Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Snake and the Pussycat

Not too long ago, I blogged about my family’s about one year old Florida Kingsnake, Spotty Dangerous (Cecelia wanted to call him Spotty, Jack wanted to call him Dangerous, so we combined the two). He was about the only pet I could handle acquiring last year during the time of great upheaval, and he has provided an endless source of comfort and companionship to my kids, in addition to spending a week in my daughter’s second grade classroom. I can only imagine if I was an 8 year old girl handling a snake in front of my class – surely she wowed the elementary school, almost as much as when she dressed up in front of the entire school as Billy in How to Eat Fried Worms for her character book report last month.

So I wasn’t too pleased when I received a phone call from my ex a couple of weeks ago explaining that when he went to pick up the kids from my sitter, Spotty was missing.

“Surely he is in the dragon,” I said. “He can get so far down in that Chinese dragon we bought him for Christmas that you wouldn’t even know he was there. Did you check the dragon? He must be in there, he was there this morning. I haven’t opened the cage since I fed him four days ago.”

He wasn’t in the dragon. Nor was he under his water bowl. Damn it. I wasn’t really up for getting Spotty III (Spotty II quickly replaced Spotty I at the old house when my ex left the top off of the cage one day - kids don't know about that), but my brother and I built this amazing terrarium stand over Christmas – what was I supposed to do with it? I just had to find Spotty.

I went to the local pet store on Saturday for advice. “Your snake got out? This time of year, he will probably look for someplace cold and dark. Look for a good hiding place.” Great. That describes about half my house. In a couple of weeks when the leaves grow on the trees my house won’t see the sun until fall. Since Spotty lives in my bedroom, I figured he was around there somewhere – searched high and low, in drawers and cabinets, under the mattress, to no avail. I problem solved with a friend over the weekend – despite warnings from my cat’s adopted shelter about the incompatibility of cats and snakes, we reasoned that if Spotty had to stretch to eat baby mice there was no way he could hurt Katybell.

I was thrilled when I stepped into my shower Sunday morning and saw the characteristic mouse hair-filled feces. It meant Spotty was alive, and around, and that he had been looking for water, probably. My excitement led to renewed energy for a search, which was unfortunately not fruitful. I was upset when the kids came home from their Dad’s Sunday evening and I had no good news. I told them the shower story, and my daughter said, “Don’t worry, mom. I’m sure he will turn up.”

Tuesday evening as I was reading my son his chapter from Harry Potter, my daughter called excitedly from my bedroom. “Mom! Katybell found Spotty! Katybell found Spotty! Hurry and come!” Cecelia explained that she was trying to get Katybell to snuggle in bed with her, but the cat was distracted by something in my room. Cecelia followed her, and found her sniffing in a space between the walls underneath the pocket door to my bathroom. Cecelia barely saw Spotty’s head disappear into the space. Jack grabbed a flashlight and we peeked in the narrow space – sure enough, Spotty was curled up inside.

There was much laughing and dancing and hugging – I’ll spare you too much cheese, but we were ecstatic that this family member, the one that had weathered us through our big life transition, generated school science reports, and provided overall slithery comfort throughout the year, was safe. I ran to the freezer to pull out a mouse to thaw. “He’s got to be starving,” I told the kids. “He was supposed to eat the day before he disappeared, but I ran out of mice.”

After the mouse thawed, I dangled it in front of the small space for about thirty minutes until Spotty finally caught its scent. I called to my son, and instructed him to cover the space once I lured Spotty out – he is well over a foot and a half by now – so he wouldn’t disappear back into the wall with his food. When he had the mouse halfway devoured, thus rendering him completely distracted, I scooped him up and put him safely back into his cage.

Thank goodness for our cat – no one else in the house has the proper perspective and I am sure Spotty would have gone unnoticed without her keen senses. I had already planned to leave my porch door open for a couple of hours, weather permitting – I was worried Spotty might die somewhere and start to smell, and would rather him escape to the back yard than perish in our home. No more worries, now – all’s well that ends well.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Delivered of a baby girl

by FreshMD

I gave birth to a baby girl four weeks ago.

This is where the statistics go, the measurements and time of birth, precise - to the gram, to the minute.

What I really want to tell, though, are those other details. That my semi-retired doctor came up from a day at his cabin digging a garden for raspberry canes, for his last delivery. The warm blankets piled on me postpartum, white flannel with pink and blue stripes, the softness gone after hundreds of launderings - how they reminded me so strongly of both nights on call in the same hospital and my previous deliveries. The nevi simplex on my newborn daughter's eyelids, symmetrical flames, perfect.

Raspberry canes? Those are just the hormones talking, said my girlfriend flatly. So maybe it is. What does it matter what gives that magnification to the incidental facts around her birth? I'm still sifting through the experience, letting the details settle. I don't have any perspective yet, and I'm hardly coherent. And that's why, although I expected to post about her within days, I haven't.

Here's what I can tell you:

Her name is Ilia Tove. Yes, I realize the name has all sorts of possibilities for medical bastardization.* I proposed the name Imogen but that struck my software husband as sounding like a photo app. Ilia is the female variant of Elijah, and means 'My God is the Lord.'

Several times the entire family has spontaneously migrated to her room, forming an admiring semi-circle around her crib. Her siblings adore her. "Hey Ilia!" said my six-year-old the first time he met her, waving his hands gently in her face. "Dynamite!" and his fingers burst apart in a soft explosion. The four-year-old imitates her Moro reflex perfectly. And my nine-year-old has been poring over my baby books: "Mom! Did you know that in a few months you can mash up a banana and feed it to her?"

Her first week she attended three show-and-tells. "She breastfeeds," my son told his Grade 1 class. "She breastfeeds breast milk. From my mom's breasts." He patted my right breast for good measure. "All her life, my mom's body has been saving all the milk she ever drank to feed this baby," he went on knowledgeably. "It even saved all the milk my mom drank as a little girl."

And me? I feel rich. Three daughters and a son. I don't take it for granted for a moment.

Before I left the hospital the public health liaison took a history from me and asked after my occupation. "I'm a family doctor at a refugee clinic," I said, and I was almost startled to hear myself say it, as if I'd suddenly remembered it. I turned away as tears came. Hormones and lack of sleep, yes; and a sudden brief nostalgia for a life that seemed to have very rapidly receded. Most of all, though, the grateful realization, as I sat cross-legged in the hospital bed with my infant daughter in my lap, considering my work, that I have this - and I have that, too.

*cilia, milia, ill, iliac, ileum, ileus . . .

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Pager Anxiety*

I was on call for 7 days starting last Friday. My mother watched Babyboy all day until I got home from work close to 7 pm. My husband was traveling. Mom and I had a bowl of soup together, and then she went home. I was thankful knowing she would be on duty for me Saturday and Sunday so I could go in and round on my patients. Babyboy and I set about our usual Friday night routine: he sat on my bed supported by pillows as I got my pajamas on; then we did tummy-time for a bit and sang songs for a bit. As soon as he started to rub his eyes, I darkened his lights, set Sleep Sheep on “rainfall”, and gave him a warm milkie bottle. And as per usual, he conked out.
Time for Mommy to conk out. I set my pager on the bedside table, turned out the light, and nestled down for the night. Then, “Bip!” the pager went off. I startled and turned the lights back on and fussed with my glasses and looked at the page text: an urgent page from someone with a sore throat. Sigh. I got up, logged into the computer, pulled up the patient’s chart and called her. A young new mom, her baby is in daycare and is on his 3rd course of antibiotics for an ear infection. Now she’s had a very sore throat and fever over 101 and difficulty swallowing. She knows she should have come into the office, but between work and the baby, she couldn’t. She’s miserable, she’s pretty sure this is Strep, can I help her? Sure. We chatted, she was very gracious, and I felt good to be able to help her out. I called in her Amoxicillin and that was that.
I again set the pager down on the bedside table, turned out the light, and settled down to try to sleep. But how could I sleep when I kept worrying and fretting that the pager would go off again?
Sigh. This has been an ongoing issue since residency. As a resident, when you’re on call, you’re in the hospital, often covering more than one service. As an example, when I was on Pediatrics call, I sometimes would cover two floors: toddler and school age. Back then, each floor had their own pager. Then there was the clinic pager. This in addition to my own personal pager. So it was not abnormal to be wearing 4 pagers. I had to double-knot my scrub bottoms so they stayed up with all these pagers clipped to my waist. It was a feat to use the bathroom and not lose one down the toilet!
And they beeped. A lot. I remember being on call one overnight at a satellite hospital. I was the resident covering the Peds ward, admissions, and backup for labor and delivery. I was paired with an intern who was thankfully a smart and cool-headed guy. For most of the night, we were working with a newly admitted teenager in diabetic ketoacidosis. The teen was on an insulin drip, and their blood sugars, electrolytes and acid/base balance had to be watched carefully. We were being paged so often about the teen that we decided to just stay up there. But, BEEP! A code in the ER! An 8 year old in status epilepticus. We ran and got there at the same time as the on-call anesthesiologist. We decided to sedate and intubate the boy, give as much Valium and other antiepileptics as we could and call for transport to the Main hospital. Then, BEEP! we were STAT paged to a delivery. The resident covering Neonatal was already in a delivery, and there was another imminent delivery that required Peds presence: premature TWINS. They were 32 weeks, which is little but not too too little. They would need to be in the NICU (Neonatal intensive care) for a few weeks, but they were fine. The whole time there were numerous other pages: issues with the admitted children on the ward, beep beep beep; some new admissions to go and see, beep beep. We split up to try to cover it all.
That was a pretty bad night on pediatrics, but it wasn’t abnormal. Medicine codes were much more common, and arguably worse, because people died more often. The medicine code pager, which went off if there was an adult in cardiac or respiratory arrest somewhere in the hospital, had the loudest, most obnoxious sound: “REE-OO-REE-OO-REEEEE”. If I’m in my hospital now, and someone’s pager is set to that tone, I get so uncomfortable. I want to run, or hit them.
I now have my pager set to a sound that isn’t at all like the ones I had in residency. It’s a little “Bip!”, almost a chirp, really. And it never means I have to run anywhere. I only need to be able to pick up the phone and talk, and think. But when that thing goes off, I might as well be back on the floors again. I’m like a returned soldier from ‘Nam, man. Just a tad PTSD.
There was even one holiday weekend, a Fourth of July, where my office was closed on a Friday. I was on call starting that morning. It was a beautiful day, sunny and warm. But the pager went off every five minutes for the whole day. I was planted at my desk, fielding calls, reading charts, looking up answers, trying to keep track of all the issues. The calls piled up. People were annoyed that the office was closed, and that I took so long to get back to them. I went into a full-fledged panic attack at one point. I can now tell my patients with panic attacks that I really do know what a panic attack feels like.
And so, a week ago Friday, there I was, in bed and trying to sleep, in the safety and comfort of my own bedroom, and I couldn’t sleep, after just one benign page. I even started drifting off to sleep, and hallucinated that the pager beeped. I woke up and turned the lights on and stared, but there was no blinking callback number, no message.
I finally fell asleep. Then, at 4:30 a.m., “Bip!” From the deepest sleep, I startled, turned the light on, fumbled with my glasses, and looked at the message. An urgent call for nausea, vomiting. I sighed, pulled myself up and to the computer, and dialed. The lady had school-aged children. She couldn’t keep anything down. I talked to her husband. We agreed that he would take her into the emergency room. I called the emergency room to let them know she was on her way and that I suspected Norovirus, that she would likely need IV fluids. I typed a brief note. I went back to bed.
Two hours later, I was still awake.
*originally posted at March 19, 2011

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Mother Load

When I was pregnant with my first child I was a sponge for advice. Every mother I met would be inundated with questions about labor, best diapers, breast feeding or formula, best car seat, and on and on. I am sure many of those poor mothers were glad to see me waddle away.

Now on the other end of the spectrum I find myself giving advice to pregnant moms to be about child rearing and discipline. I am discussing with older parents how to teach kids to respect parental authority, deal with teens who are sexually active, kids being bullied, kids on drugs and often how to communicate with their children. It seems many parents these days are either afraid to discipline their children for fear of “not being their friend or hurting their feelings” or are indifferent to their behavior. I find this very concerning. Am I the only one noticing this trend in America?

I recently read some reviews of Amy Chua’s book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother." It is a memoir written by an American born Chinese mother of two teen girls. Tiger Mother is Amy Chua's own assessment of herself as she was born in the Chinese year of the tiger. She is a strict disciplinarian who micromanages all aspects of her children's lives which may include calling them "garbage", rejecting hand crafted birthday cards or forcing a 7 year-old child to practice at the piano hour upon hour without a bathroom break. She states that this was how she was raised by her Chinese immigrant parents. Her goal is to prepare her children for the harsh world reality. It is tough out there and you need to be prepared.

I certainly do not agree with her harsh and humiliating tactics but she does point out that in our western culture we are raising a generation of weak children who are indulged for the sake of their self esteem. We have lost sight of the fact that children need to learn from failures, solve difficult problems, that there are rules, and that they will be held responsible for their actions. America is back sliding but are we helpless to stop it?

I would hope not. I can only challenge each of us as mothers and physicians who can influence parents and children alike to put forth the energy to change the culture we have developed. Do we want to put our future into hands of adults who expect life to be handed to them on a fluffy pillow to soften their falls? We are doing ourselves, our children and country a disservice if we don’t encourage families to focus on staying together, push parenting with the goal of responsible adults even if it means some discomfort now, and being honest with our children that our country needs strong, creative, hard-working adults to fix the many problems we have created. Will you join me?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Is There Intelligent Life on Mars?

To continue Fizzy's dating theme, I thought I'd follow up with this.

It has been over a year since my separation and six months since my divorce. Both my brother and sister have been urging me to get on for months - my happily married sister's good friend at work had luck there and my younger brother (26) in law school had luck. "Giz," they told me over the phone, "It's cool to get on now! Everybody does it!" But they are both in Atlanta - way more cosmopolitan than Little Rock, Arkansas. So I have been highly skeptical. And not ready. Still not ready, but sometimes I think for me just getting into something - even a friendship - slowly, might be an important step, based upon my history.

So Friday night, after dinner with a friend and a couple of glasses of wine, I took the plunge.

No most of you happily married mom's out there have no need to get on, so I'll tell you a little about the premise. You set up a profile, with photos and interests, not unlike Facebook. You have a profile page, with a header (It's what everyone reads first - sum yourself up in a simple sentence that will grab someone! - puke) and a ridiculous amount of space to tell who you are and who you are looking for. They give you enough room to write two essays. I wrote two short paragraphs. Anyone who wants to know more, I decided, could find out in a message.

There are three ways to communicate with someone - instant message, message, and winks. The winks show a small picture of the person winking at you with a link to their profile. They tell you to "wink back or send him a message." The next morning, I had a bunch of winks. I was deflated. The winks annoyed me right away. What the hell does a person do with a wink? And some of the people winking so completely grossed me out that I wanted to close out my profile and hand back over the sixty bucks I paid for three months. I sent a message to one person that winked, trying to find out about the winks ("Are they like a poke on Facebook," I asked? Not that I've ever poked anyone) and the ensuing brief exchange of conversation was so abysmal that I vowed never to respond to a wink again - Tenet #1.

Then there are all the strange messages. I don't know why many guys think it is perfectly appropriate to approach a girl they do not know with text message abbreviations. I don't even understand half of the text message abbreviations. Tenet #2 - do not respond to messages written in text slang.

Tenet #3 was formed quickly - do not respond to anyone who comes up with a tag name pairing their first name with the suffix -tacular. The tag name is the anonymous name you use that goes with your profile. I'll leave you to imagine the possible variations. Use your spouses or boyfriends name, for instance. Or mine. "Hello, I'm Giztacular."

Unfortunately (or not), my three tenets have severely limited my interactions on the site, which I can only manage to check for a few minutes anyway, after blogs and Facebook, at night. Oh well. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

I called my law school brother for support (who has been dating a smart gorgeous girl he met there for a couple of months) on Sunday night telling him I was completely disgusted, felt like I had been approached by a bunch of drunk rednecks at a bar all weekend (text abbreviations are kind of like slurring, after all) and wanted to close out the profile. He said, "It's work, Giz. You've got to laugh at all that, or you'll never get past it. You should have seen this lady twice my age in fishnets and bright red lipstick following me for days. There's a block function. If it gets too intense, use it. It's all anon, anyway. Edit your profile. Take your time. It will take a couple of weeks to get comfortable there, anyway."

I also got advice, strangely but happily, from my ex when I called to talk to the kids Saturday morning. He has apparently been on since last summer, and has had a few relationships. I did not tell him I was on - he had already seen me there. He told me to get a couple of things off of my profile that might identify me. He talked about some missteps he had that cracked me up. He cathartically described the women he dated, briefly, as if he had been holding back for a long time out of respect for me and my presence on the dating site released him. Then he wished me luck and offered to watch the kids if I ever needed help babysitting. Wow. What a difference a year makes.

Yesterday afternoon I got my first intelligent message. I came home, ran, went to get the kids, tucked them in, and decided to blog about this crazy embarrassing experience over the last few days. Now I think I'll send a friendly message back. It's nice to know there might be intelligent life on Mars, after all.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Breast pump outrage!

Breastfeeding is one of those issues that can be extremely controversial among mothers (dads don't seem to care so much). For the record, I think breastfeeding is a woman's choice. If a mother feels for whatever reason she can't do it, I don't think we should chastise her. It's horrible that some women will approach a mother feeding her baby a bottle in public, and feel a need to comment to this stranger that the baby should be getting breastmilk. If you've ever approached a stranger and said something like that or given any sort of unsolicited parenting advice, you're nuts and should mind your own business. Just so you know.

That said, I think breastfeeding is wonderful. Both for the health benefits and the bonding. I think that we should provide every possible resource (finances, time, moral support) to make it easier for women to give their babies breastmilk.

Recently a woman at work told me that her insurance company had paid for her breast pump. Then she gave away that pump to a friend and they paid for a SECOND breast pump for her next child. I was impressed. I thought it was incredibly forward-thinking of insurance companies to pay for breast pumps.

Because I might hypothetically need one someday in the future, I decided to call my insurance company to ask if they would cover a breast pump. The answer was no, which wasn't a big shock. But what really surprised me was when the woman on the phone added, "Unless it's medically indicated."

Of course, I had to ask, "What do you mean by 'medically indicated'?"

"Well, if the baby is premature or has an abnormal sucking reflex," the woman told me.

After thinking about this a bit, I found it kind of disturbing. Basically, they're admitting that breastmilk is important and beneficial for babies, because they're providing the pump for women who can't nurse the natural way. They're saying that if a baby can't nurse directly from the breast because they're premature or have an abnormal sucking reflex, they want the baby to still have that breastmilk because it's SO important.

But if the woman can't nurse directly from the breast because she has to go back to work... well, those ladies are on their own.

There are some states in the U.S. where you get 12 weeks of family leave time that's unpaid, but at least your job is guaranteed. After that, you can lose your job. In other states, you can get short term disability to pay for those 12 weeks of leave. But that just means you have a three month baby when you get back to work. So are insurance companies saying that it's not "medically indicated" for three month old babies to get breastmilk? And I think many people reading this blog who live in the U.S. probably took far less than 12 weeks. (I did.)

I think that kind of stinks. Insurance companies pay for preventive care, vaccines, etc. But for some reason, they won't pay for a relatively modestly priced breast pump to facilitate a newborn getting breastmilk from their working mother. Seriously, could this country be any less supportive of breastfeeding? I think all women who manage to do it, especially when they have to go back to work, deserve a round of applause.

Monday, March 21, 2011

One of 'those' moms...

I just got back from a trip to the ER. In my defense, it is our first trip to the ER, although not the first time I’ve freaked out about the health of my little one. My daughter is a “happy spitter.” She literally goes through about 8 bibs a day and spits up with a smile on all of our clothing. My weekday morning routine involves leaving my clothes by the door and walking around in a t-shirt until she’s in her carseat in order to avoid multiple wardrobe changes before getting out of the door. So, this weekend, as my baby spit away I didn’t think much of it. However, she was having an unusually cranky day and flipping out every time I tried to breastfeed her. Then around 3pm, while my husband was walking around with her, he called me over suddenly to see her bright yellow copious vomit!

I initially tried to be cool. I specifically try hard not to flip out in front of my non-medical husband so that I don’t freak him out. However, I was pretty sure I just witnessed some bilious vomit in my already fussy child. To add to this story, she also hadn’t had a BM in 2 days! I sent a quick text to a friend and fellow resident to make sure I wasn’t being a crazy mom - and she quoted to me one of our surgical mantras - “bilious vomit in a baby is a surgical emergency until proven otherwise.” Off we went to the ER.

Being the doctor in the family before my daughter was born, wasn’t too hard. I get calls from my parents or in-laws about aches and pains and mammograms and colonoscopies. I feel happy to be able to help them navigate the sometimes confusing medical landscape. However, as a mom, this knowledge is clearly both a blessing and a curse.

My daughter was fine (after being subjected to an upper GI series complete with a stream of radiation and a belly full of barium). I watched the study as it was done. The radiology resident and attending reviewed everything with me on the spot. The pediatric surgery resident and attending on call stopped by to check on us and also looked at her films, and again assured me that I wasn’t crazy to bring her in. But all I felt was guilt as I looked at my little peanut strapped to the table and whimpering. I thought of her poor little irradiated ovaries courtesy of doctor mom.

I cried a little on the way home as my husband tried to comfort me. Although he didn’t know initially why her vomit was yellow, he assured me he was just as worried about it. He held my hand as I told him I felt like a bad mom. I was so happy that she was fine, but felt instantly silly for being so worried. I just hope in some way my knowledge will benefit her, not just cause her to be subjected to extra probing and prodding.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Dating Moms

We've moved a lot in the last several years, and each time we kind of have to start over in the friends department. It's frustrating that each time we start to get to know people, we end up moving. And neither my husband nor I are very outgoing, so this is a huge effort.

Lately, I've been really going out of my way to try to meet other moms. It's occurred to me that there's something about the several-step process that's disturbingly like dating....

Step 1: Getting the digits

Whenever I'm at our local community center or a birthday party, I try to strike up a conversation with another mom. This involves scoping out the moms, seeing someone who looks like they're someone I could get along with and is around my age. Then if we can successfully chat for a minute, I have to work up my nerve to get her phone number and/or email address.

Step 2: Trying to figure out when to make first contact

According to Swingers, you're supposed to wait three days, right? But in that time, I could easily wash the jeans that I put her phone number into. And I'm eager to make first contact before being forgotten.

Step 3: Trying to set up a (play)date

Seems like it shouldn't be that hard, but it is! Do we do it at their place, ours, or a neutral location? I don't want to impose, yet our apartment is small and I don't want to drag someone over here. And do just I go to the playdate? Or is it better for both me and my husband go?

Step 4: Impressing the Mom on the (play)date

You want your kid to be on good behavior, of course, but sometimes you can't control that. Then you have to socialize with the mom (and/or dad) as well. You have to make stimulating conversation. Should you bring flowers.... er, snacks?

Step 5: Waiting for her to call you back

For me, this has been the hardest part of playdating. If the other mom doesn't seem to want to set up another playdate, I feel like I did something horribly wrong. I said the wrong thing, was impolite, etc. When you don't have a lot of friends, you start to doubt yourself and wonder if there's something intrinsically wrong with you. It's a blow to the old self esteem.

Step 6: Dealing with rejection

Last year, there was a mom whose daughter went to daycare with mine, and most days, we would walk home together and talk the whole way. I liked talking to her and she seemed to like it too. The walks would last sometimes an hour, despite living two blocks away, because our kids would get sidetracked on the way home.

But every time I called her to hang out on the weekend, either at one of our houses or a kiddie event, she would come up with some excuse and say no. The excuses were incredibly lame, akin to needing to wash her hair. After a while, I got the hint and stopped asking. I felt really embarrassed and rejected though. I guess she just wasn't that into me.

In summary, I hate (play)dating. I can't wait to settle down.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Virtually living

So, I guess this post is kind of an apology. KC periodically sends out gentle reminders to post on MiM, and I receive them with all good intentions. Despite a number of ideas for posts, I just haven't been able to bring myself to write them. It's not only my blogging really that has suffered, but dictating notes on patients, taking/organizing photos of the family, and a whole host of other things. I have had a growing sense of disquiet that we--people living in 2011, Americans, mothers, bloggers, doctors, any number of groups to which I belong--are so caught up with documenting that we have, in some ways that matter tremendously, stopped living.

This all started when I was attempting to declutter my house last fall. I had decided to try to scan some of my kids' artwork to jpg files on our computer, with the eventual goal of making a little bound book for each of the kids. My two older kids were at school and my 3 year old was coloring on her craft table next to the desk in our home office, the very same sort of artwork in the making. She said, "Mommy, look at my picture." I responded "Mmm-hmmm, that's beautiful" or something absentmindedly, trying to finish what I was doing first. "Mommy, it's a picture of you," she persisted. "That's wonderful, honey," I said, giving it a quick glance and rushing to save the work on the computer as I sensed my personal time was coming to a close. "Mommy, LOOK!" she said. "LOOK WITH YOUR FACE." And it stopped me in my tracks because I knew she had, in the way that kids often do, spoken a truth that troubles me about our generation.

This wasn't the first time I have been a little exasperated by our generation's compulsion to document and report. I tried to tell myself: it's just that I'm kind of a Luddite, and the notion of blogging doesn't come naturally to me. I confess that I signed up for a Twitter account about 2 yrs ago, but have never actually tweeted anything or followed anyone. I watch exactly zero TV shows. I have only the vaguest idea of what Glee or any number of reality/competition shows are about, gleaned entirely from snippets of overheard conversation or references on NPR. These are aspects of popular culture that just hold zero appeal for me. I sometimes wish that I could bring myself to want to partake--the same way that I forced myself to learn to like tea in college as a non-coffee drinker because I felt the need for a hot "social" drink I could have with my friends (ps I now like tea a lot). I was also a very reluctant, very late adopter of Facebook. I have come to realize its charms, but I remain suspicious. In my heart, I know that the time I devote to tending my FB friendships has detracted from time for actual friendships with live friends and even people living in my own household. It alarms and frightens me that meeting friends "IRL" (in real life) has become somehow quaint and exceptional.

This issue of documentation for the sake of documentation has threatened much of what I love and value in medicine. I see it everywhere. The most obvious examples, of course, can be found in all of the things we now find ourselves forced to dictate to justify billing codes or levels of care or to avoid malpractice claims, but what I see happening in the exam room is what unsettles me most. When I got pregnant with my first child in 2003, I remember my OB visits as 10 minute conversations with my doctor. She sat in a chair, I sat in a chair, we looked each other in the eye, and we talked. Yes, she referred to my (paper) chart from time to time--how was my hematocrit? what was the last fundal height? how many cm dilated was I last week?--and yes, I often waited 30 minutes for that 10 minute visit, but I still felt that at my check-ups, a human being was, well, checking up on me and my baby. When I got pregnant with my last child in 2007, a mere 4 years later, I went back to the same OB. She came in and stood for the entire visit every visit, swinging down a new computer suspended by a metal arm from the ceiling so that it partially obstructed our ability to see each other, and proceeded to click and type until the 10 minutes was up. I felt as though I had been doused with a cup of ice water at the start of every appointment. If I had concerns (and I had some: exhaustion caring for my two toddlers with my husband deployed, and my failing pelvic floor to name a few I still remember well), the new style of appointments provided no invitation to express them. I had more than a dozen visits with her. I never mentioned any of those issues. The point of the check-up now appeared to be checking boxes. The humanity had been lost, and I wasn't sure we could get it back.

On the playgrounds and at birthday parties, I see it too. Everywhere, mothers with their gigantic SLR cameras, frantically snapping photos of their kids. I have literally watched them shoot and review pictures the entire time, ignoring or maybe not even hearing their kids' requests to be chased or tickled or pushed on the swing or helped with blowing out the candles. I wonder what kind of memories they will be creating with these photos. Surely when the kids are young, they will remember very little. They'll get older, look at the family albums, and invent memories that string together the images. But what about the kids who are already a little older? I fear what they'll remember is their moms taking their cameras to the playground and allowing them to come along for the ride.

I received a throw-away journal in the mail recently that had a "spotlight" on a woman--a dietician and Shiatsu practitioner who blogs about wellness. Over the course of the interview, it came up that, in addition to the wellness blog, she also writes a private blog about her kids for family and friends, a culinary on the cheap blog, a craft blog, and a blog about the challenges of reinventing herself to return to the workforce after years as a stay-at-home mom. The interviewer marveled at how she and her husband manage the demands of now being a dual career family with four young kids and maintaining all of their blogs. (Her husband is apparently an independent consultant who writes a high-profile blog about business/pharmaceuticals and travels frequently for work.) The interviewer asked how they cope with the separations and whether it's been a positive or a negative in their marriage. The woman reflected that it's been pretty neutral from a marriage standpoint and that she mostly feels the pinch as a parent; it's a little more work to get the kids to sports practices, to corral the kids into bath and the bed. What made my heart sink, though, was when she quipped something to the effect of: "If he's in town, we spend our evening on our laptops. If he's out of town, we spend our evening on our laptops. Now if my LAPTOP starts having to travel overnight for business, then I'm going to be distraught." Wow.

I know we have to document. It's a medicolegal necessity, a method of communicating our thought process, and a means to avoid retracing our steps unnecessarily with patients. It's a legacy for our families and a way to ensure that precious moments are not lost in the midst of years of perpetual exhaustion parenting small children. It's an opportunity to connect with family and friends we cannot see often because of the limitations of geography or time. It's a hope for finding community or support or fellowship in the small, dark hours of the night from your family room once all of your kids are asleep or your spouse is working. But I also think it's time for us to pause to make sure we're not letting the tail wag the dog. We need to make sure that we are documenting to capture and celebrate the life that we're living and not just living to document.

Anybody worried?

One of my first year students was a former surgical nurse, in her 30s, who had had to defer her dream of going to medical school because she had gotten pregnant as a teenager and was raising her child. Though she graduated, did a challenging residency and now has more children, I wonder how many other young women with the dreams we all started with are stopped at the gate by unplanned pregnancy. The recent political discussions about removing all federal support for Planned Parenthood has left me and my pediatrician sister both feeling like our hair is on fire. My student was exceptional in many ways. She did not have the luxury that we have had to worry about when it might be best for us to have our families, or the tools to make our choices feasible.

Choice about childbearing comes in many forms. In my own case, it was because I came through training at a time when professional women had trouble finding men who valued us--or maybe it was my evil temper. In any case, I married quite late and had my last child at age 39. This is not necessarily the path I recommend, but I do think that if we support women's professional aspirations, we should be committed to the proposition that all women should have access to reproductive health services. If Congress prevails, many women who might otherwise make up the next generations of mothers in medicine are going to be instead mothers who lack education, income and the privilege of being able to care for others as well as their own children, in the ways we all do.

I have been writing letters opposing the Congressional initiative to defund Planned Parenthood to my congressional representatives. I hope those who read this will be moved to do the same.

Friday, March 11, 2011

A day in the life of a medical student on her obstetrics rotation

5:20 am Alarm goes off. Hit snooze. Was up way too late trying to figure out what is wrong with my knot tying.

5:30 am Alarm goes off again. Hit snooze again.

5:40 am Alarm goes off. Groan and drag myself out of bed.

5:40 - 6:20 am Shower and dress in scrubs.

6:20 - 6:35 am Make coffee and breakfast (cut apples and peanut butter), walk and feed dog, go through younger son Z's backpack and fill out homework sheet

6:40 am Get in car, upset because I meant to leave by 6:30.

6:30 am - 7:40 am Commute in ridiculous traffic. Make a phone call to the kids' grandmother to tell her I found Z's homework sheet on my coffee table instead of in his folder. Get informed that he didn't have his homework sheet yesterday so they didn't do his homework after school. Wonder why I wasn't told about this, but keep it to myself. She promises they will do yesterday and today's homework today after school. Realize older son, S, never emailed me his science homework to print out the night before, which was already 2 days late and he had lied about not being due. Call roommate / nanny, talk her through printing out his homework from my laptop.

7:40 am - Show up at hospital for a 7:30 am cesarean section.

7:45 am - Finally get to labor and delivery OR. Manage to scrub in before attending, who was already in the room. Curse that he is much more punctual than my general surgery attending was.

8:30 am - Get to tie a few knots in the abdomen. Attending tells me my knot technique is still "invented". Sigh.

8:40 am - 1:00 pm Clinic. Running around taking fetal heart tones, measuring fundal heights, assisting with pap smears and a LEEP. Get to do an ultrasound all by myself! See the embryo moving, and cardiac activity! Manage to print a picture for the happy couple!

1:30 pm Report to OR for adenexal mass procedure. Doctor asks me if I want to grab a sandwich. I say no. He leaves and walks out. I decide I do want to eat, but I need to get cash and my student ID in my car. By the time I get it, eat, and return to the OR pre-op area, I am locked out. My badge doesn't work at this hospital. I finally get in, and they have already wheeled the patient back. Crap. I show up in the OR, and they have already started the surgery. I scrub in, and the scrub nurse in training hands me the towel over the sterile field. I take it, even though I know it's wrong. We both get royally reprimanded by the scrub nurse for contaminating the sterile field. She throws out my gloves. I stand there with no gloves and feel like crying. I finally get gowned and gloved. The attending physician pulls off some really fancy laparoscopic maneuvering, tying off the ovarian ligament with suture and graspers as the external iliac throbs right there in the background. Cool. I GET TO CLOSE!! OK, it was just a tiny port opening, but I do it, and I do a good job. I actually feel comfortable managing the instruments and do some pretty good instrument ties. The PA tells me I did a good job. SQUEEEEEE!

2:45 pm. Back to clinic. More cafe cubano and another pastelito. I am going to gain so much weight on this rotation. More clinic. I love clinic. I manage to do some gringa histories in broken Spanish. La ultima regla? Cuantos hijos tienes?

6:00 pm. The midwife tells me we are heading to the other hospital for a birth. I call my nanny on the way and tell her to get S (Z is going to his dad's tonight). I tell her that there is a frozen steak she can try to defrost if it's not too late, and that I will be coming home if the birth isn't imminent.

6:30 pm Get to hospital. Mom is at 9 and pushy. Wait outside for baby's head to descend a bit more. Round on some postpartum patients. A nurse gives me some suture to practice with. I keep tying knots wrong, and we go in to the room for the birth.

7:29 pm Time of birth. Baby is delivered onto the mom's chest. There is a nuchal cord (cord around the neck) and a true knot in the cord. Baby has 9/9 Apgar scores.

8:00 pm Ask midwife to watch me tie a few knots. She shows me what I am doing wrong. Lightbulb! I remember how to do it right now! Muscle memory is a cool thing. Get in car to drive home. Call roommate / nanny, get an earful about S's attitude about not doing his homework. Also find out they were unable to print his assignment this morning, and he got an F on it. Call his dad, and we discuss ways to handle this. Taking away his birthday party at the end of the month is on the table.

8:40 pm. Get home. Read S the riot act about his homework and attitude. Eat delicious dinner roommate / nanny left for me in microwave. Tell her she is the best wife ever.

9:00 pm. Walk dog. Change kitty litter. Sweep floor. Realize it's too late to call Z and say goodnight. Write blog post. Avoid other obligations.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Sexual Harassment?

When I was seven months pregnant with my daughter, I was a resident on an inpatient rehab ward. We were having a bit of a pre-holiday slump, meaning I had all of four patients on my entire service. Of course, as a resident, I had no complaints about this.

I was working with my attending, who we will call Dr. Massage, because of the way she sometimes reached out and started massaging residents shoulders for no particular reason. Dr. Massage was middle aged and did not look at all dissimilar to Coach Beiste on Glee. (Yes, I watch Glee. It's awesome.)

One day, someone (I can't remember who) was bemoaning the lack of patients on the inpatient ward and said to Dr. Massage, "Is there anything we can do to increase admissions?"

Dr. Massage replied, "Well, Dr. Fizzy and I could go out on the street wearing bikinis. That might cause a few accidents."

Considering, as you recall, Dr. Massage looked like Coach Beiste on Glee, I took this as an insult.

Granted, it was kind of self-deprecating as well. But I'm not sure why I had to be included in this. I was sitting several feet away from this conversation, quietly doing my work, and I was kind of shocked when I heard her say that.

What's the big deal, you ask? I guess it isn't really such a big deal. Except that I was only 27 and pregnant for the first time after being quite petite before, and I was not feeling fantastic about the way I looked at that moment. Every pregnant woman worries about weight gain and swelling and all that. OK, I'm sure some pregnant woman walk around feeling like they look fabulous all the time and never once feel fat, and that's awesome for you, really. But not me. And I certainly wasn't in the mood to hear someone making comments about how my appearance in a bikini might result in a serious accident. Of course, Dr. Massage never had kids, so maybe she didn't get it. Although I get the feeling if I had made a similar comment, including her name with mine, she wouldn't have appreciated it.

Would a man make a comment like that? Possibly, but I actually feel like men watch their mouths more than women these days. I feel like when women make insulting comments about another woman's appearance, you really can't do much (not that I ever would anyway). Another blogger recently said that a female she worked with accused her of having fake breasts (she didn't) and she just let it slide. Or maybe men are just as bad or worse, and I'm suffering from selective memory right now.

Anyway, I'm not sure if there's a moral to this story, but it's something that still sort of stings so many years later.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Guest post: One month down

I never thought this moment would arrive, but as of tomorrow, I will have been back at work for one full month after the birth of my daughter.  When I dropped her off at daycare the first day, I didn’t think I could survive it.  Now, I’m a savvy daycare mom, chatting it up with her teachers and settling into a routine.  One great thing is that she seems to love it, she smiles at her teachers and is universally known as the “happy baby with the curly hair.”  I survived and managed not to quit my job.

I’m taking a hiatus from surgical residency right now and in a basic science lab.  I hate basic science.  I’ve always known this.  However, when I found myself pregnant and bleeding and nearly passing out in ORs last year, I decided I desperately needed to make a change and I weaseled my way into a lab, telling myself I might love it and find my life’s work.  That was a lie.  I hate the lab.  Even more, I know that I would rather do a completely different type of research in my career and wish I was putting things in place to make that happen now, especially since my surgical career seems to be at odds with my new mommy desires.

My thoughts about this first month as a working mom:

#1 - People say stupid things

As a resident most moms get six weeks, and six weeks ONLY of maternity leave, which includes all of your vacation for the year.  I fought for eight weeks and I was extremely proud of being able to take this extra time for my daughter.  However, my return to work was met with some stupid, hurtful comments such as being asked how I could leave my daughter when she was so little and how they could never do the same.  But, I stand by my pride.  I fought for 2 (actually 2.5) more weeks with my precious daughter.  This is my life and our story and in this story that was a success.

#2 - Women in Medicine really do have to be super moms.

Shared parenting, at least for now, is a myth.  I feed her (I’m breastfeeding).  I change her 97% o the time.  I wash her bottles and her clothes and get her ready for daycare in the morning.  If I want to eat nutritious meals, I also cook.   If I want to eat my nutritious meals on clean plates - I do the dishes.  My husband tries, but I think only moms actually know how much moms do.  I have NO idea how this will translate one I leave the lab, I’m guessing a nanny and a maid (something else we can’t afford). 

#3 - From now on, I will always have a twinge of guilt and confusion about my career choice.

The first few weeks after my daughter was born, I was almost 100% sure that I was not going to complete my residency.  As time passes, I feel more capable of finishing.  I crave mentors and therefore read this site like a maniac.  I could write a blog entry every day about how I grapple with this issue.  While I was pregnant I wrote letters to my daughter that I plan to give to her someday.  Over half of them are in some way about my trepidation over pursuing a career in surgery and being a good mom.  My own mother was a stay at home mom and she poured her energy and love into all of her children so that we could be something great.  Now, I feel as if being something great is at odds with being a great mom. 

I had to fly out to a conference 6 weeks after my daughter was born.  It was my first talk at a national conference.  My parents, brother and sister drove down to see me.  It went really well - a big step in my career.  However, even though it felt good, my major concern was if I had pumped enough milk and all I wanted to do was get back home.

I don’t have any of the answers now.  I’ve decided to find peace in taking it one day at a time.

"cutter" is a third year general surgery resident currently taking a 2 year hiatus in the lab and the mother of a beautiful 3 month old.  She started reading this blog during intern year just as a source of encouragement from women in medicine, not realizing that she would soon be a mother in medicine too.