Monday, August 31, 2009


I wrote this entry about a week ago about a former resident colleague of mine named Bill. I hesitated to post it because I don't kid myself that the internet is completely anonymous and there's enough information here that Bill might be able to identify himself. But then I thought to myself: would that be so awful? I respect Bill, but I also wished I could tell him personally some of the things I wrote here, but I didn't have the courage. Sometimes it's hard to see things from the other person's perspective. For all I know, he's writing about ME in his "Men In Medicine" blog.

(And maybe next week, if I work up the nerve, I'll tell a story in which roles were reversed and I was the "evil" resident.)

So here it is:

I met Bill as a med student both rotating at the same hospital. He always struck me as a really upstanding, solid, reliable person. He was the kind of med student that any residency program would be lucky to get, not so much because he looked good on paper, but because he actually WAS good.

When Bill and I matched at the same residency, I learned that I was absolutely right in my initial assessment. Bill was a hard worker, reliable, and knowledgeable. He also had a staunch sense of what was fair. Therein arose the conflict.

I became pregnant during my first year of residency. Among other minor difficulties this caused, one that was a frequent annoyance for me was the rule that a physician had to hold the heads of certain patients getting flexion-extension spine films. On the spinal cord injury service, this problem came up maybe twice a month on my service.

The first attending I worked with immediately offered to go down with the patients and take the brunt of the radiation. Unfortunately, the second attending refused to do this. "I don't understand," she said to me. "Why can't you just wear lead?"

(I won't get into a discussion of the safety of radiation during pregnancy and how some radiology techs wear lead counters, etc etc. All I have to say is I think it was reasonable for me not to want to be in the way of X-ray beams while pregnant if at all avoidable.)

Anyway, I was forced to find another resident to help me out. I was actually the only female resident on service and most of my male colleagues would immediately agree to go down to radiology for me. The whole thing took maybe 15 minutes tops. There was one guy who would sometimes call me and ask if I needed him for any radiation-intensive activities.

Bill wasn't like that though. I remember there were two occasions when I asked him to do this favor for me. Once he outright refused and the other time, he replied, "What will you do for me?" He wasn't smiling or teasing. He meant it.

Bill had a strong sense of fairness, as I said. He was married, but had decided not to have children. He was the kind of resident who rarely called in sick. And I understand that he didn't want to feel like a sucker who was doing everyone else's work. However, I didn't keep a scorecard. Even when I was well into my pregnancy and my work for the day was done, I would stay late helping other residents. I remember a specific situation several weeks earlier with one of Bill's patients, when the orthotists needed one of his patients' heads held by a physician while they adjusted a brace within the room... I told them not to bother paging Bill and since I was on the ward, I would hold the patient.

So yes, it frustrated me when Bill pulled out the "eye for an eye" card with me, especially when he knew I was desperate. I think that in residency, you help the people who need to be helped. And if they don't help you back, then they help someone else who needs help, and then that person will help someone else, and so forth. I finally felt redeemed for my maternity leave (two years later) when I covered two services at once for a month and a half for another resident taking family leave. It was a lot of work, but it felt good to help out.

This wasn't my only run-in with Bill. When he became chief resident, he instituted a rule that if anyone was late to our weekly morning lecture, even once, they would get one extra call. There would be no excuses. Bill said to me, "I don't care if you're in labor, if you're in a car accident... if you're late, you'll get an extra call." Again, he wasn't joking.

I was furious about this. I had the best lecture attendance of anyone in my class, other than perhaps Bill. But I was also a mother and things could come up. What if my nanny was late? "What's the difference?" Bill said. "It's just one night of call." (Those of us who have done residency can roll our eyes at that statement.)

After arguing back and forth with Bill and stressing over it for days, I finally had to take the matter to the program director, who said that the rule was directed at people who were chronically late, and I wouldn't be penalized if I had an emergency come up.

I was right about Bill that he ended up being a great resident. In so many ways, he was exactly the kind of person any program director would want to fill their residency with. And I considered him a friend. Yet it's hard for me to praise him without feeling hurt by all the times when I wished he had shown a little more compassion.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Gotta start somewhere

They told me over and over again. Don’t let get sucked into too many commitments. Stay away from committee servitude. Learn to say NO! I was listening, really I was... but no woman-in-medicine can truly prevent another woman-in-medicine from making the mistakes that perhaps need to be made to learn for ones self.

This is my rumination as I walk the several block course across campus to spend the afternoon wasting away on a thankless large university committee. Making matters worse the temperature is 100 degrees, 80% humidity (why did we want to live in the South?) Packed between my office (within the ivory towers of Heart and Vascular) and the administrative fortress where I am headed there are, I kid you not, six fast food restaurants. Who would ever need to eat a 1/3 pound beef burger, covered in roast beef, jacked up with liquid cheese and dipped in au jus? Since when did they start selling KFC and Taco Bell in the same building? Exactly what does it smell like in there, I cannot even imagine. It is lunch hour and cars are wrapped around the drive-thrus. I am a heart doctor, I see patients who need heart transplant. These are the sickest and youngest people adult cardiologists take care of. Seriously I think America is completely unconscious of what we are doing with food. Granted my position is from an extreme perspective- recent Weight Watching, point-counting exercise worshiping alertness. It is so hard (seriously as working mom or anyone) to navigate healthy choices for regular meals. Working people will rush over lunch hour, eat a 1400 calorie value meal, finish without pause, lack satisfaction and ultimately feel hungry four hours later. It is so easy, almost necessary, but a trap that so many people are stuck in. Finally arriving at my meeting I find the provided lunch, deep dish pizza and chocolate chip cookies- just wonderful.

Few hours later I survived the session- and have a one track mind headed to Subway for a 345 calorie 6-inch sub. I am behind a tall 350 pound man in line. He looks at me, smiles and shares, “It’s my birthday I should get what I want but I will be good and choose a salad.” He then requests the sandwich maker to go light on the lettuce, add two scoops of tuna salad, cheese, pickles and extra thousand-island dressing. Waiting patiently for my turn in line a grin sneaks across my face. The birthday boy and struggling young cardiologist share a moment, and I recognize the lesson offered to me. As with my slow progress learning to say no, you’ve gotta start somewhere.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Guest Post: Introducing JC

I was proud of my husband’s decision to go with the avocado sashimi over the fried spring rolls for the first course of our Sushi dinner. Having a cardiologist-wife has its benefits, being spared from major dietary intervention with LDL cholesterol of 186 is not one of them.

As I used my chopsticks to make the perfect bite (avocado, jicama and wasabi sauce) our conversation digressed to a famous argument we suffered at a Maui grocery store, circa 1998. As a medical student I was invited to present my research at a conference in Hawaii (score!) My then MBA-student-boyfriend took an 18 hour flight to spend 48 hours with me at Kapalua. When shopping for dinner he really wanted an avocado. I was alarmed by the price- SIX dollars, which was roughly 53.5% of my allotted per diem. They scare you at med school orientation, warning that every dollar you spend you will have to pay back three once interest accrues. He had a strong case, traveling so far, avocado would taste good with fresh pineapple, yada yada yada.

We could not remember who won the argument. Years and many jobs later we have come a long way. Earlier in the day without flinching I bought a $200 pair of jeans. If you saw how awesome my 9-month post partum butt looked in them you would totally understand. For sure it was an unusual occurrence. Wandering into a boutique we were met by a designer blond in 4 inch heels. I knew I was in the right place, but still had no idea of what I was doing. What is up with the sizes anyway? Feeling the need to explain my complete lack of style: stroller pushing, no make-up, pony-tail, Teva sandals mess. OK here is the deal- I spent the last 12 years wearing scrubs, had a baby, lost a lot of weight and my trainer told me it was time for skinny jeans- and so here I am.

So at dinner, let’s just say I was feeling about as fabulous as a 35-year-old mother could. And to sweeten the deal- as a party of 2 ½ we got orange wedges and fortune cookies for three.

My fortune: Generosity and perfection are everlasting goals

JC is our newest contributor to Mothers in Medicine and will be writing here regularly about being an academic cardiologist and mother. Welcome, JC!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Difference

So, I made it! I survived the last few weeks of overdrive at the old job, moved halfway across the country, and started my new position a couple of weeks ago. The differences are amazing. The practice I came to is a much larger one, with several doctors and several locations. The offices run like well oiled machines, and the staff is top-notch. Everything is also on EMR, which makes it an interesting learning curve. The work is the same, but I always loved the actual job. The biggest difference, however, is the impact on my family and life.

Instead of having only 4 days off a month, I now average 4-6 calls a month (and this month there are only 3 calls...breaking me in easy). No longer am I mentally dividing myself between work and home every night. I get to come home at night and turn off my brain. When I am not on call, I am free to make plans...go out with friends, take the kids for a walk, go to my little girl's swim lessons. I no longer feel as though I have one foot out of the door at all times. I'm not obsessively checking the hospital census trying to spy potential labor patients. I'm doing what I love to do again, playing with my kids, reading books, going to movies, and seeing live music. I have a life again, and life is good. Mr. Whoo remarked, unprovoked, how happy he was to have "me" back. I had no idea how much of myself had been squelched by my lifestyle. I see the difference with my children, as well. CindyLou exclaimed to me just yesterday, "I love my happy mommy!" I love *being* a happy mommy. It was a scary leap to make, but so far, so good. May the scales of work and life balance tip more favorably for us all going forward, it makes such a difference.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Trading Places

So I was having one of those precious days, where I thought I might actually get to sit down and eat lunch. It was 12:15 and there was just one patient left. A “routine” OB at about 20 weeks. She’s one of my favorite patients. I had delivered her little girl a few years earlier and now she was having a boy. Boisterously, I entered the room, but seeing her tear stained eyes, I quickly changed my tone.
I listened as she described the frustration that was her current life. She could barely handle her 2 year old and wasn’t sure she was ready for another. Also, her husband wasn’t overly supportive. What she wanted, more than anything, was a career. She had been taking premed courses before getting pregnant with baby number two unexpectedly. As she asked my opinion about her likelihood of making it through medical school, I tried to be supportive, but also give her a realistic picture of what that entailed. More than anything I just listened. Letting her cry and talk for most of my lunch hour. Holding her hand. Passing her tissues.
The irony, of course, is that I would give anything to trade places with HER. Not that I am ready to give up my career (neither is she unhappy about baby #2), but I my heart aches for another child. I coveted her fertility, much as she coveted my job. Genuinely I felt compassion for her, but to be honest , there was some amount of jealously as she lived out her own version of the American dream : a healthy boy and girl 2.5 years apart.
By the end of the visit my eyes welled with tears. She thought they were for her… but that was only partially true.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Negative flexibility

I was talking to a colleague today who had two kids of school age. She explained to me that on days when it would snow, she was told to call the school at noon to find out if they would be closing early for the day. If they were, the kids would have to be picked up.

"Oh my god!" I said. "What do you do if the school closes??"

"Panic!" she replied.

When I finished residency, the most important thing to me was finding a job that would be flexible. My residency was not that flexible... in fact, I joked that my job had "negative flexibility." I invented this term to refer to situation that came up repeatedly when I was pregnant:

On the inpatient rehab unit, we admitted patients every day from Monday to Friday. It was impossible to know at the start of the day if there would be an admission coming that day. When I had my OB appointments (first monthly, then bimonthly, then weekly), I tried very carefully to schedule them in such a way that nobody would get stuck with my work. I chose the last appointment of the day (4:15) and did my best to get all my work done before it was time to leave. I let everyone know well in advance that I needed to leave a bit early.

Then, almost like clockwork, at 3PM, I'd find out there was an admission coming in an hour. Despite all my planning, I'd be stuck with the dilemma of trying to reschedule my appointment (again) or beg another resident to cover. Some residents were quite nice about covering ("anything for the mama!"), but others held it against me for the next three years ("and what exactly will you do for me?"). Luckily, once my daughter and I became two separate entities, my husband was able to deal with some of the doctor's appointments by himself.

I think very few residencies provide any flexibility. My own father deals with residents and fellows, and he says that he gets very upset when one of them asks to leave early for something child-related. "Don't you have a spouse who can do it?" he asks them.

So when residency ended, I was looking for positive flexibility. I didn't care as much about the job's hours so much as the flexibility to stay home for a morning or even *gasp* a whole day if I was sick or the daycare got snowed in. As a doctor, this is not so easy. You have to think long and hard before canceling a whole clinic or calling a colleague to cover.

Then again, how much flexibility does any job have? If I were a teacher, I couldn't just abandon my students at noon and rush home. If I were a lawyer, I'd have deadlines and hearings (or whatever lawyers do).

However, I would like to think I have found a job with a modicum of flexibility. But ask me again in six months.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Meeting MWAS

We've been writing together here for over a year, but like most MiM contributors, I have never met MWAS in person. I find it so interesting to know facets of someone's life - insights on their children, their practice, their families, their photo shoots gone awry, their Match Day experience - yet never meeting IRL. (1)

So, when MWAS told me she would be visiting my area last week and did we want to meet up, I said, Yes, of course!

Meeting someone you've only known online is fraught with the unknown. Will we meet each other's expectations? Will it be awkward? Is this some crazy psychopath killer who has only pretended to be a Mother in Medicine for over a year, just to lure me to my surprise death? (Just kidding. I felt I had verified her identity enough to be safe that she was, in all actuality, a pediatrician running a private practice, and mother to two boys.)

We planned our meeting at a nice, safe public place: where else, a nice mall. I'm not sure what first impression I gave her, since I had gotten there early and was testing out some serious Brookstone chair massagers when she and one of her sons walked by. I believe I was full-body vibrating and unable to stand since my calves were locked into the massage contraption.

It was so great to meet MWAS, this woman I feel like I know so well after all of our online and off-line email exchanges. Her son was so handsome and sweet.

I'm not sure what kind of second impression I gave her, since I was in *a very rare* stimulate-the-economy mood (I was celebrating a recent, and hard-won, academic success) and I hope I didn't scare her and progeny by my *very rare, no more shopping for the rest of the year* splurges.

Over lunch, we talked about our jobs and how great this was, being able to connect through the blog, since sometimes it can be hard getting together with other physician-moms in person. And really, who else could really understand?

Our time together was short, but it reinforced to me how wonderful it is being able to connect with such a larger community here (and not limited to MiM contributors) of mothers who understand. It's a sisterhood, really. And I'm glad to be part of it.

(1) In Real Life

Thursday, August 6, 2009

MiM mailbag: Doctor aspirations in high school

Hey There.

I am a high school student looking quite forward to being a doctor, but i have mixed feelings.

since i was in 6th grade, i have known that i was meant to be a doctor. i have a friendly "charismatic" personality (as my dad likes to tell me frequently), i enjoy children, love mysteries (puzzles, ect.), and i love love love to watch those shows on discovery health that everyone else in my family is too disgusted to watch. okay, this may not make me a good doctor, but it's my dream, and i am one of those people who end up getting what they want. i always have been the type of person that if someone tells me i can't, i'll make sure that i can.

but more than anything in the world, being a mother is my dream. i want to be a wife, and mother of many children. (many many children according to my mother- i want at least 5 kids). i know this is possible reading your posts. i can be a mother and a doctor. but i also read some of your posts stating that you wouldn't recommend doing this, and if you had to do it all over again you wouldn't.

although i have at least five years before i would enter medical school, my whole life is based upon one day being a doctor. i am taking all advanced classes, including math and science (sigh). and if you MiM's don't think it's worth it, i'm really not sure what i'm going to do.

i guess what i'm really asking is: do you love it? do you think those excruciating years of medical school, residency, ect. were worth it for your life right now? are you there for your kids in the best possible way? or are you dreading going to work every single day because your going to miss your wonderful family?

i have two dreams, and i know i could do them both; i just don't know how fufilling it would be to try to do "everything" so to speak. i want to have the relationship i currently have with my mother, with my kids. is this truly possible having a career in medicine?

p.s. (sorry i have to sneak this question in here) i know i have tons of time to truly figure this question out in med. school, but as you can tell in my post above that i'm a planner, and i need to know these things ahead of time. I have in the past thought of being a pediatrician, but i really want to truly make a difference in someone's life -and i'm not sure this is the way for me to do it. i am currently thinking of being an Ob/Gyn- the process of a growing child is just amazing, but i prefer the Ob part compared to the Gyn part. Do people do that? or is it pretty unheard of? or is there any other specialty that would be a better fit for me?

My interests include
1. children (preferably babies)
2. pregnancies
3. multiples (twins, triplets, etc)
4. psychology (the way the mind works- not really diseases or drug abuse)
5. " "(but i am interested in physical and emotional abuse and how it effects future dealings)

sorry- one more question: i am thinking of having a psychology major in college (along with the typical pre-med classes). anybody do this?

thank you and sorry for the very longgg question. i love all of your blogs and you really are helping me decide my future.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

What is that I see?

What is that I see?

Can it be?

A cavity?

Are you are kidding me?

A mother in medicine, a mother in pediatric medicine, a mother who has been trained in primary prevention of dental caries, a mother who has been trained in how to teach pediatric residents about primary prevention of dental caries...

Could this mother have a sweet little twenty-toothed three year old with a cavity? And one so large that it recently became blatantly obviously visible to this mother?

Couldn't be.

But it was.

And not 1 cavity, but let's just say more than one.

Self doubt, blame, shame, worry, sorrow, guilt.

Relinquish my hypothetical license to mother and my actual license to practice pediatric medicine?

With the MIM degree comes connections with pediatric dentistry division chiefs and friends in psychiatry and other caring colleagues who help me see the bigger picture, one that continues to contain a twenty-toothed (more or less) beautiful smile inside and out.

I think of all the things this is not, and feel better.

I think of all the ways this could be worse, and feel better.

I think of my own bad teeth and think no less of my own parents.

I think of my patients and their parents and feel more like them.

I think of my daughter with no holes in her teeth except the joyous one that is about to be there when her first loose tooth falls out (could be any day now).

I take comfort in realizing that Mothers in Medicine need not be perfect nor have perfect kids.

I seek to re-define perfect as a work in progress.