Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Rocket Scientist

My daughter Cecelia (11) has never wanted to be a pathologist. She is completely disgusted by what I do. She likes looking under the microscope, but when I showed her the Blood Bank a couple of years ago with refrigerated stocks of blood and she saw an amputated leg (shrouded by a red biohazard plastic bag) one day when we visited the gross room - "What's that Mom?" - she was mortified. She wants to be a rock star. Fine by me. I'm all up for supporting dreams coupled with education.

Jack (8), has always wanted to design video games. But he's also great at math, graduated from struggling to read Skylander captions at the beginning of this school year to hungrily devouring novel series in weeks (Percy Jackson, Hunger Games - I know, but he begged for months and had seen the movies with his dad and sis so I finally gave in), builds lego sets, and loves winding down at night making me and his class Rainbow Loom bracelets. They adorn my wrists and serve as office decorations.

But no pathologist admiration yet. Over the weekend I bought Jack an air blaster gun and he has enjoyed building the flat paper characters into 3D figures to "blast" with the air gun. One he was working on this morning while I fixed lunches had a lab coat. "Mom, you have to take this one to work with you! It's The Evil Pathologist." He wrote it painstakingly and lovingly on the back of the head.

Cecelia chimed in. "Mom, you have to put it with your rocket ship microscope cleaner." So today when I went to work I created a moon scene to show them tonight. The Evil Pathologist, my rocket scope cleaner, some "moon" sand Cecelia made for me years back, and a nice bright Emergen-C background that looks I think a little otherworldly; planet like. C said it just looked like Emergen-C packaging. Oh well.

I don't need my kids to want to do what I do. But I'm happy they finally think it's kinda cool. Confession: I wiped the dust off of the shelf before I took the pic.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Guest post: I'm more like the night-time babysitter

Sometimes I feel like the night time babysitter. I am an Ob/Gyn resident and leave every morning before my 16 month old wakes up (she's a great sleeper, I should be happy). I come home and feed my daughter dinner and supervise the bath, zip up the PJs, watch a cartoon and cuddle while she drinks her bottle, and then its "night night time" and I'm done being a mommy for the day. I could keep her up later but she's tired, and I don't want her being on a special schedule just because her mommy is a doctor.

I hate being a doctor these days. I don't feel important or empowered like people say I should. I know my daughter will one day look up to me as a role model and feel proud of my career, but right now I think she just needs a mommy at home. I don't envy anyone except my stay-at-home mom friends. I wish I knew what it was like to be totally frustrated after a long day of cleaning up plastic toys and missed naps. I wish I knew what it was like to be lonely from lack of adult interaction. Instead I'm stuck taking care of people I don't know all day and getting yelled at by attendings.

I know I'm a "grass is always greener" type of girl, but many days I think I could walk away from this job and never look back. But what would everyone else think? What would my father, who paid for medical school, say? I'm "almost done" with residency-1 year and 2 months left to go, but it feels like forever. I'm already counting down until the day I graduate, so I can take a few months off, and then start whatever Hospitalist job will let me work the least amount of hours. Exactly the kind of career I used to think was an unambitious waste of a medical degree. 

I don't give myself a break or a pat on the back for managing everything. I make sure my house is fully stocked at all times, I sign my daughter up for all of the best classes and lessons (to go to with her nanny). She has an impeccable wardrobe and fresh cooked vegetables in the fridge at the start of most weeks. But I torture myself that I'm not home enough. I cried when my daughter had food poisoning for the first time and I was stuck at work overnight. I refuse to sleep during the day post-call -- what a waste of bonding time. Being a working mom is hard. Being a resident and mom is even harder, but I don't regret having my daughter, she's the best thing that's ever happened to me. I guess I'm crazy, because despite what I've been through these past 16 months, we're trying for baby #2 right now!

Sara, Ob/Gyn Resident (PGY-3)

Saturday, April 26, 2014

MiM Mail: Timing is everything

Dear Mothers in Medicine,

I am not yet a mother or in medicine, but I’m currently trying for both. I guess I was never able to do just one thing at a time. I am 32 years old and I’m applying to medical school this year. My husband I were thrilled when we recently found out I was pregnant. Unfortunately the pregnancy ended at seven weeks. We are recovering and will hopefully be given the green light to start trying again soon. But now timing is an issue. I was hoping to have a baby that would be at least a few months old before starting school. Our chances of achieving that are getting slimmer each month. I could try to time things to have a baby at the end of MS1, but it took us a while to get pregnant the first time and I doubt our ability to conceive on demand. Surprise, surprise, these things are pretty difficult to plan.

My plan for now is to continue trying for both. If I’m lucky enough to have a healthy pregnancy that ends up having a delivery date close to my matriculation date, I suppose I will defer for a year. I wonder what all of you, having experience with both motherhood and medicine, would do in this situation? Would you stop trying for those months that would lead to a delivery around the time medical school would begin? Would you defer? Would you just not worry about it and wait for the perfect storm to occur? Thank you in advance, and thank you for all of your words of wisdom – I’ve been reading for quite a while!


Thursday, April 24, 2014

Guests of the month

My husband and I made one New Year's Resolution for 2014 together: to have friends over for dinner more regularly. Whenever we do, we love it, and the kids have a blast. However, it has always seemed like a lot of effort to coordinate, to clean ("clean" underestimates the amount of prep our house needs to be able to be opened to the public), and it's just so much easier not to do it. Plus, we're introverts. Now, it's not like we are hermits or anything (although I don't really know what a normal social life with a family is), but we both agreed that having people over more would be good for our whole family. I'd estimate that last year we probably had people maybe 4 or 5 times, but we are aiming to host dinner once a month.

As of April, we've had four families over - including neighbors, good friends we don't get to see enough of, friends we haven't seen since grad school, and new friends from church. We are loving it. We've relaxed some of that need-to-have-a-perfect-house compulsion when entertaining - and no one has run out screaming yet. (Still have some degree of compulsion, I won't lie, but it's definitely less severe that it was. Think: overall order with occasional pockets of entropy. We have a butcher cart in the kitchen that is so hopelessly disordered from top to bottom, we joke about pushing that whole thing out the front door one day in joyful riddance, imagining it dropping off the porch stairs and going straight into the garbage truck. Well, half-joke. At least I'm only half-joking. We also still have zebra streamers up from a wild-animal-themed birthday party many moons ago that will stay up until they degrade on their own. I personally enjoy the added festivity, and will enjoy it until I can't stand it anymore.)

And the kids. They run around screaming like lunatics, chasing each other in pure joy, even with children they are meeting for the first time. (Don't you miss that?)

It has been surprisingly effortless to invite people, and we're always talking about who we're going to have over next.  So far so good. Reward to effort ratio remains favorable, and no sight of inertia setting in...yet. Having the house look presentable for longer than the 1 hour after it is cleaned every two weeks (sometimes the house destabilizes in 20 minutes thanks to 3 very talented children) has the added benefit of keeping me in a better mood. And, if we skip a month or two or three...no pressure. We'll take it as long as the motivation lasts.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Guest post: Coming home

I come downstairs after grabbing a few hours sleep in between busy night shifts. I can hear Rose crying in frustration at once again trying to grab the key from the back door. I walk into the chaos in the kitchen. My husband is absorbed in the  newspaper surrounded by the toddler carnage. Why is there breakfast still on the table? Why have the pots and pans been pulled out of the cupboards?  Has she really got porridge still stuck on her forehead and what on earth is she wearing? Oh and why is she chewing hay from the barn?

I open my mouth to say something but hesitate and hold my tongue. I remember that it's his turn to look after Rose while I am in work mode. We do things differently- I'm the surgeon with the perfectionist streak wanting everything to be tidy and clean; he is the artist and is happy to let Rose run free and wild. I smile to myself. 

"Family hug?" I pick up Rose and we all collapse on the sofa together in a warm embrace. A memory to take with me to work that night. Invaluable.

Lotte is a 33 year old general surgery registrar in the UK with an 18 month old daughter Rose and a non medical husband. She works full time.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Consumer Driven Healthcare - Where is it Going?

After I read Red Humors blog on Open Notes, I struck up a discussion with a radiologist friend. We commiserate over laws and loopholes in laws that cause system abuse. I am so happy that Obama recommended to close the loophole in the Stark Law in his 2015 budget. That loophole has created some rampant abuse.

I worry about and applaud the possible effects of patients being able to read their notes online. We doctors need our own forum to make notes without worrying about hurting our patient's feelings. But patients also need to be able to review the discussion in the doctor's office in their own space, with all of their mental focus. Open Notes seems like a step in the right direction, but not entirely. We need two spaces. One for the patient, and one for the doctor.

When I was in CT, waiting on a specimen from the lung to review, I was telling the radiologist about Red Humor's blog topic. He told me that there is a push to the radiologists for the patient to be able to see their diagnosis online, as soon as it is available, before they have even discussed it with the clinician.


I wrote a post here before, called Poker Face. In a nutshell, it was about me accidentally conveying during fellowship a patient's negative diagnosis by delaying my answer too long when being probed directly by the patient. It was an excruciating experience that taught me to use expert words to delay the fact that I knew someone's cancer had returned or was diagnosed or had metastasized. After all, I am just a pathologist. I have no treatment options or good perspective on prognosis and treatment. That is Red Humor's job, not mine.

The radiologist worried, as I do, that all the great tools and information that our oncologists and clinicians have to offer a patient will not be there, in the privacy of their own home, while they are reading the ominous information. He worried aloud that the information might overwhelm them. As he was saying that he mimed a gun to his head. I completely agree.

There is way too much misinformation out there on the internet and you need an educated professional to reassure and guide you through it. I depend on my mechanic to fix my car. I depend on my accountant to do my taxes. As doctors, our patients need to depend on us to pick them up when all seems lost.

Last week the New York Times released a big article allowing patients to look up how much their doctors received from Medicare over the last year. It's telling information, but muddy. We doctors enjoyed googling each other to find out who is getting what. Pathologists are at the bottom of the list. If you consider Medicare reimbursement is about 30% of overall practice (in conjunction with private insurance), the information is not enough. It's a step in the right direction, but like many steps mentioned above, it falls short.

I see the need for change in healthcare. But the problems are multifactorial, and it will take lots of time and energy to fix them. In the meantime, let's try to keep a proper perspective to protect our patients. Let's delve back into the reasons we went into medicine in the first place. To help people, to protect and serve. Don't give them information in the privacy of their own homes that they aren't equipped to deal with, or anything that might hurt their feelings. That's a nasty can of worms that doesn't need to be opened.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


I'm having a lot of trouble trying to relax.

Lately I've been just completely overwhelmed with the stress of working and managing two kids. My mind is always whirling with all the things I need to do. Feels a bit like the entire universe rests on my shoulders. It doesn't help that when I'm going to the bathroom there's usually somebody knocking on the door within 30 seconds asking when I'm coming out.

It's stressful.

For that reason I've really been trying hard to think of ways to relax. I know meditation would help me but it's just very hard to do. I can't seem to turn my brain off. Plus there isn't that much time to do it.

What are ways in which you relax?

Monday, April 14, 2014

Guest post: Tales of a hybrid doctor/stay at home Mum-- Part II

April, 2014.

That day five years ago, was the lowest point. (see Part I) Today I work “full time” (whatever that means!) in what is probably my dream job: a perfect mix of innovative clinical care, cutting edge research, medical education and being a leader in my chosen specialty. I am on faculty at one of the most prestigious medical schools in the world and get to work with the brightest and the best, in an environment that is intellectually rewarding and super collegial. …and I feel this is just the beginning!

My husband (who got a raw deal in part I—sorry babe) and I have never been closer and more happier in our marriage—we are both fulfilled in our careers, but most importantly, feel like we are reaping the rewards of our hybrid parenting model now: family life is fun, filled with endless bliss and joy.

Our kids (now 10 and 6) are doing fantastic: healthy, happy and thriving at school and play.

Don’t get me wrong-- it’s a juggling act, for sure, but we are juggling joy and I have never felt more balanced in my life.

Still, the reason I wrote part I is that I never wanted to minimize (or forget) the complicated journey (and decisions) I endured to get me to where I am today.

I only wish my 2014 self could have whispered in the ear of my 2009 self and told her the following:

#1. It will get easier as the kids get older; there will be new parenting challenges and hurdles but the physical dependency will be less and that will give you more freedom. Be patient.

#2.You (as Mum and Dad) have to do what feels right to you (as parents).  This is unique for every single family in the world.You have to decide how best to work to your strengths as a team.Never compromise on your childcare beliefs and preferences.  Do what you think is the right thing to do and everything else will fall into place with time. Your husband is your biggest supporter of your talent and career.  This is, in part, because he is equally passionate, ambitious and talented in his own career.  It’s hard to have two parents be ambitious at the same time when there are two young kids at home.  Right now, you have both agreed it makes sense that it should be his turn, one day it will be yours.  Be patient.

#3. Whatever you do, don’t “opt out”.  You will get deskilled and limit your future career options.  Keep up the hybrid model—it will work to your favor in the end.

#4.  Think of work as a career not as a job.  Keep investing in yourself. When the kids nap/sleep engage in scholarly activities that will keep your CV looking attractive.  You feel like a tortoise right now (and I know you hate that, because you are not a tortoise type of gal) but slow and steady will win the race (one day).

#5.  Stay connected to the reasons you became a physician in the first place.  Don’t’ let anyone distract you from that—these are crucial reasons that are core to your identity as a human being.

#6. Your ARE privileged. Your job entails you coming up with creative solutions to some of the world’s most difficult problems—you impact humanity every time you work.  You also get paid better than most, have societal respect and a “voice” AND have the option to work “part time”.  Many working mothers do not have that type of job. Be GRATEFUL

#7. Don’t become a hovering parent—you have seen them, overeducated parents with time on their hands creating projects in the school so that they can get called to implement them!  Be a good citizen in the school but better you put your skills to use in a zip code that needs your specialized skill set, not the zip code where your kids are lucky enough to live and go to school.

#8. Always DELEGATE non- essential tasks (it will be money well spent) and use that time for love, laughter and being in the moment.  Take care of those who take care of you.

#9. Learn to let go (a little)—it will all be okay.

#10. Don’t pay too much attention to labels, “working mum”; “stay at home mom”; “part time physician”.  Don’t be defined by these terms, they undermine the complexity and power of who you are as an individual. You are unique, you will find a way to make it all work.

Above all remember:

Becoming a mother has made you a better physician and remaining a practicing physician has made you a better mother.

Dr. S is a married physician and mother of two.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

MiM Mail: Banking for the future?

Hi Mothers in Medicine,

I am writing to ask for advice. I am a 28-year-old 2nd year medical student about to take Step 1. I got married last year. I don't want to have children until I am done with residency but I'm not sure how long residency will last because I'm not sure what I want to go into. I recently became aware of an opportunity to participate in a research study of natural IVF that would offer me a free cycle. I love the idea of having my eggs (or maybe an embryo) stored away for future use and not having to worry about my fertility anymore. I hate procedures though and I have a lot of anxiety about pain-inducing procedures (like egg retrieval). Can anybody give me some perspective on this?


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

open notes

Today our electronic charting system was moved to Open Notes, which will allow patients to access their clinic notes online.

This was not a voluntary transition, nor is it specific to oncology. Notes from all outpatient clinic visits – including cancer counseling (Not considered “mental health”) are now available for online viewing.

I was once told that you shouldn’t write anything into a patient’s medical record that you wouldn’t have to read aloud in court. While this does seem like an extremely “CYA” way of practicing (or at least documenting) medicine, it is still sound advice. Medical records are not confidential and patients have a legal right to them.

But prior to Open Notes, a patient would have to go down to medical records and request a copy of their chart. This took some effort on their part, an effort that might have come about because they felt mistreated or that there had been a gap or misstep in their care.  That is no longer the case – the same records are now available for casual online viewing on the couch for a very different purpose.

The argument for Open Notes is that patients will participate in their care more if they understand the doctor’s assessment of their condition and care plan.  Last night I heard an NPR bit about the difficulties of getting people with low-reimbursement health care plans into see physicians. The story featured a woman in her fifties who had been trying to see a physician for months, and when she finally did was told to stop smoking, modify her diet, and get some exercise. My initial reaction was to wonder why people need a doctor to tell advise them on such basic tenets of personal health. But we, as physicians, are told time and time again that patients who hear “stop smoking” from a doctor are more likely to do it than if they hear it from a friend or family member.

So maybe Open Notes will help get some people engaged in their health, and to understand their “goals” as we see them – LDL, Hgb A1C, prolonged survival without likelihood of cure, etc. But the same studies that show patients engage more when they can read the doctor’s notes also confirm that patients do not react well to seeing “morbid obesity” or “noncompliance” documented in their chart. From a medical perspective, those are important aspects of a patient or his/her behavior that influence why I do what I do. Chemotherapy can be dosed on ideal or actual body weight. If a patient has a history of being non-compliant, I might be more inclined to prescribe neutropenic fever prophylaxis than I would otherwise.  Abbreviations are also a problem - we were asked to use the EPIC autocorrect function to change SOB to read “shortness of breath”.

But I also use my notes to remind myself about the personal aspects of a patient’s life – that their son is getting married next month or that their mother is dying or that that their spouse is not a very good source of emotional support. I suspect I will do less of this type of documentation in the future.

The other reason my group adopted Open Notes is that our competitors are doing the same – a patient’s ability to access their medical record online will become the standard of care in the future and we might as well get used to it now.  Although I have strong suspicion that Open Notes will generate more questions than it answers, and that my tendency will be to write less, I am trying to withhold judgment.

And maybe it will be helpful – maybe if a patient reads that I documented his need to stop smoking, he will take me more seriously. Maybe a patient who reads that I wrote that her marriage is rocky will see I understand she’s dealing with more than just a cancer diagnosis. Maybe fewer patients will claim to have “never been told this isn’t curable” when they read it online.

I don’t know. TBD.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Guest post: The morning departure

The whole drive to work I relish in the wet spot left on my cheek from the sweet goodbye kiss of my two year old son.  It was tough to leave today.   Never wanting to just disappear on my little one I always say goodbye and explain I'm off to be "Dr. Pohl" for the day. This is a funny concept that my two year old disputed at first, saying "You're not a doctor, you're a mommy!"  Well I'm both.

This particular morning everything about my little guy was endearing and I wanted to capture every cute phrase and silly look. It was a "this is it" morning - ordinary and wonderful. Aiden running around in his footed pj's and his baby sister lounging in the boppy. I'm in the kitchen packing up my breast pump and he yells to me "She smiled a big one at me!"

When it is time to finally depart he clings to me, giving me the cuddle I desperately try to get from him when I have the time to enjoy it. He follows me to the door, and against my better judgement, I lift him up again. He then contorts his little body so I can't put him down.  I plead with my husband to come help me. I say, "My heart is breaking," because it is.  He takes him from me and each kisses me goodbye. Then they wave from the window.  I put on a show of waving wildly back but I'm close to tears.

I carry the feel of that kiss all the way into the hospital, cherishing it-  until I finally wipe it off, crumbs and all, to put on my mask.

Dr. Pohl is an anesthesiologist with a 2 year old and a 4 month old.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Homeschooling options for the busy parent

My husband and I are products of public school education. Don’t get me wrong, we are both extremely motivated and successful but we both believe that our education was lacking in very significant ways. My husband now teaches college students who have only been taught under “No Child Left Behind” and we are both very concerned about the results of this method of learning. As the parents of an extremely bright and energetic 2.5 year old, many of our conversations revolve around preparing him for a future that requires tools that traditional education will not provide him with.

One of my best friends from college who is an innovative teacher and curriculum developer attended Montessori schools for her early education. The methods she used to remain organized during college amazed me. She color-coded and charted and organized in ways that I did not even know existed. Studying for me was always about picking up my book, reading, taking notes in the margins, and more reading. It wasn’t until medical school that I learned how I most effectively studied. I began drawing funny caricatures (nothing close to Netter’s) and charting and mapping things out so that I could better process the material and retain it later. As a second year Resident I still use this method. I can’t even imagine how much stress could have been relieved and how much better I could have learned if I studied better earlier.

Back to Zo, my little genius in the making. He amazes us. He is more than a sponge. Every day he comes home and does and says something new; something that makes us pause, smile, and say "how/when did he learn that?!?" My husband and I are exposing him to as many good things as we can. We listen to music (kiddie things like the Dino V, adult things like soul, jazz, rap, classical) and dance all of the time. He helps us cook (he mixes), plays outside, goes to museums. He attends an amazing Spanish-immersion daycare and knows more Spanish than both of us. We got rid of our TV when he was an infant, though he does watch a few hours of Netflix Dinosaur Train and Turtle Tales on the weekends while we straighten up and prepare breakfast. Every 2 weeks we get a new book kit from the library that contains 15 books on a toddler-friendly subject.

But he’s learning so fast and I know he can learn more, I just don’t know how. I read Amy Chua’s Tiger Mom and I’m not a fan of her parenting philosophy, but I will incorporate some of the things that I agree with and like. I want Zo to learn the best way he can, I want him to learn a martial art, to be fluent in another language (Spanish), and play an instrument (kind of got this from Chua and Fifty Shades of Grey, LOL!). I belonged to an amazing mommy-group in the mid-Atlantic before starting residency where many mothers home-schooled and their children were so inquisitive and learned; it was inspiring. I love being a doctor and homeschooling full-time is just not an option for us. 

I have begun researching “homeschooling” options for working parents and am looking for more resources. If you have done modified homeschooling or know anyone who does, please send them my way. I promise to keep you all updated on our progress. Things will be kept very simple since we only have a toddler, but I’m sure as he ages, I will find other fun, innovative ways to supplement what he learns at school. 

So for this week’s "Homeschooling for the Busy Parent" activity:

- lots of fun time and play, dancing, riding our bikes outside, and time at the playground
- nightly reading of our colors books
- I will make some simple flash cards and we will focus on primary colors and then secondary colors using a concept called “isolation” that I learned on YouTube from a video-blog called “Preschool Homeschool”

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Sentinel Lymph Nodes

Sen.ti.nel: A soldier or guard whose job is to stand and keep watch.

I have a close friend who was standing in the shower one day and noticed a lump under her arm. She is in medicine, and despite trying to blow it off she knew what it might herald, and eventually manned (I mean womanned!) up and made herself an appointment with a breast surgeon. Ten years ago she was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. She had a mastectomy with lymph node dissection. She had treatment. She got off her meds, had a child at 47. She has a handsome first grader. She is in her early 50's and she looks like a movie star in her late 30's.

I look at a lot of sentinel lymph nodes. Sure, there are other ones besides those in the breast axilla, but they are by far the most routine. The surgeon injects a radioactive tracer attached to blue dye around the tumor and follows the  path to the nodes that the tumor cells would take to locate them. There are a bunch of nodes in the axilla, but chances are if the cancer is not in the sentinel nodes - the guards - then it won't have traveled any farther. There are exceptions to the rule but like most rules the exceptions they are few and far between.

In the gross room we receive the sentinel nodes and our techs do a gross analysis. Lymph nodes are floppy and brown-grey, much the size and consistency of a kidney bean. Massive metastases are grossly obvious - stellate, white hard infiltrates scream positivity, which is easily confirmed by microscopic examination. But many metastases are insidious - not grossly obvious. We do step examination of multiple levels of sentinel lymph nodes (sometimes there are more than one) which can fill a tray or two of slides (20 slides per tray).

When I get a tray or two of sentinel lymph nodes I often wait until I have a cup of coffee to settle down and look at them - it takes time and major focus. The kidney bean shaped node is full of small round blue cells called lymphocytes with reactive germinal center follicles - white round circles dotting the blue landscape. The border contains the sinus of the node - the most likely place (a small space) for occult isolated tumor cells or clusters of cancer to sneak into. If you blink you might miss some. It takes slow and methodical cruising at high power. I occasionally sub at breast conference for my partner who presents at it regularly, and I am continually amazed at the tiny, almost invisible foci my partners unfold. I know how hard it is to really see that. I have great respect for the amount of time and effort it demands to discover it. I know, I do it too, it's part of the job, but it continually amazes me.

These days we routinely use pancytokeratin immunostains to look for small, isolated tumor cells and clusters. While this is a nice adjunct to help us sleep better at night, it is not a safeguard or panacea to allow us to slack on the job of the routine H&E slide. I have seen cancer cells on H&E that are cut away on the special stains. I have seen cancer cells on the special stains that are not on the H&E (this stands for hematoxylin and eosin - the pink and blue Easter egg colors that we use to stain all tissue for examination). It's enough to keep you up on a bad night, wondering what you might have missed.

You would never guess my friend had metastatic breast cancer - I didn't even know for the first few years I knew her - she was diagnosed before I met her. She has shared struggles with treatment side effects but doesn't touch on what I know I would obsess over - fears of leaving behind my children. She is a perfect picture of poise, elegance, and grace. But she has this underlying Tiger Mom thing, an aggressiveness and intensity that I know must have come with what she has faced in life and dealing with the unknown of the future. Sure, we all have unknowns - I could die in a car crash tomorrow but I haven't dealt with nearly as much adversity as she has in my own personal health arena (yet!).

I love the definition of sentinel. The guard. The lymph node that tries to hold it all in check. I can empathize, as I am sure my friend does too. We women in medicine, and mothers too - we are always on constant watch and hyper-vigilance. For our patient's health, and for that of our children. We can't protect our charges from everything, but that doesn't keep us from trying with all of our power and might. It's the best we can do, and it's good enough.

Thursday, April 3, 2014


I have a few.  One major, a few minor.  I keep reminding myself that I am the kind of person for who the grass is always green on the other side.  So, even had I made other decisions, I would probably have regrets.  Not definitely, but probably.

How do you all deal with your regrets?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

On the Move

A few months ago I bumped into a pulmonologist in the doctor's lounge I enjoy chatting with. She likes to travel, and I enjoy hearing about her latest trip - I like travel too and would much rather sock new car or house or clothes or jewelry money away and spend it all on traveling. As we were finishing up the conversation she cocked her head, looked at me straight in the eye with a slight smile on her face, and said, "I am so jealous of you pathologists. You get to stay put at your microscope. Do all your work at the same hospital. We are running around all day."

I was so shocked I didn't answer her, but as I walked away I thought "What a false impression she has of us!" We run around from hospital to hospital, covering different ORs and radiology rooms in shifts. Maybe not in one day, but certainly up to a fourth or more of the month. Increasingly, outpatient clinics are putting in histology labs, necessitating more travel to do cases - this can demand travel to two or three different places in one day. Furthermore, we dole out lab directorship amongst ourselves, covering the many different labs we service in our overall domain.  This requires weekly or monthly travel to fulfill clinical pathology duties, which are more and more demanding every year with increasing regulations and education requirements. As our designated lab inspector, I travel to different hospitals around the state and outside of it with teams of expert lab technicians as part of our duty to regulatory agencies that certify us as an "approved" laboratory, meaning we hold up to the scrupulous demands that we require of the labs we inspect in return.

This means that I know how to use many different EMR systems and up to four different sign out programs - some of which are hospital based and some of which are internet based. I can access my home computer remotely to juggle work couriered in from different hospitals in attempt to even out the workload amongst all of us, as it changes daily (I do not envy the math that the gross room has to coordinate daily based on workloads at multiple different hospitals and different clinics!). Yes, I am grateful that I am more of an information-gathering voyeur than an interactive participant in the EMR system, for the most part - we do write notes on fine needle aspirates we perform, as well as apheresis procedures. But I think we make up for this on the back end with our individual dictation and report release software. It's ever evolving and more and more confusing as the years progress.

The days of the hospital-based pathologist sitting (hiding) in the office behind a microscope are over, for better or for worse. We are on the move, my dear travel pulmonologist friend - someday I will explain.  In the meantime, envy me with your wrong impression and I will continue to envy your world travels. I'm starting to catch up. Conference in Hawaii in February and Spring Break ski trip last week to Colorado. I'll break the borders as the kids get older. In the meantime, I'm busy enough traveling for work.