Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Moving Misadventure

This one's not about mothering. Or medicine. But at least it has an "M" in front of it, so I'm plowing ahead, competing for the worst moving tale out there.

I've moved a lot in my life. My ex was pretty ADHD about buying houses, and I went along for the ride seven times in our thirteen year marriage. All in the same city; but it was pretty chaotic in retrospect, although simultaneously exciting and exhausting at the time. So I consider myself an expert on moving. No degree, but lots of experience. These last four years in the same house after the divorce were the longest years I've spent in one place since high school.

My boyfriend found this new house for sale while wandering the neighborhood - it's only two blocks from my old one but the space layout is much more efficient for me and the kids - and it has a large backyard with a creek running through it. It backs up to green space. We see a doe and her fawn from time to time - once while eating breakfast. The backyard alone is worth the price of the house, which was a lateral financial move.

I did the reverse of what all the books tell you to do - I bought the house, put mine on the market, and had a stressful Summer. But at the midnight hour I had some buyers come in with a good offer and I unloaded my old house before I had to pay two mortgages. They were living in a hotel, moving from another city, and wanted me out so quick I didn't have time to pack. I worried, but my neighbors said, "We always hire packers, you are going to love it. They bubble wrap the most ridiculous things, like toothpaste." A bit of a splurge, but considering I had no free time until the move I hired a packing and moving company with a decent reputation around town - I learned it was under new ownership since I last used them.

They packed so quick I figured the owner must have dispatched 10 workers. The day of the move, not this past Saturday but the one before, my boyfriend, kids and I were back and forth between the two houses. I had spent my Friday off lining kitchen and bathroom drawers. At around three in the afternoon I got a call from the movers - I was making a quick grocery run. "We have two trucks loaded and will be there in about thirty minutes, after a quick lunch." Game time.

On the way back from the grocery I drove by the old house on the way to the new - smiling at the lack of moving trucks. When I got to the bottom of the street to turn left toward my new house, I encountered a scene. Ambulance, fire trucks, police cars, tons of gawkers in the street. Everyone was looking at this:

It was a moving van, crashed into the corner of a house. I tried in vain to wrap my head around how it might not be mine then decided to pull over and check it out. Apparently the truck's brakes went out ("We serviced them in house three weeks ago!" the owner assured me) and the truck careened down the hill at 40 mph. The passenger mover bailed out onto the street in fear, damaging his ribs, and the driver went to the ED with back and neck problems. One of the head movers I had gotten to know pretty well told me it was all my boxes, the furniture was on another truck. 

The owners of the house that was hit - they were inside watching a Razorback game - said they thought a tree had fallen on their house (it happened to them two years ago during a winter storm - tree narrowly missed killing their son. They wondered aloud if this was a sign to get the heck out of the house). All the living room pictures flew off the wall onto the floor. The front door frame was off; a sure sign of structural damage. Windowpanes were cracked upstairs and down. I'm not sure I started off on the right foot as a new neighbor. 

My stuff was finally offloaded to another truck at about 10 pm so the wrecked truck could be towed. My daughter and I brought the movers dinner. They had a messy job - crushed vinegar and bleach dripped onto their legs from wet boxes. My anxiety creeped in over what further damage was being done to the contents of my life. My daughter took this pic at the front of the van - scattered with my and my kids scarves and mittens; many boxes ruptured and contents flew. "Mom, look! The ultimate Elf on the Shelf. Funny it ended up on the dashboard."

The owner blew in for about five minutes during the evening blustering and blowing off the event, worrying over his troubles, "Another of my vans ran over my employees' car last week! And now this!" without much empathy for my stuff. The next day no one showed up until 1:00 - my boyfriend and I worked for three hours until they arrived. We both got cut - there was tons of broken glass. I learned why the packing happened so fast - it was the most slipshod job I've ever seen. Unpacking was like an emotional roller coaster - joy at what made it and sorrow at what didn't. Hopes and talk of repair. Kid gifts over the years, vacation mementos, art, picture frames; all shattered. For the first time in seven years at my job, I thought of calling in. But work was comfort Monday compared to the chaos of the move. 

Caption: Cecelia baby footprint butterfly plate broken in four pieces: this is in the repair pile.

As the week wore on insult was added to injury. The entire contents of my bathroom was poured into one large box. Cleaning busted make up meticulously off of curling iron cords and plugs rendered unpacking each box a glacial event. Soy sauce off of every food item. As I opened each box, I kept expecting someone to pop out and say, "Guess what, you are on Candid Camera!" When the owner asked for the money for the move on Tuesday, "I thought you would pay me and then I would reimburse your damages at 60 cents per pound," I told him my damages had already far exceeded the cost of the move (I did tip heavily and buy dinner for the movers both nights). Twenty to thirty percent of my dishes and glasses and vases were crushed. I was so angry at the beginning of the week I was calling lawyers but by Thursday and Friday I was just sad and tired and defeated. 

And now I am ready to move on and put it in the past.

Good news: 

My new house is awesome Jack has a zillion new friends they all play outdoors and ride bikes and run up and down the creek - he is in Heaven and not on his ipad quite so much.

My just as OCD as me artist/architect boyfriend and I spent the entire weekend making my house look amazing.

My daughter showed amazing empathy - giving up her goal of going to the new local popsicle shop that weekend (I snuck her there late Sunday in gratitude) for helping arrange, after her room, my medicine cabinet and kitchen. 

Other moving tales I've heard that rival mine:

One of my partner's friends were moving out of state to Wisconsin about ten years ago; the truck caught on fire and they lost 90% of their stuff.

One guy I told knew someone who hired a not mainstream company - the movers took their car keys and came back in the middle of the night the next night and stole their car.

Funniest quote from the hell weekend, as told by my boyfriend:

"When you called me and told me about what happened from the scene of the accident, I was sitting on the back porch with C and told her. She said, 'I guess this means we aren't going to Le Pops tonight.'"

S said, "I'll bet going to Le Pops tonight is the last thing on your mom's mind. Our biggest job right now is to keep her head from spinning off of her neck. Let's not mention Le Pops."

To his and her credit, she didn't. Which is why I was moved to take her Sunday night - snuck away while the boys were eating pizza with the movers. She had salted caramel dipped in milk chocolate and finely crushed cookie crumbs. I had salted caramel dipped in dark chocolate and crushed almonds. We both declared, moaning between amazing bite after bite, that we very much deserved it.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Not a Soccer Mom

If I don't enroll my daughter in soccer this season:

1) she will not make friends

2) she will not get any exercise

3) she will not get a scholarship for college...

4) if she gets into college at all

5) I am just generally a bad parent

It's all about the extracurricular activities once your kid is in grade school. When I was a kid, it was somehow enough that I, you know, went to school. Not anymore.

I've spoken to several parents who have their kids involved in a different afterschool activity every day. Some of those parents work, so I'm not sure how they manage it. They do tend to have jobs where they can work from home. None of them are doctors.

I already have my kids in an afterschool program/daycare every day. Being able to pick them up in time to shuttle them to an extracurricular activity is not really within the realm of reality.

Of course, soccer is on the weekends. So that can't be my excuse. But we already do two different dance classes on the weekends. Is it possible for me to not be shuttling my kids around between extracurricular activities all weekend? I'm tired on weekends, for god's sake.

So my daughter isn't going to be doing soccer this year. I guess I have ruined her life.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Birthday Call: from zero to 60 and then somewhere in the middle in mere hours

40 minutes into my commute to work, I had a pseudo-melt down. As I sang “Happy Birthday” over the phone to my three-year-old, I lost it. I realized that I hadn’t kissed him on his birthday, I’d forgotten my lunch and during a 28 hour call the cafeteria food begins to make me nauseous, and that I was exceedingly anxious about all of the changes our lives will encounter over the next few months.

Needless to say, I’m in the call room after a deluge of discharges, awaiting our next transfer, feeling the urge to write and release this tension.

My Little Zo is three today. Three years ago, on this day, I birthed a fabulous little human being into the world. He’s helped me grow in countless ways. I’ve learned to let go. I’ve learned to give my all in the moment and then pass things off to someone else (to hubby O, to my parents/in-laws, to the wonderful ladies at daycare, to his Pediatrician). I’ve learned that keeping your own kid alive and occupied means breaking lots of rules (my infant slept on his belly after weeks of sleepless nights, my 2 year old ate yogurt and spinach smoothies or oatmeal for dinner on picky-eating nights) and that I am so much more capable than I ever thought imaginable. I’ve realized what’s important (playing legos and dinosaurs before bedtime and leaving my notes until he’s gone to bed, sleep, couple time, giving my all at work and not worrying about my child since he’s taken care of at all times).

In less than a year, I’ll be an Attending and yet another goal will have been achieved. I have had a few successful telephone interviews and I have my first in-person interview in October with a community health system affiliated with my medical school. This morning when I was sobbing, a great friend, KJ, who is now a Pediatrician in private practice gave me her pep-talk. We have these at least once every few months. She tells me about all of the little and big victories she has in her life after residency. She has weekends off and time to be with her boyfriend and her dog. She tells me about her quirky colleagues and her amazing patients. She tells me how different things will be in a few short months.

So, on Little Zo’s third birthday, I went from zero (dragging myself out of bed after an exhausting month on inpatient service during asthma season), to 60 (sobbing in the Starbucks parking lot), to somewhere in the middle. I am thankful for three years of motherhood. Thankful that Zo is vibrant, healthy, active, super-smart, and super-sweet (when he’s not biting or hitting). Thankful for only 3 more days on inpatient service before 2 months of elective and that I've been able to do great work this month and keep folks' babies alive and healthy! Thankful for friends like KJ who understand the struggles of residency-based medical practice. Sad that I wasn’t at home snuggling Zo and our visiting family members. And hopeful of life after residency.

Happy birthday to my little roaring dinosaur - Mommy loves you!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Guest post: What's your plus one?

I love the honesty of Mothers in Medicine. I feel compassion for women stretched so thin between two callings. But I’ve got to ask you this: is there more to your life than motherhood and medicine?

I know, I know. For a lot of years, it’s about sleep and survival. But at some point, you’ve got to do you, right? You’re more than a stethoscope, a uterus, and a pair of lactating breasts.

Maybe I’m not saying this right. I definitely don’t mean to act smug. But I know I always wanted to write. I just didn’t want to starve to death, and I liked helping people, so…boom. Medicine. I studied my little heart out. I loved it. Until I lost the residency match, and I had to decide, am I going to keep chasing that ever-elusive subspecialty dream as hard as I can? Or can I do emergency medicine, see my husband sometimes, start a family, and pick up my pen and write again? I chose the second one. Either road would have been fine, but I’ve built a happy life with my childhood sweetheart and two kids, I’m writing, and I want to tell you not to forget yourself, that secret self that doesn’t necessarily earn money or praise or nurture others, it just is.

Medical-wise, I’ve got privileges at four different hospitals now, and one chief of emerg told me, “No. You can’t do it. You can’t work at four different hospitals. It will kill you.” He also limits his staff’s total number of shifts because he doesn’t want them to burn out. Autocratic? Sure. But he’s the only one I know who treats other physicians like human beings instead of widgets who have to see patients faster and more cheaply every day and night and night and day. We’ve been talking about how not to lose yourself, not become suicidal, not treat each other like garbage. Thinking about yourself as an individual and not just a service—I’d say that’s the first step. Plus, I thought it would be fun to talk about our secret selves.

Melissa (aka ACLS)
Emergency doctor/writer, mother of an 8 y.o. boy and 3 y.o. girl, in Canada

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

MiM Mail: Getting the milk home

Hi MiM,

Avid follower of five years (you got me through training...almost! Last year of fellowship. Thank you!).

Very concrete question:
I have to leave my nursing nine month old for two days and two nights for a conference (he is currently seven months old and I am anxious about this process). I will have to bring my pump, but I need some suggestions about getting the milk home. Carry on airplane with ice (does this entail a bigger ordeal since I won't have an infant with me)? Mail with dry ice? What has worked for fellow MiMs? I really appreciate your advice. I'm worried about the separation and channelling my anxiety into figuring out this milk transportation situation!

Dedicated MiM follower

Monday, September 15, 2014

Why Is Residency So Harmful? (And What Can We Do About It?)

Genmedmom here.

I'd like to thank "J the intern" for her post on physician depression and suicide on 9/9/14, as it prompted me to read Pranay Sinha's excellent New York Times Op-Ed piece "Why Do Doctors Commit Suicide?" He discusses what may have contributed to two recent intern suicides, namely, the shock of graduating from well-supported medical student to overburdened resident drowning in the macho medical culture. He describes his early intern year as "marked by severe fatigue, numerous clinical errors [], a constant and haunting fear of hurting my patients, and an inescapable sense of inadequacy."

Ah, yes. Residency.

In the comments to J the intern's post, OMDG brings up as additional factor to consider: "the elephant in the room... sometimes doctors treat each other like garbage".

Yup, I agree with that one, too. No one is more cruel to the suffering than the suffering. Many of my own emotional injury during training was at the hands of my colleagues. But, I know that I lashed out as well. We all hurt each other. I'd like to expound on that, if I may.

I well remember being humiliated on rounds, Monday-morning quarterbacked by someone fresh and showered. I cringe as I recall snapping at my intern for waking me up to check on a patient she was worried about. I'd been snapped at in a similar way as an intern. I remember with sinking stomach the disdain and sarcasm I received when I tried to teach a medical student a very simple procedure, and then couldn't do it myself. I still get angry when I think about the patients who suffered as my residents tried to teach me paracentesis, central line insertions, lumbar puncture- and failed on their attempts. I know my anger showed then. When our colleagues rotating at a small outside hospital transferred a sick patient to us in the emergency room, and it turned out to be a case of lab error, no pathology, there was derision all-around: "They dropped us a turkey, guys." When I was worried about a sick patient and called for an ICU consult, the ICU resident came, and told me I could handle it. "Don't be a wuss. Be a real doctor."

The cruelty towards women was pervasive. A pregnant resident had an early miscarriage. Still bleeding, she asked to be excused from her outpatient clinic. The chief, a woman, said no. "Just think of it like your period," she said.

A colleague went out on maternity leave six weeks early, for premature labor. Another resident was pulled from an outpatient elective to cover the rest of her rotation on the floors. The resident who was pulled was very resentful, angry to tears. "Why the f-- would anyone want to have a baby during residency? Why?" Another answered, "I'll never understand it. It's so selfish."

It's well-known that medical training erodes empathy. It took years for me to recover from residency, to feel like I could even begin to take care of people again. Literally. I did a research fellowship for three years, in large part because I couldn't imagine returning to clinical practice.

But, why did I feel this way, when my residency program was well- regarded, with many opportunities to share, reflect, even write? Why were so many of us injured and angered by our experience? So many of us recall their training with a shudder, vowing "I wouldn't revisit those years for all the money in the world."

That's just not right. How can we change it?

Open discussions confronting the cruelty of medical training may help. As a medical student, I was rotating on surgery. A rural hospital transferred a very sick patient to us, someone who had been misdiagnosed and suffered greatly. As the case was reported on rounds, there was loud derision and disgust expressed towards the rural docs. But one senior surgeon, someone so intimidating and revered that just a movement of his hand silenced the crowd, quietly admonished:

"There's no point in criticizing. Your fellow physician took the same oath you did. Assume that they tried, and that they feel terribly. We have all made mistakes, and we will all make many more. Don't waste your time on judgment."

End of that discussion, and it made an impression on me. Don't waste your time on judgment. I think, as teachers, we need to stand up and say that, and live that. Be real doctors.

We also need to dismantle that confusing paradigm of training: You are here to learn, but you should already know how to do it. Sinha also illustrates this in his essay. You were a coddled student in June, and then the doctor in July. You feel like you're supposed to know it all, because everyone is acting like they do know it all. Everyone's got a front. To ask for help is to be weak.

I remember very early in training, asking how, exactly, to write a prescription. I'd never written one before.

Oh, the rolling of eyes, the quick snappish explanation. I was so upset, I didn't catch it all. I spied on other people writing prescriptions and copied them. Seriously, how the heck are you supposed to know how to write a prescription if no one's really taught you?

How are you supposed to know how to be a doctor, if no one's really taught you?

I'm interested to hear what others' experiences have been, good and bad, with an eye towards practical suggestions. How do you think medical training be reformed?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Balancing parts of me

It's time to buy a new car.  Would seem a straightforward decision, but true to my planning nature, I'm trying to fulfil a number of requirements.  My eldest, HG, will apply for his learners permit in 4 more years, which falls within the lifetime of this car.  Although I want to buy a military tank in which to encase him, I realise this is not terribly practical.  So I set about looking for a safe car, the safest car if I'm honest, and find that the European (read expensive) cars have unquestionably more safety features than the locally built models.  But it comes with a big price tag, and whilst I wish to keep him safe, I also don't want him driving around in a luxury car that smacks of entitlement.  To be honest, such a car is not really me either.  I'm not sure if this fixation on ultimate safety is borne out of my work in seeing people smashed up by car accidents, and having a real appreciation for the value of life, or whether it's just me.

Of course, such dilemmas started with his birth - the safest cot, safest pram etc so this dissonance is nothing new.  A car is a much bigger investment than a pram though.  So, do I go with my cautious MiM nature and buy the European car with all the latest safety features, in case he's ever in an accident?  Or something more moderate - good enough in the safety stakes - and more in keeping with my non-flashy nature and what I'm trying to teach him about life?  Has being a MiM ever swayed your buying/life decisions?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

MiM Mail: Physician depression and suicide

Dear Mothers in Medicine,

Long time reader here and new resident now (2 months in and there's no lookin' back). I was struck by the recent heartbreaking op-ed onphysician suicide in the New York Times. It was especially poignant to me because I'm at the same place in my training as the residents who took their lives. Each night I go home and think about my patients, but I also find myself worrying about my friends and colleagues from medical school in more grueling and less understanding specialities than my own. I know intern year is rough for us all, and I hope they are doing okay. And I'm terrified because I'm a female physician who's struggled with depression in the past (not currently) and I know the grim statistics on female physician depression and suicide rates.

What have you done when you've seen colleagues struggling? How do you handle your own struggles in a field that often overlooks the deep mental and emotional toll this work takes on a person?

- J the intern

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Nanny Search??

My husband and I recently decided that daycare is no longer a good fit for our daughter, for many reasons.  We are now starting to look for a nanny.  I am reaching out to the MiM community to see if anyone could give any words of wisdom on finding a good nanny??  I have signed up for, but there are so many nannies available and I can't figure out how to weed out the good from the bad!

Also, if anyone has used a nanny cam, can you recommend a good brand?

ALSO, if anyone has a good idea for keeping personal items safe within the home, how would they recommend I do so? (I assume get a safe? But curious if anyone has any other ideas.)


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

What's your idea of fun?

Our health centers are “medical homes” now, so I have to come to accept (but not necessarily embrace) my allotted turn or assignment to work, i.e. see pediatric patients, on an occasional Saturday. Periodically, I am able to trade these away, so they end up being few and far between. After a full day of patient care on a recent Saturday on a recent 3-day holiday weekend, my family (me included) were out to dinner and a colleague happened to be picking up dinner at the restaurant where we were dining. She came over to make small talk, and I mentioned I'd just come from working the whole day.

My young son then chimes in with, “But mom, for you, work is fun, so it’s not so bad.”

And that got me thinking about whether or not it is fun. Of course, there are all kinds of fun. Family fun is our recent amusement/water park trip, swimming in any lake, ocean, or gorge together, and family movie night. My individual "fun" is going on a long run, doing the Sunday NY Times crossword puzzle, or simply sleeping late.

But the perception that work is fun has got me thinking. Indeed, a lot of pediatrics and teaching is, when my patients giggle and the toddlers talk and my students are inspired and inspiring. And my work is gratifying. It feels meaningful. But at times it is heart-wrenching. I’m intrigued that “fun” is how I portray my work to my children, or that this is how they perceive my orientation towards what takes me from them day to day. That this one word (fun) has encapsulated their mom’s chosen career path.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Self advocacy - why is it so hard?

It’s funny how a few things collide, to suddenly make life crystal clear. It’s job application time for me, and I was lucky enough to receive three offers, strangely enough covering the gamut of work life balance from no after hours to full on subspecialty. After much deliberation, I chose the job that would best complement all my roles – mother, wife, doctor, furry friends owner, health advocate wannabe – you all know the list. I recognised I was burnt out, and at risk of leaving medicine altogether if I didn’t make an active decision to change my hours and where I was headed. Both my husband and I are in high level, full time roles, something I never felt comfortable with for the children. Here was my opportunity to make a change more in line with what I wanted for my family. I’m a firm believer in if-something-isn’t-right-fix-it, don’t just wish or whinge! Fast forward one week - past all the happiness at finally making a decision, the peace that the decision was right for me and mine, excitement of starting a new job, the daydreams and plans to incorporate fitness, walk the furry friends, spend more time with hubby and children - to today. I’m catapulted from a state of contented decision-making bliss into Guilt – guilt I now know is ‘doctor guilt’ (thank you Emily). It deserves a capital G, don’t you think, for the central place it often plays in women’s lives? So what happened?

Well a couple of things. Firstly, taking this new, wonderful job involves resigning from my current job, something that I’ve never had to do before (I’m yet to do this, because I’m waiting on a formal contract). It also means leaving a path I’d always thought I’d follow, and jumping into a reasonably unknown area for me. After making my decision, I had a conversation with the boss of the subspecialty I’d originally planned to follow, creating doubt in my mind that I’d made the correct choice. She wanted me to take her job offer, and I felt like I was letting her down in choosing not to. It was also ‘known’. After the ‘doctor guilt’ came self recrimination – in resigning, I am jumping ship, baling out, leaving colleagues in the lurch. In reality, my position is actually supernumerary at present, so in actual fact, no-one is left in the lurch, but my soon to be old hospital won’t remember that. I’m now the person I never thought I’d be – the one who leaves a post early.

This really forced me to choose what was important to me. I sat down and thought long and hard about my values, what I considered ethical, the life I wanted for my family, the sort of mother I wanted to be, and whether that married with my current workload (no surprises the answer is no). I pictured myself in each of the three jobs, and tried to see how I felt, what my reactions were. I read widely, trying to build a picture of my future career options. I came across an article about women failing to speak up when sexually harassed and why we are all so ingrained to be ‘good girls’, to not create waves, keep everyone else happy. I had many long chats with close medical friends, trusted senior colleagues, and my husband, who all agreed I should take this job. People who, like me, would never ordinarily leave a post early. I was told leaving a post early is common, people do it all the time. Not me though. Never me. In an ideal world, I would ask to start the new job when this one finishes, in five months time. That’s the path of least resistance.

But spending another week, let alone another month, in my current position is too long. My family needs to make a change now. As well as that, moving now saves me time at the end – possibly nearly a year of time (due to retrospectively counting some of this year, something that probably won’t happen if I don’t move until next year). The next five months in my current job is surplus to my training needs. So, for the first time in my life, I’ve chosen to do what is right for me. I’m going to take the community based, no after hours or on call job, and I’m going to start in 4 weeks. All I have to do now, is tell them. Resign. Although I’ve decided, I still question it, and probably will, until my contract arrives, and I have to make the decision final.

So I guess two questions. Has anyone else ever left a post early? Taken a leap of faith? Any advice on whether it turned out ok in the end? Fingers crossed.