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Sunday, September 24, 2017

You're a part time mom

What was the worst thing anyone has ever said to you?

I found the answer to that today. It was an eventful weekend. It's been about 2 months since I've started my new job as a first time attending (more on this on another post!) but since then, it's been non-stop with the move from San Diego to Los Angeles, getting little C adjusted to her new school, starting a new job, studying for boards (which is next month!) and furnishing a new house! I have to say we got pretty lucky and everything is going fine with of course a few bumps in the road but that's expected.

My in laws, including my mother in law, father in law and two aunts came to visit for the weekend. It was a stressful but happy weekend! Moving on to the topic of this post, my brother in law (big C's brother) and his wife and I don't get along. The primary reason being that he doesn't like the fact that I'm a physician and how often I talk about it, which with him, is mainly limited to group emails and text messages amongst my husband's side of the family.

If you guys remember my story, I did not live with little C for the first 2.5 years of her life as she stayed with my parents in Irvine, an hour away form San Diego. Afterwards, I was a single mom with little C for 2 years while I did long distance with big C. During those times, we didn't have much time to visit his side of the family in northern California. I look back at these emails and I do realize I talk a lot about what I do, career wise, but often times, it was out of guilt and my way of explaining as to why I was so sorry that they aren't able to see their granddaughter that often.

Moving on, my brother in law and I had an argument today about the fact that he cancelled plans on us this weekend and he didn't offer an explanation. (Reason being--he just didn't feel the need to tell me.) But regardless, in this argument, he said that I needed to know my audience. The fact that his wife (stay at home mom) is at home with his daughter all the time with no help makes me inadequate to talk about my struggles as a working resident mom when I had help from my own mom. He said I was a "part time mother" for 2.5 years and that his wife is a "super mom" because she doesn't ever use a nanny or house cleaner. Wow. Those words really got to me. It took awhile to process. Little C is already almost 5. She's been with me over 2 years now. I an her favorite person. She is 100% sure that I am her mama so why did I feel like I couldn't breathe?

I did my best to hold it all in during the conversation but when it was done and over, I couldn't' even process it. I had to excuse myself and go the bathroom. I locked myself in a stall and I was brought back to my first week of residency after maternity leave. My boobs ached. I was still pumping and bringing milk back to C at the time. I was experiencing all the symptoms of post-partum depression but didn't even realize it. People asked how little C was doing and I could barely hold in the tears as the insurmountable guilt of leaving her with mom came back to me with every mention of her name. The mom guilt was so strong and with just that statement--it came all back to me.

It made me question am I bad mom? Is C going to be okay? Am I selfish for wanting a career and motherhood? I turned into that insecure first year radiology resident in the bathroom at the VA hospital with tears streaming down my face only to bite my tongue so hard as if the physical pain could take the emotional pain so I can back to fluoroscopy suite to do the next upper GI study that was on the schedule.

But I am not that little girl. I am not a part time mom. It takes a village to raise a child. Even as an attending, I have a wonderful village that includes a nanny who helps me with morning drop offs, a house cleaner, a dog walker, a grandmother who is willing to help out whenever she's needed and a wonderful husband, who despite his own busy work schedule, will watch little C in a heartbeat if he is free.

I will not apologize for my village. They make me the mom and physician I am today. I will not apologize for being a doctor. I will not apologize for being an example of what a woman can accomplish to my daughter. And most importantly, I will not let your words doubt my ability as a mom ever again.

I am more than a part time mother. I am her mother. And the only opinion that should matter is hers. And tonight before bed, I asked little C, do you wish mommy could stay home with you? She said, "no mama, I go to school because I'm a kid and you go to work to help sick people because you're a doctor."

Don't let people like him bring you down. As Taylor Swift will say, haters going to hate hate hate but I'm just going to shake, shake, shake, shake, shake I shake it off, I shake it off...

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Mothers in Medicine: THE BOOK

I am thrilled to announce that we've been quietly working on a book that assembles the best advice, wisdom, stories, and insight shared on these pages since the blog started back in 2008. This is the heart-to-heart, girlfriend-style kind of advice and reflections that I would have loved to have when I was just starting out as a woman in medicine, with many questions about the best time to start a family, making it "work" in terms of work-life integration in my specialty, practice considerations as a mother in medicine, and even negotiation advice for landing that job and asking for what I need to be the most successful in my role.

The chapters are organized by theme and cover all of the above questions, as well as separate chapters on having children during medical school or residency, navigating life challenges such as divorce, infertility and financial hardships, the mother in medicine's village of support, and even sharing the humor of being a mother in medicine. Many of the authors are voices readers of this blog know well (T, Cutter, Fizzy, Genmedmom, Jay, m, Gizabeth, Emeducatormom, PracticeBalance, Beckster) as well as special guests who bring unique experiences to lend to their chapters. We're honored to have a foreword written by the accomplished writer, Danielle Ofri. The final chapter is a compilation of our most frequently asked questions from readers posed on the blog, with a summary of answers from our community.

Importantly, the book reflects the thoughtful, honest, supportive tone of this blog community that has featured over 1500 posts and over 14,000 comments since 2008. Our ultimate goal is to support women in medicine at all stages of training and hope it is a useful, contemporary resource for years to come.

So, stay tuned for more book announcements! We're hoping for a late 2017/early 2018 debut.

Thanks for reading!


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Better Late than Never…


Or at least that’s what I always tell myself. But I can’t get around it: I am way overdue introducing myself to this community, although I am ecstatic to do so – I love this blog more than I can say. I have been reading it for the last 4 years (3 years of med school plus 1 for a research year), and I always look forward to the good advice, shared experiences, and welcome distraction I find here.

I am a medical student in a big urban, academic center, joining the health care field after a career in political communications. Because I came to medical school later in life, I have also started a family at the same time, which consists of a supportive, ever patient, ever loving husband and two sons, Billy Boy 1, born in 2013 and Billy Boy 2, born in 2015. It has been the definition of a labor of love, balancing school and family, but watching these boys become themselves has been the most profoundly joyful project of my life.

As many of you may know, this is the season of residency applications and I am planning – with much excitement – to apply into pediatrics. I plan/hope to eventually to go on to a fellowship in hematology/oncology. But first things first: hello out there ! I am so excited to be here – I hope I can bring some of value to this amazing conversation.

Friday, September 8, 2017

lamentations of a community pediatrician

I am tired of hot cheetos. I am tired of juice and kool-aid for toddlers. I am tired of pizza or and wings from the local takeout. I am tired of 1 month olds being given 4 ounces of formula with cereal in it to “help them sleep” and the school aged children drinking milk or chocolate milk with every school meal even though they don’t really like the taste of it. I am beginning to see more and more 200 pound 12 year olds and 80 pound 6 year olds.

It is Well Child Check season in the land of pediatric primary care. As a private practice Pediatrician in Washington, DC I don’t actually eat those foods myself or feed them to my child (though I do love pizza and wings once a month) almost every single patient I see with elevated body mass index or abnormal increased weight gain has had or currently has some part of this in their diet.

I am beginning to worry every day I am in my office about all of the premature heart disease we are going to see in 20 year olds because I now have seen close to 10 school aged children with abnormal lipid panels due solely to their poor diet, I have seen more than my share of toddlers and school aged children with developing Blounts Disease (this is a disorder kind of like deforming kiddie-arthritis where the bones in a part of one or both knees begins breaking down due to excess weight, causing deformity of the knee), I have seen countless young women with metabolic disorder and polycystic ovarian syndrome (think bad cystic acne, hirsutism, abnormal and often heavy periods). I have seen more than my share of rotting teeth due to prolonged bottle use, inadequate teeth brushing, and poor diet high in sugar-laden beverages.

Every day I say or type in my instructions to countless children and parents “no juice, soda, sweet tea, or koolaid, it’s bad for your child’s teeth and behavior” and I cannot tell you the number of children and parents who argue that juice must be good because “WIC (Women, Infants and Childrens Program) gives it to me”. Or the kids that say “I don’t even like milk, but school gives it to me at breakfast and lunch so I just drink it”. Ohhhhh WIC and schools! If only we could divest ourselves of the sugar and milk lobby and give these kids what they need - gasp, WATER! Water, the only drink that other countries, with much lower rates of childhood obesity than the United States I might add, allow in their schools. It literally takes me a several minutes in most visits to share with parents that no juice is definitely not healthy even though it has “vitamins and minerals” and that no it’s not the same as eating a piece of fruit. And no, if your child doesn’t like milk they don’t actually have to drink it and they can just drink water and get their calcium from things like yogurt or cheese. And no, chocolate or strawberry flavored milk isn’t needed because if your kid doesn’t like milk he/ she really doesn’t have to drink it. And yes, the sugar in juice and chocolate milk is just as bad in it as the sugar in soda is and nope I don’t allow my 6 year old to drink juice, soda, sweet tea, or koolaid (except at the random birthday party or when he is with my family who simply won’t listen to me) and nope my 6 year old doesn’t drink cow’s milk. Seriously, I can recite these points in my sleep because I say them every day countless times.

My heart hurts. The ICD 10 codes: abnormal weight gain, childhood obesity, pediatric BMI greater than 95%ile dot the majority of my notes. Cutting out the “juice, soda, sweet tea, and koolaid”, cutting back on the take out, increasing the time outside or dancing and playing, and cutting out the cow’s milk would be enough in most cases to curb this trend.

We had a new neighbor in his mid-30s die of heart disease this summer. His obituary showed a child who has struggled with his weight since early childhood and multiple relatives with obesity. His story includes hypertension and pre-diabetes in his 30s. This story is going to be more frequent if there isn’t major policy and cultural change in America.

Thankfully I have had a handful of success stories and they keep me inspired to share healthy diet and exercise with all because honestly so many of my patients just don’t know. The toddlers who I have done intensive intervention with in my office and referred to our local childhood obesity program whose entire families have adjusted their diets and their weight gain has slowed and can run and play more. The adolescents who have lost weight since their last visit who walk in with their parents who are looking mighty healthy too and tell me about the weight they lost and how they no longer drink sweet tea every day and do take out much less. The mothers who breastfed for a few more months even though it was hard. The families who stopped giving their 2 month olds rice cereal in their formula (of note, the current recommendation is exclusive breastfeeding until 6 months old unless medically contraindicated. No supplemental foods - that includes rice/oatmeal cereal until the kiddo can sit up on his/her own usually between 4-6 months).

So while I lament, I press on because there is so so so much work to do. Now off to find a healthy early morning and I can’t sleep blogging snack for this 4 month old growing fetus of mine.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Panic on the Highway

Genmedmom here.

I'm like many physicians: a bit of a control freak. C'mon, admit it, it usually takes a Type A personality to push through all this bulls**t: Exams, applications, more exams, more applications, brutal working hours, exhaustion, fear, abject terror, hazing, insurmountable debt.

But sometimes, we're just not in control.

My very first panic attack, I was huddled in a sleeping bag on the cold floor of a medical outpost in El Salvador. It was 2001, the January earthquake. I was one of a small band of medical misfits on a disaster relief mission. I was a student, and my job was translator.

We were housed in the same clinic where we saw patients, on the concrete floor. That night, there were several aftershocks, but no one else on my team woke up. I imagined the ceiling and walls caving in. Some large bug landed on my face. Mosquito? Reduvid bug? Was I going to get Chagas disease? I began hyperventilating, I could not get enough air. I was panting and suffocating at the same time. Nausea overwhelmed. It was pitch black, no electricity. I would have had to crawl over my snoozing colleagues, or throw up all over them....

It was the idea of vomiting (and dealing with vomitus) that broke the spell. Even in my panicked state I had an idea that it was all in my head. Damned if I was going to puke on my attending.

Maybe it's not completely unreasonable to panic whilst in a bona fide disaster zone, although it would have been utterly humiliating, as well as inconvenient...

There have been a handful of episodes like this since, and none with such a good excuse.

This weekend, for example.

It was Labor Day weekend, and I was not on call. I was solo with the kids, and we went on a little road trip, to visit relatives a couple of hours away.

The ride home was ugly storming, the remnants of Hurricane Harvey. My kids are in this sibling rivalry phase, where rivalry means drawing blood by any means necessary. So I had the car VCR on for maximal distraction.

Still, they fought, and I fought to keep my full attention on the road as they yelled: "You wear poopy diapers on your head!" "Oh yeah, you smell like poopy and pee pee AND cat food!" "AAAUGH! MOM he kicked me!" "WAAAGH! MOM she pinched me!"

I was into a long sort of barren highway stretch when I realized that the gas tank was low. Really low. Sixteen miles of gas left low.

Hmmm. Miffed at myself that I hadn't noticed that earlier when we passed several rest stops, I paused the DVD and asked Siri "Where is the closet gas station?"

Siri paused and then ever-so-unhelpfully directed me to a gas station ten miles BEHIND us.

Okay. I kept driving South, looking for any evidence of a gas station at any of the very few exits coming up. They were all for major routes, not towns. No signs indicating restaurants, hotels, or gas stations.

The range dwindled. When the gauge read nine miles, I started to really freak out.

"Okay guys, I need to pause the show."

The kids actually quieted down. I explained that if we didn't find a gas station soon, we may need to pull over and call for help.

But I really, really did not want to do that, in the middle of a heavy late summer rainstorm and on a holiday weekend.

So I just kept driving-- like Dory, Just.. keep.. driving...

With SIX miles left, a lonely exit had a lone sign: "Gas: Mobil"

"Hallelujah!" I called, and gleefully flicked the blinkers on, aiming right, to salvation.

But: the signs then directed me to cut left, OVER the highway, towards the ramp going in the opposite direction. This required me to veer left. The car behind me honked loudly: They were going straight, and I had almost clipped them when I veered left.

Face burning (did I just almost cause an accident?) and heart pounding, I tried to sort out where the hell the goddamned gas station was. It looked like there was a small access road on the other side of the highway, but I would have to cut across two lanes of traffic getting on the highway going in the opposite direction to get there, with literally no wiggle room, just straight across.

There were so many cars! I couldn't make it! I was funneled back onto the interstate: going BACK from where we came.

I yelled, something unprintable, multiple times, banging the steering wheel, then "OH MY GOD WE ARE LITERALLY GOING TO RUN OUT OF GAS ON THE HIGHWAY IN THE RAIN! S--t S--t S---t F---k F---k..." I felt that familiar catch in my breath, that quick succession of gasps that means panic is beginning to overwhelm, except I was DRIVING on the HIGHWAY with my KIDS in the CAR.

The logical M.D. brain kicked in. Should I pull over now? But the shoulder isn't that wide, and the ground is soggy. Pulling over on the interstate could be really dangerous, and if I pull over onto the grass I might get stuck in the mud...

Hey, I can ask Siri! "Siri, where is the closest gas station?"

A Citgo twelve miles away popped up. What??? The Mobil we had tried to reach wasn't on Siri's radar. Maybe it had closed?


So there I was, speeding along the interstate, with five, then four miles left, not sure if there were any options... Crying. The kids were silent.

The next exit was coming up, for a busy route, no buildings, no towns anywhere nearby.

Deep breaths: "Okay, guys, I'm going to try to turn around and get back to the gas station that's supposed to be there that we just missed."

Blinking away tears, I managed to turn around, thinking Okay, at least if we have to pull over now, we're heading in the right direction, and I won't look like such an idiot.

Just.. keep.. driving... Three miles. Two.

I made it back to the same exit and the same veer left and over the highway and across those two lanes of traffic feeding onto the interstate... It was a miracle, there was a break in the cars, we zoomed across, and into the Mobil. With less than two miles of gas left.

As I pumped the gas, my legs shook. We took a little bathroom break. I splashed water on my face, and then felt silly for having had a truly unnecessary freakout in front of my kids.

I've since reviewed this whole incident with my husband, and we have some rules: ALWAYS gas up to the max before a long drive, and never freak out while driving. Pulling over and calling for help is way, way better than getting into an accident.

Still, another reminder that we are not always in control. (And neither is Siri, apparently.)

Photo credit Holly Mandarich: https://unsplash.com/photos/0317cop-0Ug