Thursday, February 4, 2016

MiM Mail: Turning Back

Dear MiM,

I was first introduced to MiM 7 years ago when I was on the path to do a clinical psychology PhD and considering changing my career to medicine. A great mentor was trying to encourage me in both my dream to someday have a family (I was single at the time) and to practice medicine. Fast forward and I am sitting in a "How to make a Match rank list" meeting, fighting back tears.

The problem is, I'm not sure I want to Match. Don't get me wrong, I love medicine and I don't feel that anyone led me astray. I can see myself practicing (probably part-time) in the future and being able to love my work. I am not discouraged by the notion of having a family in medicine. I simply do not think I have three more years in me. For months, I've been interviewing and trying to envision how my life would fit into each residency program and I've become increasingly discouraged. I am envious of my friends with their 8-5 jobs that support their lifestyle and am disheartened by the concept of spending a lifetime trying to make my lifestyle fit my career. My partner - who still loves me dearly and who has patiently supported me through a post-baccalaureate program and four difficult years of medical school (and poverty) - has talked about us splitting because he does not believe he can survive three more years of bending to my schedule and being alone so much of the time. (As an aside, I do not blame him for considering this, and I ask that you do not blame him either.) Add to that, there are no programs where we currently live. We have just begun to fall in love with where we live, we have many non-medical friends, my partner has a fantastic job (that is not transferable), and our families are within a reasonable drive. When I started down this path, a partner and a family were merely figments of my imagination. Now, I am the worst half of a relationship, the partner who is never available to be spontaneous and when I am, is exhausted and out of shape. I am the person who is hindering my partner's career and tying him where I need to be. And, perhaps even worse, I owe him everything because I could not have made it thus far without him. Plus, I have some health issues that may impede my fertility, and the clock is quickly winding down to when the risks of pregnancy far outweigh the benefits. Add all that to $400k of debt and I feel terrible while all my classmates around me excitedly making their Match lists.

So do I pack it all in now, graduate with my MD and move on with my life, ashamed but being free of the struggle for balance in medicine? Or do I go through the Match, probably lose my life partner and simply cross my fingers and hope that a) I make it through with my mental health relatively intact and b) I can overcome my resentment and still enjoy medicine? This is such a sensitive topic that I am afraid to reveal my reservations to my mentors and I have valued the fantastic insight of the MiM community thus far. Thank you, in advance, for your support!

Sincerely,
Struggling with the Match

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Happy National Women Physicians Day!!!

Happy National Women Physicians Day to all the wonderful MiM crew!!

Thanks to KC for creating this awesome community of women!  You are our hero!!

#nwpd #iamblackwell

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Advice on potty training!

Hello fellow MiM,

My little C turned 3 about a month ago. After she adjusted to pre-school at about 2 and a half, her teacher told me she was ready for potty training. In fact, I think the whole process took less than a week! In 1 week, she went from diapers to pull ups to underwear. And a week after, she stopped wearing night time pull ups.

Of course, she wouldn't let me get away with it that easy!

It's been about 6 months since this happened and she still refuses to poop in the toilet. When she needs to go poop, she'll bring me a pull-up and tell me "I need to go poop." I believe a big part of her fear of pooping in the toilet is because she's always pooped standing up as soon as she could pull herself up to stand. Overall, it's not too big a nuisance except when there are times we go out and I don't bring a pull-up and we have to rush home so she can go poop.

Then there have been times that we couldn't go home and she would just hold her poop. I figure in these desperate times that she would just go in the toilet but nope! Doesn't matter how long, she will hold it and eventually go poop at home in her trusty pull-up!

I used to be frustrated but I could sense that I was stressing her out so I stopped (after she pooped in her pull-up, she would ask "are you mad mommy? don't be mad mommy!"), hoping one day that she'll just figure it out. I mean, we all eventually figured out how to poop in the toilet right?

I have tried a lot of different techniques including different types of toilet seats, lots of bribery whether it be with candy or TV time, and even hiding all the pull ups. But she is stubborn, none of these have worked and I always cave because I don't want her to get constipated.

Any advice?

Just let it be? (This has been the approach from the past 3 months but I don't see her changing her mind at all about wanting to go in the toilet!)

Thanks in advance!

X-Ray vision



Monday, February 1, 2016

MiM Mail: Hope it gets better

I hope things get better. At least that is what I tell myself everyday as I leave my house at the crack of dawn to get to work, barely having seen my child the day before. Better I do this now than when she is older are the words of encouragement I get to help me cope with my situation. I knew from an early age that my greatest desire was to become a mom, a working mom that is, until, Miss A arrived. I received the news I was pregnant halfway through my residency interviews. Scared, upset, sad were the emotions going through my head when I found out I was pregnant as this wasn't planned. I just got married and we wanted to wait at least a year. How the heck am I going to manage beginning intern year 9 months pregnant??!!?? I dreaded telling whichever program I matched into that I would have to take maternity leave so early in the start of residency. But, I thought I could do it. I was strong enough. Fast forward almost a year later. Every day I wonder if I made the right decision to not delay starting my residency. I miss so much of her development with my crazy hours. I see all my friends who could afford to be stay at home moms and become extremely envious. How lucky are they that they can be there for their child while I'm stuck working 70+ hours. Why did I become a doctor??!! Right now I am in the midst of reapplying to a more lifestyle friendlier residency but I'm constantly wondering if it gets better. If it is worth it. If I didn't have the massive loans, I would have quit already. I never imagined how something so small could cause you to rethink you life decisions. I fear that whatever little bond we developed during my maternity leave will dissolve. That I will be viewed as a stranger. God, I miss her. I just hope it gets better.

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Birth Plan

I was 37 weeks pregnant and had just completed a busy Monday in the OR, my last scheduled shift before maternity leave. While relaxing in front of the TV that night, I found my fetal kick count to be significantly lower than normal. I spoke with the on-call OB team, and after going back and forth, we decided it was best if I go to the hospital for further monitoring. I threw on my slippers and jacket (was already in pajamas) and said, "See you in an hour or so," to my husband. I never made it home that night, and six days later I brought my baby girl home from the hospital!

The fetal non-stress test showed that she was ironically doing well, but my blood pressures and urine sample showed that I had developed preeclampsia. My leg swelling was increasing over those last few weeks, but things just got real. My husband dutifully showed up with my pre-packed bag and birth plan. Yes, I had a birth plan - but not the long, detailed essay that some women present to eye-rolling hospital staff, replete with all sorts of unrealistic demands involving birthing balls, hot tubs, candles and music. As an anesthesia resident on the obstetric service, we used to joke that those women with the most detailed and rigid birth plans would inevitably be the women who ended up with "emergency" epidurals at 3 AM, or worse in the OR for a crash C-section.

Instead, what I provided was a one-page sheet with an outline of my complicated medical history and a few important preferences for my care. Because I have adrenal insufficiency and am steroid-dependent, it included a regimen for stress-dose steroids from my endocrinologist. I made it clear that I desired an epidural and that I was ok with all monitoring and testing deemed necessary. I listed a few if-then decision statements regarding vaginal birth vs. C-section. For instance, if I had a vaginal delivery I wanted immediate skin-to-skin contact and delayed cord clamping... if baby is stable.

The feedback I got from nursing and on-call staff about my birth plan was good; they seemed appreciative of the precise and explicit set of preferences that could be passed on through numerous shift changes. I will say, however, that even with my minimal birth plan as a "good luck charm", things still didn't go the way we had originally hoped. And yet, once my daughter was born, none of that mattered one bit. Meconium was present on delivery so she was handed off for resuscitation instead of immediately placed on my chest as I had hoped, we couldn't do delayed cord clamping, etc. But she was healthy! I was lucky to have a smooth albeit slow induction with no complications and a quick period of active labor (only 45 minutes of pushing). We didn't have to go to the OR. I only needed two stitches post-delivery. Again, she was alive and she was healthy! After experiencing a pregnancy loss, I admit that a fear had persisted deep inside me even into the late months of gestation that I would lose her without getting to see her face.

Nothing went exactly as expected, and yet everything turned out fine. Nothing went exactly as expected, and yet everything turned out fine. This is my new mantra, and it would be a good one for all pregnant women to adopt. Because in the instances of labor and childbirth, resistance and rigidity pose potential risks to both mother and baby.

Have you had an experience with a birth plan, either yours or a patient's?

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Great Many Juxtapositions that are My Life as an OB/GYN

It was 9:35 pm and I found myself staring longingly at a trash can, salivating at the beautiful sandwich perched precariously on its rim. My hands were trembling from hunger. If you would have checked my blood sugar at that moment, it would have likely been critically low.
My day had started at 6am with a 5 mile run and I hadn't stopped moving since. I got paged for a stat delivery while I was in the shower and the day had seemed to go down hill quickly. A full office and multiple laboring patients awaited me. My emergency protein bar served as my lunch and during the cafeteria's dinner hours, I was in the OR on a hemorrhaging ectopic pregnancy. I was so tired I could feel every muscle in my body, and each one throbbed in their own unique way.
Clearly the sandwich is above the rim.
That is how I found myself in my real life Seinfeldian dilemma. After realizing the cafeteria was closed I had went back to my office in hopes of grabbing a leftover sandwich out of the refrigerator only to realize in horror that someone had thrown the precious salted meats in the trash. However one specimen had perched itself slightly above the rim, still on its original plastic tray.
Do I eat refuse or trek across campus to the doctors lounge for a poptart? If it is above the rim is it technically garbage?  Not to me in that moment. I wolfed down the cold cuts and said a little prayer against listeria and all other types of food poisoning. It tasted divine.
I thought about how very strange my life was, as I sat back and patted my full belly. A mere two weeks earlier I was dining at leisurely at cafes in Paris, now I was George Constanza eating out of the trash.
Beautiful gourmet meal in Paris.
The next day  I ran into a casual acquaintance who remarked how glamorous my life seemed on social media. I laughed and told her my trash eating story. The incident made me think of the many other strange juxtapositions of my life.
There was the time I found myself in one of the messiest deliveries of my life a couple of hours before the hospital Christmas party. While birth is a beautiful moment of life, sometimes it can also be a giant hot mess. During this rather difficult birth I was initially pooped on quite extensively. Then as the baby delivered, I was hit with a tsunami wave of amniotic fluid that soaked me to the core, making a mockery of my 'protective gear'. The patient then began hemorrhaging, so I performed an internal uterine massage to help stop the bleeding, which equals me inserting my entire arm into her uterus, making me feel a little bit like a large animal vet. The only bodily fluid missing from the event  was vomit. Hours later after a "Silkwood  shower" and a quick makeup application, I find myself at a country club in a little black dress having small talk about the weather.
Many times I've been at the playground with my kids only to sneak away a few steps to answer a call from the hospital about a STD or other topic that is definitely not a 'playground friendly'. Bedtime stories or games of 'hide and seek' have often been interrupted with stat pages to the hospital. I've gone from reading Dr. Seuss to performing an emergency C-section in moments.
The worst juxtaposition is dealing with loss in the middle of a regular day. While OB/GYN is often a happy specialty, when it is sad it is heartbreakingly awful. I often have to deliver the worst of news: miscarriage, infidelity, cancer, infertility. There have been days where I have went from placing a lifeless baby in a mothers arms and with barely a moment to catch my breath and dry my eyes, to seeing a patient for a new pregnancy right down the hall. Death and life with only moments in between; the roller coaster of emotions is so strange.
I'm not complaining about my job. I'm well adjusted to the bodily fluids and tumultuous schedule. I simply find it intriguing how my life can go from one extreme to another so very quickly. I'm sure most other doctors would have similar stories (well maybe not the trash). Also this serves as a good reminder that if you see me looking semi-fancy in a picture, the special ingredient that made my hair extra shiny, might just have been amniotic fluid.
Cross posted @ drheatherrupe.com

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Three Mentors You Need

A lot has been written about mentorship. In medicine, we are often assigned mentors based on our clinical or research interests.  Sometimes we get guidance on how to cultivate these relationships, sometimes we don’t. 

In 2013, the author and expert on gender and workplace issues wrote a book called “Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor” where she argued that in the workplace we don’t need mentors who just give us advice but we need sponsors who will pull us up, get our names out, and have our backs. 
I whole-heartedly agree that everyone in medicine, especially working moms in medicine, need sponsors but I have also found that we need more than that.   Over the course of my career I have found that three mentorship groups make a huge difference in my career and my life. 

Here’s what I have:

1. A  Sponsorship Team

I spent some time last year formally identifying sponsors and now have a team of them.  This team includes people who traditionally fill the role of a mentor such as more senior faculty at my institution but also come from outside this traditional role.  For example, I identified someone who has a career path that I admire and contacted him.  In some settings, there is a formal process to meet with your sponsorship team as a group but often the meetings are one-on-one and casual.  The key component is knowing who your sponsors are so that you can cultivate long-term relationships.

2. Peer Mentors

I can’t overestimate the value of peer mentors.  A few years ago, a colleague and I started organizing monthly peer mentorship lunches where we discussed topics that were relevant to us.  It was a safe environment and a huge success. The format was informal: one person picked a topic and everyone chimed in. Topics ranged from delegating tasks to staff to negotiating better pay to saying "no" when you have too much on your plate. The connections I made from this group are amazing and very valuable to me professionally and personally.

3. Outsider Mentors

I have a group of family and friends who don’t practice medicine and aren’t in academics but know me as a person. I’ve often discussed career challenges with them.  For example, I have a group of college friends in different industries that gets together periodically to do life assessments.  I am so close to these women and value their opinions tremendously. They are the people to whom I turn to when I need a reality check from someone outside my industry or when I am thinking about change.  I find that the outside perspective helps me keep things in perspective.


That’s it! These are three (groups of) mentors who have helped me.  Keeping up with these groups may sound daunting but often the maintenance of these relationships can be weaved into your lives and often they bring tremendous value to your career.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Not a Soccer Mom

For years, my older daughter has done dance as her extracurricular. It was easy. Every Saturday afternoon, I would take both kids over to the dance studio, and my younger daughter would play while my older daughter would dance.

My husband has been talking about how he would like her to do a team sport, and my daughter has been talking more and more about how much she loves basketball at school, so this year I signed her up for basketball. And ever since, have been filled with regret.

At the end of a workday in which my pedometer usually tells me I walked about 3 miles, the last thing I want to do at 6 o'clock is drive my daughter over to another school, and either try to entertain my younger daughter or drag myself out to go back an hour later to pick her up, all in the freezing cold and snow. Then race everyone through dinner before bedtime half an hour later.

And the games are all super early on Saturday. There's no decent parking, so we have to walk pretty far to get there. And my younger daughter won't sit through them, and my husband doesn't want to watch her while I leave her behind.

Last night, I had my second argument with my husband in one week over basketball, and I couldn't take it anymore. This is not school, this is an extracurricular activity. It seems like if it's causing me this much stress, the answer is obvious:

Quit.

I feel bad about it, because she really does like basketball. But I'm not a soccer mom. I work hard all day, and evening activities are difficult. I can't run myself ragged for an extracurricular activity.

Now I just have to find a way to tell her…

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Conversations with My Daughter

This morning as she read the newspaper report of yet another shooting death.

Why does this keep happening, Mom?

It's complicated.

After all those kids were killed in Newtown, you'd think someone would do something. And black kids get killed all the time - way more often than white kids.

Yes.

Can't the President do something to fix this? To stop this? Can he make guns illegal?

You learned about checks and balances in the Constitution, right? The President can't act on his own.

So Congress needs to make a law?

Yes. And the National Rifle Association spends a lot of money to make sure they don't pass laws limiting access to guns. 

Do you think we should do something?

Yes. Your dad and I do what we can to support politicians who would pass reasonable controls - to treat a gun like a car. Before you can get a driver's license, you'll need to pass two tests and practice for at least 65 hours, and we need to have insurance. 

I guess criminals will always be able to get guns. They can steal them.

Yes. I don't think we'll completely stop gun-related crime. I do think we can reduce the number of accidental shootings and suicides by gun, though, and I think we should.

Well, the way it is just isn't right.


Friday, January 1, 2016

Saying their names

I don’t have a television but your story flashes across my Facebook feed, my friends tell me about you, my husband the Anthropologist tells me about you, and I look you up online.

You were bullied for being a cheerleader and you took your life (Ronin Shimizu). You went out for a pack of Skittles, a stranger chased you, you were shot and killed (Trayvon Martin). You were selling cigarettes on the streets of New York and you were choked to death as you screamed “I can’t breathe” (Eric Garner). You were playing with your big brother and he accidentally shot and killed you with a gun you found (9 month old in Missouri whose name will not be released). You were born a girl but your birth body was that of a boy, you tried to be your true self but took your own life after not being accepted by your parents (Leelah Alcorn). You were misunderstood, you were playing with a toy gun in the park and you were killed (Tamir Rice). You were with your friends listening to music in your car at a convenience store when a stranger approached you and began arguing with you about your music, he shot you and you died and he went back to his hotel room, walked his dog, and had dinner and drinks (Jordan Davis).

I honor your legacy with my tears. I think about your family. I snuggle my little one more tightly knowing this world is both a beautiful and dangerous place. I honor you with this post; I apologize it has taken me months to find the courage to say your name in this space. This space that is sacred to me but after my last post about Trayvon Martin received some insensitive comments I was hesitant to share some of my deeper feelings since I don’t see much social commentary here at MiM. Why is that? We are mothers and we are providers and don’t we see how unique our vantage point is? We can talk about the intersection of life and policy, public health and personal life from a place most others cannot. I struggle to find the time to read anything besides mindless fashion blogs when I’m not balancing my own needs with full-time medical practice, my husband’s needs and those of my four year old let alone to allow myself the freedom to reflect on society’s transgressions and tragedies.

I thought of you today while looking at my ever growing to do list. And because your life matters to me I put away other thoughts and wrote your name, I am saying your name.

#BlackLivesMatter #ProudLGBTQAlly #MothersInMedicine #2016LivingMyTruth

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Here's to the unknowns of 2016

Anyone who knows me well is aware of how seriously I take new year’s resolutions. I think the origin of this is pretty pathetic: growing up, I seemed to always be stuck at home with parents falling asleep watching TV, even when visiting home from college (my mom forbade me from going out, “only drunk drivers out!!!" as she would say). However, I somehow translated these tragic years of missed hook-up and binge-drinking opportunities into a regimented tradition of self-reflection. In high school, I came up with different life categories that were important to me (i.e. family, significant other, spiritual, physical, goals in medicine, cooking, etc), and every year I would review what I had written the previous year and generate or recycle old resolutions for the next year.

Since my daughter was born in 2013, however, I have to admit that I haven’t been as good about this tradition as in the past; generally, all things “mommy” have been put on the back burner (yes, something I really need to work on!). Reflecting on 2015, this has been an eventful year, although we did manage to stay put in the same positions and city. After 10 years of being nomads and chronic renters, tweedle-dee and tweedle-dum somehow managed to buy a place. I had a miscarriage.... and a surprise pregnancy soon after (which has emotionally been the complete opposite of the first). I settled into being a pathology resident and love it. I wrote my first real grant. My husband settled into having his own lab. After stopping nursing early in the year, I re-claimed my boobies and have felt gloriously free since. Free of diapers, free of pacifiiers. Our daughter settled into toddlerhood and we have loved watching her unfold before our eyes.
2016 is another year of unknowns. We are soon going from a family of 3 to 4 and will learn how changing boy-diapers is different from girl-diapers. In the summer, I will transition to a year of full-time basic research in an area new to me. And who knows what other surprises and challenges we all have in store. My resolutions are now much more general and stream-lined: strive to be a solid resident and improve as a pathologist, and, outside of residency, prioritize daughter/husband, food, sleep, and exercise, in that order. And of course try to always have fun. It’s helpful of course to have more specific goals… here are a few simple ones I’ve drafted so far:

Try to find a way to go out more with my husband (even if it requires going to McDonald's for the dollar menu in order to afford $80 for the babysitter).

Yoga 2x a week (mind you this is an online streaming service I’ve used for years which I can do in the comfort of my own home- and, uh, I like to do child’s pose in the dark and fall asleep… ssshhhh)

Never ever lie. I'm talking about the white lie B.S. that we don't even realize we do (e.g. “Sorry for the late reply, I am just now getting your text! or “Sorry I can’t make it I ended up being really busy today.”) If I commit to being somewhere, you can count on me to be there. This has actually been on my resolution list for 2014 and 2015, and I still don’t feel like I have 100% succeeded. (I made this resolution after listening to the excellent short essay “Lying” by Sam Harris- highly recommended, just listen to the audiobook while making dinner or something.)
Stop picking my zits. Seriously. I’m going to stop this year. (But why can't they just go away in the first place?? Wahh)

Continue to find ways to be engaged with our community (we joined the community association, helped plant trees in the park, picked up trash, etc). May sound like a pathetic effort, but you have to start somewhere!

Pray to God that birth for #2 goes more smoothly and is an order of magnitude shorter than for #1, and that I will thrive rather than merely survive during the newborn period (admittedly not really a resolution but just very very strong prayer.. God please have mercy on me!!)

Be aggressive and enthusiastic about reaching out to mentors and people I admire… I used to be so good about this in college. I would meet with physicians, renowned scientists, anthropologists, medical journalists, you name it- of course, many emails and invitations for coffee went unanswered, but a few of these mentors were extremely influential and steered my path in medicine in powerful ways. Something happened to me during medical school where I felt like I lost confidence, or became acutely aware of how little I had to offer. I would ask myself, “Why in the world would so-and-so want to meet with me??!?” and “I don’t want to waste their time or ask their advice- I need to figure this out on my own.” I realize now that it’s sad I feel that way. When my husband was first establishing his lab here, I watched him set up meetings with people every single day, and saw how fruitful it was in establishing his network of friends, colleagues, and collaborators. Especially since I will have more time during my research year, I will strive to be more confident and bring this back.   

So, tell me… how was your 2015? What are your hopes and resolutions for the next year?

Happy New Year to all of you beautiful physicians and mommas- I hope that 2016 brings you rewarding challenges, lots of love, strength, happy memories, laughter, and good health! May 2016 bring more peace to everyone.

Monday, December 21, 2015

I Screwed Up and I'm Sorry and Damn It, I'm Going To Say It Out Loud

Genmedmom here.

Anyone who practices medicine knows that sooner or later, we all screw up. Mistakes can be big or small, can result in harm or not. Misdiagnosis, missed diagnosis, delayed diagnosis. Unnecessary tests ordered, necessary tests overlooked. Medication errors, communication errors, clerical errors. Handoffs gone bad, poor signout, lack of discharge followup. Procedural disasters, frank bodily injury.

I've seen examples of all of these; I've been involved in some. I could tell you shocking stories from training. I could tell you shocking stories from last month.

People don't go into medicine planning to screw up, but it's inevitable, and we need to think about what we're going to do when it happens.

When I rotated through surgery as a medical student, I was fascinated by the weekly morbidity and mortality conference (M + M's). It was a highly anticipated event, and the goal was a complete and bloody dissection of a bad outcome. Grizzly semi-retired surgeons, department chiefs, educators, and every trainee sat in a full hall and listened to one poor soul deliver an objective case report, which then was scrutinized, interrogated, discussed. In the end, everyone learned something, and the presenter was, in a way, exonerated. It was a ritual similar to a public confession. 

In internal medicine training, the culture was largely one of finger-pointing. Other people's mistakes were a source of gossip and ridicule; your own mistakes were glossed over, rationalized. Alot of excuses were made. Yes, there were halfhearted attempts at surgical-style M + M's. Mostly, people stewed in their own guilt and shame. It was toxic.

I work in a much healthier environment now, one in which integrity is valued. Error reporting is encouraged, not for blame and punishment purposes, but rather, for learning purposes. The reporting can be done privately, on a systems wide computer application called something like "Patient Safety Reporting". There are occasional medicine rounds M+Ms, and they're run well, but they're just not that common.

It's taken years for me to figure out my own personal M + M's. Writing up a patient safety report is part of it, but, there's more. When there's been a mistake, I try to analyze it, maybe, discuss it with a colleague or two, and then, most importantly, tell the patient.

I had to do this recently... Of course it was a lovely, salt-of-the-earth patient I have known for several years. Someone I've seen many, many times in the office, who I'm very fond of. Such a good person.

When I first realized there had been an error, I started to go in the old, toxic direction. I was just so embarrassed. I imagined the inpatient team on rounds, skewering 'the dumb primary care doc'. I studied the chart to see if there was any possible defensible position, any good excuses I could use.

But that just doesn't feel good. It feels gross. It feels like.. weaselly.

I have a mantra I repeat when I decide to take responsibility, to own the error: I'll take my lumps. It's an old-fashioned saying, but that's how it feels. I'll take my lumps. 

After a long and painful chart analysis, I marched myself up to the patient's room in the hospital and explained to her what had been missed by me in the past, that, if caught back then, may have prevented her medical issue now.

"I really prefer to be straightforward about these things," I stood with my hands folded in front of me. "I'd rather you hear it from me first. And if it turns out that [what I missed] was the cause of [her issue], then I am very sorry."

Then, I waited, waited for any one of a hundred possible responses.

She was quiet for awhile, I think, digesting what I'd said. Her face was serious.

Was she going to kick me out? Fire me? 

Her face softened into a smile. "Oh, don't beat yourself up, doc," she said. "I know no one's perfect. I know you care. If I thought you didn't care so much, well, that's a different story," she laughed. "No, I prefer to move on, go forward. I don't dwell in the past. What's the point?"

We touched base on this again later, and she said the same thing. I've seen her several times since, and she's not mentioned it again. As it turned out, what I missed didn't pan out as the cause of her illness.

Did I get lucky? Maybe. I am aware that one of these days, my M + M approach may end with me getting sued.

But I'd rather be honest and upfront and be sued, than sit in a toxic stew of guilt and shame. No weaselly excuses.

I'll take my lumps.


Thursday, December 17, 2015

"Your child has a fever--Come get your kid"

Has anyone ever gotten this kind of call from daycare/school before?  (I am sure someone has...)

Yesterday I was nearing the end of my clinic day, without any more patients scheduled, when I got this kind of call.  It was about 2 PM and my first thought was, "I wonder if they can just keep her until 5?"  But they said no, come now.  I figured, "Well, no biggie, nobody is scheduled anyway."  

I went to the front desk to inform them that I was heading out early and was met with a sour face and a lecture on parenting.  The secretary informed me, "Now, you know that you need back-up child care for situations like these?"  (This actually went on for a few minutes while she proceeded to tell me how it was irresponsible of me not to know who was going to be picking up my child in case of emergency while I was in clinic.)  The conversation came to an end when she said, "When you're a real doctor, you're not going to be able to just take off, you will have actual responsibilities."  All of this, mind you, when I actually had zero patients scheduled the rest of the afternoon.

I was furious the entire drive home (still am, as you can see).  How dare she give me a talk on parenting and doctoring!  Then I thought of a million reasons other non-parents might need to leave clinic on a short notice.  Maybe they themselves aren't feeling well (crazier things have happened.)  Maybe another non-child member of their family has an emergency.  Maybe they have car troubles on their way in and actually come late rather than leaving early.

What do the other moms-in-medicine-without-reliable-husbands do in situations as above?  Does everyone have an emergency back-up besides themselves for sick days?  Is there a single person out there who has never, not once, been to work late, or had to leave early, or missed a day altogether, for a sick child/sick parent/sick themselves?  Are we not just human people working as doctors, that do have the same ailments as our very own patients??

Friday, December 11, 2015

Comfort

I used to think that I was drawn to hospice practice because I wasn't one of those doctors that had to fix everything. I'm comfortable with the incurable, the insoluble, the chronic and unremitting. I don't see death as a failure of my medical skills. Nope, not me. I'm not like that. I don't have a personal need to cure.

Except....I do still have a need to fix things. I don't feel compelled to cure; I feel compelled to relieve suffering. I need to make pain go away, ease shortness of breath, make the nausea stop. I need the furrowed brow and the tense muscles to relax. I need to make things better. And most of the time we can. We have morphine and humor and steroids and Haldol and ice packs and Ativan and massage therapy and music and pets and chaplains and social workers and aromatherapy and our own presence. When our patients are suffering, we can bring comfort.

It's more challenging to bring comfort to the families. Pain goes away. Grief must be borne. We can provide some companionship and support; in the end, though, grief is a solitary journey. A husband's tears or a daughter's anxiety leave me feeling powerless in a way that the patient's pain and shortness of breath do not. I want to do something, and I know I just need to stand there.

Today was a little different. Today, oddly enough, two different family members needed something I could give them. Something simple and available and entirely over-the-counter. They needed water. Twice this afternoon, I walked down the hall to our ice machine and filled a cup with ice and water, carefully placed a lid on top and collected a straw. I brought the cups back to the quiet rooms and placed them in the waiting hands. And I felt much better.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Home Alone


This summer, my three kids spent several weeks with my parents in their home in Connecticut.  For the kids, this is an amazing time when they bond with their grandparents and get away from the city.  For my husband and me, this is an amazing time to spend a few weeks focusing on work, spending kid-free time together, and getting a break from the day to day bustle of life with kids.

This summer I realized another bonus: that I could be HOME ALONE!  Yes, you heard what I said. At home with no kids, no husband, no nanny -- no one but me!

For people without kids, the simple pleasure of being in your own home with no one else around may not seem that exciting but for a mom who never (and I really mean never) gets to be home alone,  this simple pleasure is on par with fancy dinners, spa days, and juicy beach reads.  Being home alone is one of the most delightful experiences of my life as a mom.

When it first dawned on me that I could be home alone for hours at a time, I felt like the little kid from the movie Home Alone when he first realized that his family had disappeared during holiday break.  I wanted to sit in my pajamas, eat potato chips, and watch movies all day.

Of course, I had other things to do and couldn’t spend hours on movie marathons but during the two weeks when I had a few hours at home with no one else, I started to think about how rare and important alone time is.  

There’s something peaceful and rejuvenating about being in your own home when no one else is there. And it’s different to be home alone rather than other places alone.  I am alone in my office a lot but that’s different. I try to get along time by going to the spa or going to a bookstore but that too is different – it doesn’t last for long and I’m not in my own private space.

As working moms, I wish we could have more times home alone.  Not just quiet time after the kids are in bed but real time – hours when we are not exhausted, can have the freedom and comfort of home, and just enjoy the special place that we have built.  I think many of us are looking for the chance to let our hair down and if not literally but figuratively sit on the couch and watch a movie marathon.


In the months since summer, I have counted the hours when I have been home alone. I don’t think I’ve hit 5 hours yet.  I don’t know if I’ll add any more hours until next summer but there’s no question that I’m already anticipating my two week break and the bliss of my time home alone.