we got the e-mail that an official offer letter would be arriving shortly confirming a spot for a fellowship!!!!! I am so relived to finally know where we will be going, if only for a year or two. This is the one we wanted! No more interviewing all over the country, no more stressing about whether to start looking for jobs, no more uncertainty at least for a while.

The kids were already in bed when we found out, but we celebrated without them: American Idol and ice cream. It was a sweet night.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Miracles Do Happen

I made it to my haircut on time! It is a miracle :-)

Thankfully these miracles happen just often enough to get me through the droughts. As an extra bonus today the doctor is at a morning symposium and they don't have any cases scheduled for the afternoon. Translations: the doctor should be home before dinner. Although, it is 1:00 pm and I haven't heard from him yet. My fingers are crossed and I am hopeful it will be so.

I didn't realize it until I put the kids to bed on Tuesday night that they hadn't seen their father since Sunday at 2:00! I saw him late on Monday when he got home. Then he was up before us and home after we had gone to bed, but I saw him. Wednesday at 5:45 they finally got to see their dad. Today they might actually get to spend some time with him. Wish us luck!

Update: just heard from the doctor he will be home by 4:00. It is yet another miracle :-)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Appointments Kept and Broken

One of the things that I find most frustrating about being married to a doctor is the inability to plan even a minor engagement without considering a possible back-up plan or being prepared for disappointment.

Example: Getting a simple haircut. I have a haircut scheduled for tomorrow at 7:15 pm. As long as my husband gets home by 7:00 I can make it there in time. At this point he doesn't know how long his cases will run, that is something he will only be able to determine tomorrow when they actually get started.

Best case scenario: The case starts on time, no complications, and quick move from recovery. My haircut will go as planned.

Worst case scenario: The case will be late, there will be complications, and the patient will take forever in recovery to come to. My haircut will have to be rescheduled, or at the last minute I will have to find someone to sit with my kids and put them to bed.

May not seem like a huge problem, but this is the current example. It could be a haircut, a book club meeting in the evening, an invitation to dinner with friends. Committing to anything is nearly impossible. Our responses always go something like "if we can make it we will". I do not like operating in the "if" world, so often the response is "no" so I don't spend the day thinking something will happen only to have it fall through. It has happened frequently enough that it seems to be the rule and no longer the exception.

There are not many people that I feel comfortable calling on a moments notice to do me a favor, with the exception of family, but that isn't a reality because they live in another state. Even if you could give some advance warning, like a day or two, there is no guarantee that you would actually need them when the time comes. By some chance (and it has happened, too) the doctor gets home in time and the friend who was going to do you a favor no longer is needed and the kids are upset and her kids are upset. And I feel terrible because she blocked out that time and could have planned something else.

I'm sure we could get an on-call babysitter for a fee, but they don't pay residents enough to subscribe to that luxury. In the end we do what we always do: hope for the best, and learn to deal with disappointment. I am fairly certain many of our friends have just given up on inviting us to do anything, we are never available.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Not All Residencies Are Created Equally

Lest I be perceived as a selfish, negative, pessimistic wife let me say that I am not. Who would admit to that anyway. My husband routinely tells me that I am not nearly as bad as some of the other residents wives and I believe him!

Not all residencies have the same grueling hours, it depends on the specialty. Not all residencies have the same amount of call. Not all residencies take quite this long. Not all residences lead to fellowships. Then again few residents have a wife AND 4 kids!

What is a woman supposed to do when her husband picks one of the longest specialities, Neurosurgery (6 years), and then suggests the possibility of doing a fellowship for another 1 or 2 years? Can she say no, I am done now. Of course not. I am a supportive wife and we'll do whatever we need to do. I can't imagine anything worse than being married to someone who didn't like what they were doing, or worse yet, harbored some unspoken resentment that he wasn't able to cure brain tumors because his wife was the weak link. That I am not. I will go wherever, and do whatever it takes, I just won't lie about it.

I think that has been where some of my pent up emotions have stemmed from. Putting up a strong exterior for our family and friends for the last 5 years has been exhausting! It feels good to finally tell the truth in all it's glory. To get this out in the open, even though for the present time this blog is available only to me, but it still feels good.

I talked with my husband today who is presently in Cleveland interviewing for a fellowship position. He tells me that they would need to know up front if he wants to do 1 or 2 years. Cleveland happens to be two states to the east further from our family. That isn't the direction I wanted to move, but if it is where we end up, I'll put on my happy face and stay as long as needed. Because one day this too shall pass.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mothers Day and Other Special Holidays

It's Mothers Day. Yesterday evening after painting a room, mowing the lawn, having dinner, moving furniture into the newly painted room and cleaning up after dinner, he had an errand to run. It's Saturday evening the day before a special occasion and I knew where he was going. He hadn't gotten a card. So when he returned at 10:00 we went to bed.

That morning I did get to sleep in thankfully. The kids all slept through the night. The daughter who has just recently been potty trained didn't have any accidents in the night and I could smell breakfast cooking. French toast with caramelized bananas, bacon, and eggs. It was delicious. After breakfast it was time to get the kids ready for church and then he was off. We had a blessed 4 hours with him on Mothers Day. He had meetings at church that started at 12:00, followed by church at 1:00 and then he was off to Cleveland Ohio for an interview Monday morning.

Holidays and special occasions have diluted meanings when you are married to a doctor. This is not the first time, or the last,  a day that the rest of the world seems to have "together", we do not. Most of the time we don't even get to celebrate an event on the actual day. Sometimes before, sometimes after, and sometimes not at all.

I am married to an amazing man. I probably don't get around to saying that often enough - but he is remarkable. If he weren't I don't think I would have made it this far with him. He is worth the silent suffering, the lonely days and nights, the single-parenting moments, and the tears that I shed for all of those reasons. He is my best friend. He is my husband, and he happens to be a doctor. I read on another blog the other day "I didn't marry a doctor, I married a wonderful man that I wish I saw more of". That sums up my feelings exactly. I miss him and love him with all my heart.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Blessed Day Off

Today is Saturday. It is also a day off.... but it really isn't.

My husband is a busy fellow. This morning he was out of the house before we got up so he could go to the gym before an assignment he had at church mid-morning. When he returned from that assignment he started painting a room in our house. For Mother's Day I wanted a room painted. I didn't necessarily ask for him to do it - I would have been just as happy had he kept the kids entertained so I could do it. But he wanted to. The painting took 4 hours. After which the lawn needed to be mowed. It is now nearing 7:00 pm. We haven't spent a moment together as a family. He has been busy all day doing things that needed to get done and I appreciate that. I just wish there was time to do it all.

Because residents work the type of hours that they do, they typically only have 1 day (if that) each week to take care of the messy business of life. You can't very well mow the lawn at 5:00 in the morning or in the dark. When you own a house that means time dedicated to its maintenance. When we move on to a fellowship, if we get one, I am insisting that we rent a condo or townhouse with exterior maintenance included. Even two hours a week is precious time that I would rather we spend together not worried about what needs to be done.

Dinner will be ready in 15 minutes, we are running behind schedule, but we want to at least eat together. Then the kids are off to bed by 8:00. So much for a day off.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Not For The Faint of Heart

Medical School, Internship, Residency, and Fellowship are not for the faint of heart.

I think most of us would agree that anyone who is contemplating signing up for 10+ years of graduate school and training, with it's accompanying mountain of debt, is made of steel. The same can be said of those who choose to take the journey with them. When someone finds out that I am married to a Neurosurgery resident they without fail make a statement as to his genius and intellect. He is a smart guy, I wouldn't have married him if he wasn't:-). But he would be the first to tell you that he was an average student. And I usually respond to these statements with "anyone can be a doctor if you are willing to sacrifice enough time and money to make it happen". Well that, and you should probably have some natural desire to do it.

Not too many people are willing to commit to the time, after all it is a decade! Few people can even fathom the amount of debt required to make it all happen. And fewer still have the aptitude to be good at it. But everyone would like to experience the fruit of their sacrifice. The spoils of war. The life of doctors they see portrayed in TV, movies, and books. Even the shows dedicated to resident life don't accurately portray what it really is.

Medical School
We were married during his 3rd year of medical school. From what I understand I missed out on most of the burnout years consumed with didactics, tests, non-stop studying.  I came in at just the right time - as he was doing his clinical rotations. Some rotations were demanding, others were less so, and they only lasted one month. His fourth year was much the same. If this was any indication of what the following few years would be, it didn't seem so bad. It was during this time that we also had our first child.

One of the injustices of being committed to a partner who is also committed to medicine is that the number of programs located in your home town or home state are very limited if they even exist at all. We moved 2,000 miles from our family, which would mean the number of visits we would make would be severely limited. I don't believe anyone who was involved in structuring medical school and residency ever intended for the doctors to be married or have families. I agree it would be much easier if they were all single and childless in some ways. In other ways having a spouse to share your journey with can be a valuable asset.

Most medical students will go on to do Internships and Residencies in locations that take them far away from their family and support groups. Depending on the size of the program they may have others in the same situation if you are lucky.

The Internship year felt an awful lot like the 4th year of medical school. A different rotation every month, schedules that were sometimes flexible, others that weren't. Even the bad ones weren't terrible because of their short duration. Enter child number two.

And then there was residency! Welcome to your new life. One that begins to reshape your vision of what you thought a residency would be. It's no mistake that they call these PGY2 doctors "residents". The name implies they live at the hospital, and often they do. Residents don't set their schedules, they come in before the attendings get there and usually leave after they have gone home. They have call schedules that can be as demanding as every other night or every third night. Depending on the hospital they may have to take "in-house" call, meaning they are at the hospital. Or they may be able to take call from home.

Taking call from home is sometimes nice when there aren't many calls. But on nights when the resident gets many calls, no one sleeps much. Have you ever tried sleeping with a pager? You never know when it is going to go off. I thought after a while I would be able to sleep through it, but after having kids my ears are finely tuned instruments listening for any sound that goes bump in the night.

Their hours are not set. You know what time they will leave for work, but you never know when they will be home. Some days you get lucky and it is at a normal time. Other days you might not see them at all. And even on those days when you get the call in the afternoon that they might be home in time for dinner, something always comes up to shatter that. After a while I just asked him to not tell me when he was coming home until he was in the car. I could deal with that.

Ah, the fellowship. It's not a required part of training, but for those who want to further specialize it is often a necessity. And this is where we find ourselves. I thought if I could just make through the 5th year of residency we would have succeeded. At this point in time may residents have job offers accepted and are planning their moves to new locations even though they won't happen for another year. In our case, we have been interviewing for Fellowships.

A fellowship means another move for one or maybe two years. It means an extension of our time in training, it means a real job offer is just that much farther away. We have one child in school and another who will be starting school when we start a fellowship. It means my husband will be 40, and I won't be far behind.

So here we are. The end of our 5th year of residency, interviewing for fellowships, waiting to see where the next chapter of our journey takes us.

Thursday, May 5, 2011


Since I haven't told anyone about this blog, a big welcome to myself!

The Big Idea

Last night I had a dream. The dream was most likely prompted by my curious research in the middle of the night as I was waiting for my husband to finish a shift that would ultimately be 16 hours. I thought to myself "I wonder what the divorce rate is among residents in the surgical field?" Not that I am thinking about a divorce, I am certainly not, but on nights like this it made me realize it might be tempting for someone. You might ask, "what about the kids"? Well they don't see their dad now, would it really be any different.  So I started poking around and found a few blogs and websites that talked about the difficulties of being married to a resident and read those until my resident came home. At which point I pretended to be asleep. It was almost 11:00 pm so I should have been asleep anyway. But there is something wrong with that! I will be the first to admit that the last 5 years of residency have taken a toll on all of us.

I have a personal blog that I update for our family and friends. That blog is dedicated to the kids. It isn't exactly the place to vent about the difficulties of being married to a doctor. That almost sounds like an oxymoron, doesn't it? Being married to a doctor, isn't that what every little girl wants? Doesn't that almost guarantee you a wonderful life? Through this journey I've discovered that the vast number of people have no idea what it takes to become a doctor, or what it takes out of a person being married to one. They can't comprehend the hours, the absence, the loneliness, the financial strain. I can't even completely explain it, but I am going to try. It's an experience that can only be appreciated by someone who has walked in those shoes.

So this is going to be MY PLACE where I can complain, vent, and pour out my frustration without the judgement of family or friends. I swear if I hear one more time that "eventually this will all be worth it" I might strangle someone. There is no sympathy for the doctors wife. And I'm not a negative person, really. My conclusion is that I must make it look too easy, but how else am I supposed to cope? Maybe if I looked haggard and worn-out people would believe that it's a rough journey.

If you happen to be the spouse of a doctor, leave a comment. I'd love to connect with other spouses who know what it is like or want to know what to expect if you are just getting started. If you are a family member of a doctor, be good to them. They need your emotional support.