Thursday, December 6, 2018

Exceptionality

I learned a beautiful new word this week - exceptionality

I am on my community health rotation. One of the best parts of being a resident are the off-service rotations, which means less time at the grindstone of patient care after learning after patient care after learning and a little more time to breathe. I got to spend a day with a public school nurse in the metro area school system. I graduated with less than 50 kids in my rural high school graduating class, so touring a public metro school system was eye opening, especially as I toured the schools where the kids were >90% free/reduced lunch. Both as a doctor and as a mother.

The school nurses I met were all so gentle, patient, and kind. I watched at the elementary school as 3 kindergarteners came together for their pre-recess albuterol inhalers and impatiently watched the clock together with their little spacers in place. We talked about the special needs kids there as well. I don't remember the issue we were talking about in particular for one of the kids, but I remember the nurse saying (instead of "part of his disability is...") "Part of his exceptionality is _______". She said it with a knowing smile and a twinkle in her eye despite what I'm sure was a frustrating and time consuming issue for her.

We never really had a schedule. We floated around an elementary school, a middle school, and a high needs school. The nurses were so proud of their schools and their kids and talked non-stop about their goals and wishes and kept pulling me aside to show me other students that had made great strides. One of the middle school nurses was one of the most reflective listeners I'd ever met, and as she told me about the difficult parent interactions she's had, I thought about how much she could teach us as doctors about how to handle difficult patient interactions.

The last school we stopped at was specifically built for high needs cognitively impaired students. We walked into the school nurse's office just as she was calling an ambulance for a child's third seizure of the day. They told me they call 911 approximately once a month. I was additionally interested in this school because I'd never heard of it before 2 weeks ago - when a new teenage patient with significant cognitive delays and no prior records showed up in my office appearing agitated and on the verge of violence. I had a 15 minute appointment with them and wasn't sure what to do. I was referring him to the appropriate specialists but was debating whether I needed to start behavioral medications in the meantime as his grandma had told me he had been on some medication in the past. I had found out through the school system that he was already getting hooked up with basic therapies and they thought they were meeting his school-based needs at that time. Now I was at that school. I met the therapists, the numerous paraprofessionals, and peeked at the kids in wheelchairs and helmets and in all manner of disarrayed behaviors. I saw my teenage guy too. He waved at me across the cafeteria and when I talked to his teacher, I learned he was a "delight" and they had no behavioral concerns - and they spent all day with him. I learned about their functional based classes and even got to sample a cookie from the morning's cookie class.

I won't be in this metro area much longer. As I've said before, I'm looking for jobs - I have had several interviews and don't have a finalized plan yet, but I probably won't be in this community. It gave me professional inspiration to connect with my future school district and learn more about my community wherever I practice, but more importantly I have a new deep and profound appreciation for all teachers, especially for kids with complex medical/social/emotional needs and even more importantly school nurses. Especially the ones that appreciate the exceptionality. And as a mother of one healthy toddler, I appreciate all those that willingly spend their time among hundreds of children and/or teenagers every day.

May this inspire you to appreciate rather than tolerate an "exceptionality" this week. :)

Kicks



Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Keep your mama friendships guilt free

I have been so blessed to have several amazing groups of girlfriends, most of whom are mamas. I have a handful of dear friends from high school, sorority line and big sisters who have become like family, my college international housemates, my college friends whose spouses have become my husband's friends, beloved friends from our time in family housing at UNC, my Code Brown Crew from UNC Pediatric Residency, the mamas from the parenting group my husband and I started 3 years ago, and my family - I count my mother, mother-in-law, and great aunt as three of my best friends - these women fill my life with advice and love and accept my text messages and incoming calls day or night. I love, love, love them!

I truly believe that it takes a village to raise a family and it takes a tribe of girlfriends to keep a mama sane and thriving. Over time I have come to realize that it is impossible to be everything to someone and as such I have been able to find over time that all of the different qualities my girlfriends have make for some diverse, sound, and priceless advice. I have never been a one-best-friend type of girl even though I wanted to be and instead do much better with a cadre of lady friends. 

As our lives have ebbed and flowed, sometimes the calls are more frequent, sometimes months or even  years go by without communication. But the love is always there. After months of not speaking I have done consults on sick kiddos, talked to family members who had medical questions, done an emergency contraception consult for an adolescent volunteer visiting the United Arab Emirates (it is dangerous in many countries to have unmarried sex). I have walked with friends through infertility, infant loss, miscarriages, marriage challenges, spousal communication issues, school issues, health issues, you name it. 

As my life has become busier I have been doing more lately to immediately send a text when one of them crosses my mind. Just a quick "you ran across my mind, it's been so long, sending you a big ole hug. How are you and the family?!?". Which leads to a flurry of updates before we have to run. And if I really feel compelled and have some alone time in the car, I pick up the phone and call. Some of those impromptu catch up calls have been life changing for me and for the other ladies. 

I have incorporated a saying recently when the inevitable "I am so sorry it's been so long" is uttered. I quickly say something like "Girl!!! Our lives are so busy ain't nobody got time for mama guilt! Call or text me when I run across your mind and I'll do the same for you!" and then we laugh and continue to catch up in the few minutes we have.

So to all of the mamas out there. Call or text your friends when they run across your mind. When you talk, carry on where you need to. If you feel the need to apologize for it being so long, be gentle and forgiving with yourself and stop yourself! Let's minimize the guilt we have in our lives and do what we can when we can unapologetically. If your friend apologizes, tell her you refuse to have any guilt in your relationship when life is already so complicated and you promise to do what you can when you can to stay in touch. Here's to keeping your mama friendships guilt free and full of love! 

How do you keep in touch with your friends? How do you minimize guilt in your relationships? Please comment below!

Monday, November 12, 2018

Interview Season

I hate interviews. I don’t know why I hate them so intensely or get so anxious, but whenever I have a job interview I develop “functional dyspepsia” (or as my mother would call it - a nervous tummy). I’ve started looking for my first real attending job. Someday I’d like to be a residency faculty member, but my university system has zero openings. I got one job interview for a residency faculty at an outside system that met all my criteria - within a couple hours drive from our families, a community that both my husband and I would enjoy living in, and an established residency with good mentoring support. It was a long interview day - beginning at 7:30 in the morning and dinner going past 8 pm that night - and I admittedly wasn’t my best self. It was my sixth week of a stretch with only 6 days off total (2 of which were used for Baby’s first birthday with our family back home), so I was tired. I underestimated how difficult it would be to schedule interviews around a resident’s schedule, and I would have preferred a later date to have recuperated a bit, but this was the only date that lined up for both me and the program.

 I felt like I connected well with the current faculty and really felt like it was a good fit, except for one disappointing part over lunch. I was asked to give a lecture so they could evaluate my teaching style, and I was ready with flashy PowerPoint in hand with a topic I had done research on so I could actually answer a question or two. However, about 15 minutes into the lecture, I realized I was getting warm and lightheaded. The walls started closing in. I realized I was standing locking my legs in a warm suit jacket and hadn’t had much to drink for water. I started talking faster, thinking I could just get through it and no one would notice, but then one of the faculty members stood up and got me a glass of water and I noticed a bead of sweat dripping down my nose, so I finally quit faking it, apologized to the audience, and led the rest of the lecture and discussion from a seat in front of the podium. I was so embarrassed. I have had similar presyncopal vasovagal-y episodes before, but this was the first in front of a large group of people. Hopefully, I’ll get points for finishing regardless of my obvious physiologic distress...

The rest of the day went well but I still won’t hear from them for at least a month. The more I go to other interviews, the more unappealing pumping out RVUs day after day seems to be. I’ve had to stop myself numerous times from emailing the program director “Pick me! I think your program is exactly what I’ve been looking for! We want to live in your town FOREVER!”. But that probably looks bad so I haven’t.  😝 It’s my first choice for a job. I think I’m a decent candidate, but if someone swoops in with experience and/or someone from within their own system is interested, my chances probably aren’t looking too good.

I had another job interview at a community clinic within the past few days. It meets all my non-academic job wish list items except one. I’ve gotten more idealistic rather than less as medical school and residency have gone by, and I was really hoping to work in at least a somewhat underserved community - but this job is in the heart of a beautiful suburb which wasn’t what I was picturing for myself at all. The  more I think about my list of what I want in a job, the more I realize that this is probably a very good fit for me, but  there’s just a small hesitant piece of me that feels like a sell-out. Which is why I’m turning to you all for stories and advice - was there anything you had to sacrifice off your wish list to find a job you were still reasonably happy in?

Thursday, November 8, 2018

A Beloved Mentor Falls

I walk by the closed double doors and frosty windows of the ICU. You’re lying in there, intubated. It feels weird to go to work now. I can’t see you or talk to you, don’t know the drips, don’t know the plan... and it’s killing me. I, along with many others, desperately want to express my love. So many feelings are swirling inside:

Guilt... For having a chill workday that day, leaving early to sneak in a pedicure before the evening’s family duties. All the while, you collapsed in the OR. Our colleagues rushed to your side. Emergent intubation. Hours in surgery... A trivial moment for me that was horror for you. It hurts my head and heart to contemplate that this is the case for any two people on Earth at any given moment.

Bitterness... For the memories that have surfaced of my own health crisis. My own rush to the OR and surgery and stay in the ICU. The immediate change to everything in my life, the upset of all routines. The label of a disability, the worries about the future. A dark time that I try to forget but never can. For having the knowledge that you will experience this same bitterness later on... if you’re “lucky.”

Gratitude... For my health now. For the part you played in it. You were the one I went to when I knew something was wrong with me all those years ago. My tears didn’t phase you for a second, and you helped arrange my much-needed absence from training. Others thought I was just performing poorly; they judged and moved on, but you knew what mattered. When I was finally diagnosed, you facilitated my prompt surgery with our most skilled surgeon. The same one who is now taking care of you.

Admiration... For your completely nonjudgmental approach to everything and everyone. I have experienced it myself but never realized it was your M.O. with all people. We all exchange stories quietly in the lounge, then fall silent with sadness and worry. For your goofy sense of humor. For our days in the OR and call nights together during my training; you were the one I felt most comfortable failing or struggling in front of; only now do I realize why.

Anger... For why this had to happen. What higher being would take down such a beloved leader, such a good doctor? At you for not knowing something was wrong inside sooner, so as to maybe prevent this catastrophe. At your family for keeping us from seeing you now. They don’t understand how much we love you, how much doctors bond together in a practice, working in parallel to preserve life and limb. Damn you for not sitting up in your bed right now, pulling that tube out and cracking a joke with a mischievous smile.

I have to write all this here to get it out of my head. Work is not the same without you there. I miss you.


Monday, November 5, 2018

Signs (H/t to Ace of Base)

I believe in signs.

Driving home from getting the kids flu shots, we heard the song "The Sign" by Ace of Base on the radio. Whenever I hear this song, it brings me back to college Spring Break in Cancun. My 13yo knows it well from the movie Pitch Perfect (she is a big fan) so it was a fun song to have on for us. After the song was over, I changed stations only to hear "The Sign" again! Granted, in the DC area, we have a strange preponderance of "old people stations" per my children, but still! What are the chances?

I immediately thought of our priest's winding homily last weekend where he wore a blindfold and held a football (long story) and talked about blindspots and listening for signs.

Okay, this was a sign of some sort that was actually labeled "The Sign." What was I supposed to do?

I decided that it was time to finally extricate myself from one of my extra volunteer commitments that I was not able to fulfill well since it was low on my priority list and that I carried guilt about. It no longer brought me joy. So, later that week, I stepped down from my role. And...deep exhale. It's done! I do feel a tiny bit lighter. I know that I need to pare down my commitments some more, but this was a good start.

Which brings to me to a story of another sign.

So, my daughter's school soccer team is in the playoffs. I was deeply conflicted since their first playoff game was scheduled for the night that I needed to leave for a conference in TX. Couldn't get a later flight than 7:30pm. I had to be in for an important Friday morning meeting. I was so bummed I'd miss her play, and then if they won, I'd then miss their semifinal game on Saturday as well.

When I arrived at the airport garage on Thursday, I joined a huge mass of people waiting for the shuttle to the terminal (apparently they had been there for awhile without service) and checked my phone. My flight was delayed by 2 hours. I looked at the time. 40 minutes until the playoff game started. Really? Could I make it? I did some rapid calculations and decided that I could make the majority of the game. Maybe I could even check-in my luggage now so I can just cruise in later with my TSA precheck!

Hustled back to car. Drove to Hourly Garage. Found a spot. Booked it into terminal. Self-checked bag (thanks Southwest), asked attendant the likelihood that my delayed flight would actually board earlier (answer: very unlikely), booked it back to car, drove the 35 minutes to the high school and got there 6 min into game. There was a big crowd of support for our team there. Many of the girls on the team had painted their faces - such spirit! My daughter was looking great in the goal. She made an amazing save, tipping a ball that was certainly headed in, out of bounds. It was thrilling to watch them play and awesome to be there! (And slightly weird knowing my bags were checked in at the airport and I really needed to catch my flight.) The team was up by 4 goals, it was well into 2nd half, and it was time for me to get back to catch my plane. I jogged out of there, got into my car, and my husband texted me: [daughter] is out. To much accolade. Coach had put in the 2nd goalkeeper with 10 min to go. By the time I got to the airport, I had confirmation that they won!

I sailed to the shuttle, through security, grabbed dinner to go, and got to gate as they were lining up to board. It was intense, slightly crazy, and totally worth it. What's more, the semifinal game on Saturday was canceled due to rain so I missed nothing.

It did all work out. And it did feel entirely meant to be.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Tricks and a Few Unexpected Treats

We went trick-or-treating for fifteen minutes last night. That's right, fifteen minutes.

Let me preface this by specifying that my children are four and a half and two and a half years old. So clearly it was never destined to be a long outing. Last year we made our way up and down most of our street. Walking was still fairly new to Teeny, my little guy, and the whole trick-or-treating concept was new to Bean, my older son (we had lived into a condo building until several months earlier), so progress was slow. As our first Halloween living in our house, it presented a fantastic opportunity to introduce ourselves to the neighbors. While we stood talking to the other adults, Teeny quickly learned that he could continue helping himself to handfuls of candy from their bowls and that, while his parents admonished him, the other adults thought it was adorable and encouraged him to take even more. 

This year, both boys understood and remembered (or at least Bean did) enough about Halloween to spend weeks and months anticipating its arrival and plotting their costumes. Superheroes and Pixar characters are a BIG deal in our house. On any given day, Ben and Teeny will cycle through several different costumes depending on what they are playing, what movie they have watched most recently, or how the stars are aligned. Sometimes they want to match one another exactly and sometimes they don't. Sometimes they want to be superheroes from the same team or characters from the same movie and sometimes they don't. Throughout September and October, they announced their intended Halloween costumes daily. (Well, it was mostly Bean announcing and Teeny chiming in, "Me too!"). Each day's announcement reflected whatever costumes they were wearing at that particular moment.

Wanting to avoid controversy and angst (theirs and my own), I decided to wait until October 31 to elicit a final decision. We own practically all of the suits, whether as true costumes or pajamas, that they could want to wear, so I reasoned that that day they could make a final decision, get dressed, and head out for some trick-or-treating. Early in evening my husband and I compared expectations for the night and agreed that we would likely stick to our street, only venturing further if it were still early and things were going exceedingly well.

What I failed to do, in leaving the final costume determination until the last minute, was the prep work of planning what layers would be worn under or over said costumes and how they would be integrated into the boys' understanding of the night's plans. When I arrived home from work, Bean was wearing his Buzz Lightyear suit and Teeny his Captain America shirt. Both boys indicated that these were the outfits they intended to wear trick-or-treating. There was a minor kerfuffle over the dictum that no further candy would be allowed until after they had eaten dinner, but we got through it and began preparations to leave the house. Teeny made the game-time decision to also dress as Buzz Lightyear, so after a diaper change, my husband put him into his Buzz pajamas. The evening seemed to be progressing smoothly.

But here's the thing: we live in New England. Unless they had been nestled into the thick, furry monkey and lion costumes that they wore two years ago - notably the last time that Mommy got to choose their costumes - there was no way that they were going to leave the house without sweatshirts/fleeces/jackets or some combination of layers. Teeny allowed himself to be wrangled into a jacket, his biggest complaint being that his shirtsleeves were pulled up inside. But Bean was harder to pacify. We tried a fleece underneath his suit; the mock neck bothered him. We tried a jacket, but he grew upset that it covered his suit (even though I pointed out that he didn't have to wear it fully zipped or with the hood up, which he insisted on doing). We moved to a sweatshirt under the suit, but this also failed to pass the comfort test. When I threatened to keep him home while his brother and father went out in quest of candy, he acquiesced and allowed that a specific sweatshirt - obviously not the one that I had suggested - might be tolerable.

With renewed optimism we left our front porch. The neighbors across the street, a middle-aged man and woman with whom the boys are quite friendly, sat on their front steps awaiting trick-or-treaters. But as we approached, the boys suddenly grew shy. A whispered "trick or treat" had to be coaxed from their lips, their hands guided toward the offered candy bowl. "Want go home now," Teeny said, looking up at us with wide, serious eyes.

As we headed down the steps, he changed his mind and we continued on to the house of another neighbor with whom the boys are close. As we crossed the street, we speculated excitedly as to whether her dog might also be in costume. But once again, up on the porch, they withdrew. They muttered "trick-or-treat," accepted some candy, and pulled us on our way.

The same scene played out at one additional house, with each boy clutching one of my legs. This time they both expressed a desire to go home, and we complied. I felt surprised, frustrated, let down - both for myself and for them - and, frankly, confused. They, it seemed, were overtired, overwhelmed, or just not that into this year's Halloween.

Back in our living room, they became different children. With glee, they emptied their plastic jack-o-lantern buckets and surveyed their haul: about five pieces of candy each. Excitedly they requested permission to eat some and then savored - and even shared - their treats. With all of the animation and enthusiasm that had been missing during our short trek, they played with toys and gallivanted around the house. My husband and I offered them the opportunity to go back out to visit a few more houses, but they happily declined. There was no more than the usual amount of fussing when bedtime was announced, and shortly after 8pm they were settled in to sleep.

I also took to my bed. "I'm just done with this day," I said to my husband. "I want to read and go to sleep." Our street had turned quiet so we shut out the porch lights and went to bed. I slept, but did not feel rejuvenated this morning. And I have spent much of the day rehashing yesterday's events.

By lunchtime today, I had settled on my own shortcomings as a mother as the explanation for our failed trick-or-treating expedition. In seeking to avoid controversy, I had failed to provide structure and to set expectations for the boys surrounding their attire and behavior for the evening. They (like their mother) don't always adapt well to sudden changes, and waiting until the last minute to determine a final costume and the associated layers had set them up to be discombobulated. 

But in recounting our evening for a coworker, I heard myself saying, "No, it wasn't great.... Well, actually, it might have been a success." Once we were back at home, they had a grand old time. And they were absolutely thrilled with the few pieces of candy they had collected. They had built up the anticipation of an event but then found themselves in a situation that they actually didn't enjoy. So they voiced their opinions, changed course, and ultimately enjoyed themselves thoroughly.

They, it turns out, had actually been the ones to navigate a rather abrupt change, leaving their mom in the dust struggling to adapt. Perhaps I'm actually the one who should learn from their example.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Who gets to decide if you are too busy?

I talk about my kids. A lot. I mentioned them in my residency application, during my interviews, and share anecdotes at work with my attendings who have kids the same age. We share pictures, school recommendations, fun Sunday activities, etc.  All the attendings with kids, however, are men. My residency program, in a field with a growing feminine presence, is amazingly family friendly, with at least 3 other dads/residents and 1 other mom. It's a fun, sharing atmosphere.

Until it's not. While casually discussing the possibility of becoming chief resident next year (it's not a dedicated year- you still have the same clinical responsibilities just with extra admin ones as well)  one of the attendings, who has a direct role in decision making for the residency,  made an off-hand comment along the lines of "well, you are busy enough, you probably wouldn't want to have anything extra." When I approached him privately after and let him know that I was, in fact, interested and hoped to be considered for chief, he was welcoming and supportive. But the off-hand comment made me think.

Are the biases and expectations and assumptions about what a mothers' role fair game for deciding promotions, responsibilities, career trajectory? Who gets to decide how busy, or not, I want to be, or am? Do I now have to "tone down the mom factor" and work extra hard, just to be considered for the same position as someone without children? Other residents talk about dating, drinking, their dogs, other parts of their outside lives. Do kids not count as an approved extra-curricular activity?

The most frustrating part for me, is that I'll never know. There are a few other amazing residents hoping for the position. If I don't get chosen for the responsibility, will it be because the admin thought the others were better for the job? It's a completely realistic possibility. But what if it's because I have kids and they have assumptions on what I can/want/will handle? Part of me wants to eliminate the possibility of that frustration and uncertainty by denying any interest in the position and just letting it go. But I  have decided I am just going to work harder, smarter, work on being a team player, and keep at it. And maybe share stories a little less.

Have you been in a position where your home life was questioned? Your choices judged? Your responsibilities and commitment challenged?




Friday, October 12, 2018

Mom wisdom: spacing of kids?

Hello mom-asphere,

I'm curious to get people's opinions/advice on spacing of kiddos. My husband and I have been talking about how close in age we'd like to have kids (and, since we're foster parents, we have more say in this than most people do!), and I've of two minds -- I see a lot of benefits to having them be able to be friends and playmates for each other, very close in age, but I also think there are practical perks to having a 3-4 year old who can entertain themselves (albeit briefly) while you're busy with a newborn.

Professionally, I'm also curious - does it seem to make more sense to have 3-4 unproductive years, professionally, rather than draw it out for 7-8 years of really small kids, when probably publishing/etc is more challenging?

What worked for you?

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

I Am Kristie Reynolds



A little snippet of a recent email

At work, I go by Dawn Baker MD, MS. But at home, I’m sometimes known as Kristie Reynolds.


I don’t mean to give away my husband’s “Wizard of Oz”-type work secret here, but I will elaborate for the sake of this post. I highly doubt any of his clients are reading anyway. He has his own law firm, and a while ago he came up with the idea of creating a dummy admin email address for sending unpleasant or mundane emails, like reminding clients to pay their bills. It preserves the professional air of his one-man law firm and also allows him to not be “the bad guy” when it comes to collections or deadlines. It’s genius, actually. The admin’s name that he fabricated is Kristie Reynolds.

Well, Kristie has also started ordering (and apparently picking up) coffee beans for our espresso machine, and facilitating document exchange, and she recently became the voice for the firm’s voicemail greeting. Her duties have grown to the point where sometimes she is now required to perform these transactions in person. Guess who gets to be her?

It’s got me thinking about all the other roles we take on in our lives. Besides “Doctor” and “Kristie”, I’m also “Moo” - my husband’s longtime term of endearment for me. Of course, I’m now also “Mommy” - a name I’ll never get tired of answering to. And while these personas don’t have particular names, I’ve also been known at home as a cleaning lady, a driver, and a short-order cook. To my parents, I'm Daughter and Doctor; yet, they still rarely take my advice. Lately, I'm working more on blogger/entrepreneur as well, trying to grow and expand my personal blog (which means I'd better write more)!

Who are you outside of work? What are you known as besides "Doctor"?

Thursday, September 20, 2018

“Pumped” in JAMA

I was at our block education the other day when one of my male co residents asked me, “Did you read the JAMA reflection piece from Sept 11?” (answer to this is always no, my JAMA sits on my kitchen table where it’s main purpose in life is to be an excellent spider squisher). When I said I hadn’t, he took his issue out of his backpack and gave it to me.

If you haven’t seen it, the article is called Pumped by Dr. Charlotte Grinberg. (Article here). It is a fantastic reflection on pumping during intern year and like most reflections on pumping I identified with it so much. I almost cried when *spoiler alert* her freezer broke and she lost her stash. And cheered at the final couple of paragraphs.

I am so happy to see this in JAMA. My coresident told me - “I read it and thought of you guys”. I’d lately been fielding comments like “I wish I got a twenty minute break in my clinic schedule!” so it was great to hear something more affirming. I suppose my male coresidents are less likely to be reading blog posts on mothersinmedicine.com so I’m hopeful this will bring more discussion and more advocacy to pumping residents among the non pumpers among us.

Re: my own pumping journey - baby is 11 months and we have almost made it to a full year of exclusive breast milk due to the combination of ridiculous pumping sessions, learning to advocate for myself, a lot a lot of luck, and a pretty supportive work environment. Cant wait to celebrate his one year journey by temporarily retiring the Spectra. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Lift Those Weights, Ladies (and Let Your Patients Know!)

Genmedmom here.

I am officially closer to 50 than 40, and it shows.

If I didn't hear it all the time from my patients, I would be complaining: "I'm exercising the same and eating the same, but I'm gaining weight... around my middle!"

Yup, it's that middle-age middle-gain. Horrified that this was happening to me, despite having lost fifty pounds after two AMA pregnancies and religiously maintaining a healthy diet and exercise routine for years, I decided to fight back.

How do Type A M.D.s fight back? The evidence, baby. I hit the books big-time. My reading and research into this area have led to a newfound passion: Lifestyle Medicine. Everything from my personal life to my primary care practice to my writing has been impacted. I've even got a book coming out in December.

Back to the battle of the bulge. I learned all about sarcopenia, a well-known physiologic phenomenon of age. We simply lose muscle mass as we get older-- and women basically hemorrhage muscle mass around menopause. As we all know, muscle burns calories just by existing. When we lose muscle, our metabolism plummets, and we gain fat. Hence, that perimenopausal pudge.

This process, left unchecked, can lead to sarcopenic obesity: high adiposity coupled with low muscle mass, which is often associated with a deceivingly normal body mass index. 

There's more to it, of course. Sarcopenia is bad for so many reasons. As one Cambridge University Press research review points out, "Sarcopenia, the age-associated loss of skeletal muscle, is a major concern in ageing populations and has been associated with metabolic impairment, cardiovascular disease risk factors, physical disability and mortality." 

I was thrilled to see this topic covered in wonderful detail by Jane Brody, writer for the New York Times, in this and this article. She provides a wonderful review of the literature and expert opinion, along with some good suggestions. As she correctly points out, "few practicing physicians alert their older patients to this condition and tell them how to slow or reverse what is otherwise an inevitable decline that can seriously impair their physical and emotional well-being and ability to carry out the tasks of daily life." It may be that few practicing physicians are fully aware of how big a deal this is. I wasn't!

A review in the Journal of Family Practice describes sarcopenia as a known major cause of debility and frailty, but highlights that it can be effectively prevented or treated with a healthy high-protein diet and resistance training. 

And it's true: when we gain muscle, our metabolism increases. The more muscle we gain, the more fat we lose (and we can even tolerate a little dietary indiscretion). There's endless benefits to toning that muscle: a stronger core prevents back pain and protects against back injuries. Increased strength prevents falls and protects from injuries if falls occur. Strength and mobility promotes the ability to manage ADLs and extends independent living. 

For all of these reasons, I've taken up a simple resistance training regimen. I have zero time to be consulting personal trainers (who here can make any appointments and keep them? Not me) so I created my own plan, including a few key pilates moves I learned over the years, and alot of basic exercises using a pair of five-pound barbells I've had since literally 2005. That's it. Sometimes I'm on a yoga mat, sometimes on my daughter's rug (it's the softest one in the house). This routine takes me all of ten minutes, but has yielded visible results in four weeks. 

On the days that I have no time, I at least drop and do ten planky-pushups, meaning I hold the plank position between pushups, and aim for ten. I sometimes do this right before bed, and typically, this move leads to a few other basic yoga stretches that really help ease me into sleep. 

When I counsel women my age, I usually advise that they seek the advice of a trainer. Some women are former athletes and know their way around the weight room, and need only be educated, and then they're off and running. For elderly folks, especially those with prior injuries or who are really very frail, I recommend the official guidance of a physical therapist, with specific goals like "increased core strengthening and balance exercises for falls prevention". 

I know there's physical therapists and physiatrists and orthopedic surgeons in this audience, and I welcome your input. What advice do you provide to patients around sarcopenia and sarcopenic obesity? What training regimen do you follow? Any tips appreciated! 


two gray dumbbells
Photo by Cyril Saulnier on Unsplash

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Residents Who Pump

How to succeed with pumping as a resident:

I am an intern in a busy internal medicine program. I try to pump several times a day. At first, it was very challenging for me to balance pumping and being an intern. I hope I can shed some light on how it can be done and let other moms know that that I once struggled with it too. It is part of who I am now, but it took a lot of commitment and preservence. I know not all mothers choose to pump and not all mothers can pump, and that’s great too! This is how I do it. I will first say that I have an incredibly supportive residency program. I hope that is the case for all mommas wanting to pump.

1. Make it known that you have to pump. Be upfront about it with the chief residents, senior residents and your co-interns. This way, people don’t wonder where you are. You’d be surprised how many people are supportive of your need to pump. And impressed!

2. Plan your day accordingly. I would make sure to get a session in before rounds, during lunch conference and once or twice in the pm depending on the length of the work day. It requires a lot of planning but think ahead! There have been times when rounds starts earlier than expected, but some time pumping is better than no time!

3. Have a system. Efficiency is key. A handsfree clip on bra helps! A tote bag with a cooler and ice pack helps! Find what works best for you.

4. Have a safe space. A designated pumping room with an outlet, sink, chair, table is what you need. Find a way to get the environment you need. If your facility does not have a lactation or expression room, they really should! It is required by law. Check out mamava.com if you want to help your hospital get a pumping pod.

5. Support at home. My husband helps out so much with washing my pumping bottles and preparing our baby’s bottles for daycare every night. I couldn’t do it without him.

6. Prioritize pumping. There will be times you think you’re too busy to pump. Do it anyways. Figure out a way. You’d be surprised how you can squeeze it in the workday. You’ll be so glad you did it.

7. Try your best not to skip sessions because it can mess up your supply, cause engorgement and even mastitis. This may not be true for everyone, but it was true for me. After I got mastitis from missing pumping sessions, I knew I had to be more diligent about pumping every 3-4 hours.

8. Massage/squeeze during pumping! This helps prevent clogged ducts and really increases the flow.

9. Drink lots of water and carry snacks. You have to be well hydrated and well fed for a good milk supply. Also rest is key! Good rest is hard for an intern but the more rested you are the better the milk supply!

10. Be so proud of yourself. It is a huge accomplishment to be able to pump and be an intern! Some days you’ll have a bigger supply than other days but keep going! You’re a rockstar for doing this and your healthy baby will thank you!

11. Nights can be particularly hard but doable. When I was working nights, I was so exhausted, mainly because I was unable to sleep more than a few hours during the days because I was still pumping every 3 hours. It was very hard, no other way to say it. I even got mastitis then. I was fortunately allowed 2 sick days so I could heal from my mastitis. In addition to taking antibiotics, my trusted lactation consultant advised me to just keep on pumping even if the output is low and as soon as I recover, the milk supply will pick back up. And she was right!

If you’re also a pumping resident, please comment and let me know your experience!

Thursday, September 13, 2018

The myth (?) of flexibility

I had a job interview last week, in an odd surprising way, with the medical director of a local system of FQHC medical clinics in our town. It was surprising in that I was on a rotation providing medical care to homeless patients out in a park, working with one of the doctors in their practice (who, interestingly, is actually on staff as their street medicine attending, which is pretty cool!) -- and this attending came up to me, and asked if I wanted a job in their clinic system,

What did I say? "Oh, goodness, that's so kind of you. Umm."

Sometimes, I hear myself fulfilling a female stereotype and I want to punch myself in the metaphorical nuts.

Once I collect myself and act like maybe I deserve having a job, given that I'm a pretty good resident, a rising chief, and would actually be a great fit for their clinic, we make an appointment to discuss it in a meeting in his office later that week.

I agonize over what to wear. Is this a job interview? I'm also caring for homeless patients in the park that morning - it's 95F and 90% humidity. I wear a silk shirt, and by lunchtime, it's slick with sweat and stuck to my back. My curly hair is an untamed frizz ball, and I have to bike 4 miles to the clinic where his office is located. Suffice it to say, I look great.

We had a lovely conversation about what I think I could do for their practice (Adolescent methadone clinic! Expand their home visit program!), but when he asked what was important to me, all I could think about was flexibility.

Being a resident is one of the least flexible jobs I can imagine (though I've never been in the military, which is likely even more rigid). Your schedule is given out to you a year in advance, it's incredibly difficult to get out of shifts for your own illness (or your children's many illnesses), you don't get to choose your own vacations (which is hard for those of us whose partners are teachers, or with kids in school), and when you're there, you need to be 100% all of the time (which breastfeeding mom hasn't been paged for an urgent need while pumping?).

I dream sometimes about a job where I could work full time, but with flexibility - in fact, I've drawn inspiration from some of the schedules of writers on this blog, who have Tues/Thurs afternoons off (I could volunteer at preschool! I could go to the dentist!) or do fun volunteer work on Mondays all day, or get to (gasp) do some research working from home. I want to be productive, I want to be part of a million different things (I wouldn't be Med-Peds if I could make up my mind!), and I want to work full-time, but I'd like some agency over what that looks like.

To this, the medical director responded, "Well, we're open to being flexible. Lots of young mothers want to work part-time."

I'm frustrated that we live in a society where wanting to work ~50 hours/week is seen as wanting to work part time, or that not wanting to drive in during the middle of the night as an interventionalist means you aren't committed to medicine, or that if you have children you can't be a productive educator and researcher. And I'm frustrated that wanting to work part-time is a thing "young mothers" want - working part time sounds amazing, sometimes, and I have no judgment for moms that do it -- but couldn't dads be interested in that too?

I just want to not always be the first to drop my son at daycare and the last to pick him up. Is that inconsistent with being committed to working full time?

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Bipolar

There is a patient that has been on my mind this year.

I was fired as her doctor.

I have had two patients fire me. The first was a sweet little old lady with mild cognitive impairment that wasn’t too cognitively impaired to realize I was moving in on her drivers license and switched to another clinic. She sent me a card though letting me know she switched clinics, wishing me the best and left me a teddy bear for my baby. The second one was much tougher. It was definitely the toughest initial OB visit I’ve ever had. I was in there over an hour. She was a mom with 9 kids at home and a partner who was controlling and emotionally abusive. She was late onset to prenatal care and came in maxing out the anxiety and depressive scales in the office. She was basically the sole caretaker of her kids, and worried constantly about things like if she passed out in the tub, who would take care of her kids? We talked a lot and luckily I had a no show following her. I thought we were developing a good rapport when she told me she had worked for 3 days straight without sleeping at a huge event downtown. On further discussion, I found she screened positive for possible bipolar disorder. I patted myself on the back for being a good primary care doc and sent her to psychiatry for further evaluation.

She missed her psychiatry appointment, but occasionally made it back to see me.

We left a lot of our appointments frustrated - most of her problems were so complex I wanted to refer her out multiple times, but she had trouble with transportation to our specialists and finding someone to watch the kids at those times, so they never happened. Every time she came into the office and we tried to fix one problem, three more would pop up. She was taking illicit prescription medications for chronic back pain and smoking marijuana, and was frustrated I wouldn’t prescribe her buprenorphine without a referral (our clinic wasn’t doing buprenorphine at the time) and I was frustrated she wouldn’t consider psychiatric medications for her fear of harming her baby, yet continued to smoke cigarettes, marijuana, and use the pain pills. She was frustrated at me because all I could offer was Tylenol and more referrals.

I bent over backwards for her. Our OB coordinator pulled strings so we could have 40 minute appointments together - which is something I have never done for any other patient. When she wouldn’t go to specialists, I would call them on the phone for recommendations. I was prepared to put her on lithium at one point with the guidance of a perinatal psychiatrist over the phone.

She fired me because she didn’t think I was doing anything for her chronic pain, and because I was always kicking her partner out of the room to ask if she was safe. She told our OB coordinator she didn’t care who delivered her baby as long as it wasn’t me. I found out later that she delivered at a different hospital system, and as far as our OB coordinator knew everything went well.

I was her doctor before I had my baby. Since then, I think of her every once in a while when I am overwhelmed by working and taking care of one little peanut with a supportive partner in the house. I think about our discussions of her working days on end without sleep - although that might go along  with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, I also wonder if I was pathologizing her motherhood and what she had to do to support her family. I think about her inability to make appointments and her worries about what would happen to her children if she was gone. I think about what it must be like to have to choose to stay with a nasty partner who will provide at least some financial stability and a house for all your children versus turning to a system that will assuredly break your family apart in an attempt to provide safety and security.

I think of her often, and wish her the best.

Kicks

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Recovery

After recovering from the the good kind of pain at the end of November last year, I developed the plain-old kind of pain that is in no way good: an intense, searing pain of a likely cervical radiculopathy that prompted me to go to the ER one fine December Saturday after leading a children's Nativity re-enactment rehearsal. My neurological symptoms were getting increasingly worse, as was the pain, despite stopping running completely for weeks, sparing my right side from any kind of lifting or serious use, taking around-the-clock high dose NSAIDs, and even wearing a lovely soft cervical collar for a week (fantastic way to garner sympathy and/or jokes from colleagues).

The ER physician assigned to me was an older man who showed absolutely zero empathy, compassion, or patience. You know when you can feel someone's impatience with your history-sharing, who just wants you to get to it? I told him I was a physician - not sure whether his bedside manner was because of that fact or in spite of it. I had plain films done showing cervical degenerative changes (I had never felt quite so old) and his plan for me was a) switch to naproxen from ibuprofen; b) reassurance that it would get better (delivered by someone without a compassionate approach, this felt tin-hollow); c) follow-up with PCP the next week. This felt like a wholly inadequate plan to me. I suggested a medrol dose pack which he agreed to.

The medrol dose pack was a temporary godsend. It worked within a day to drastically improve my pain. It was amazing! I felt almost normal again. Once the pack was done, though, the pain returned, in some ways worsened. Dealing with this pain - chronic, unclear end date - was humbling and deeply frustrating.

I have always thought of myself as a physically strong person. This has been part of my self-identity. On the playground, I used to win arm wrestling matches against boys. In high school, I was a cheerleader "base" and held girls' feet on my shoulders and bench-pressed them until my arms were extended. (If I did that now, I'm sure multiple discs would herniate simultaneously. Actually, maybe that's why my neck imaging looks the way it does.) This injury, occurring after no single traumatic moment upended that self-image. For awhile, during the worst of it, I cringed as my seven year old came in for a hug from my right side.

After a lot of physical therapy and time (probably most important), the pain lost its hard edge and now has settled to a stiffness and soreness that I don't always notice. A couple of months ago, I started running gingerly again, and a couple of weekends ago, I ran my first race in almost a year. It felt like it usually feels constitutionally-speaking: horrible during, fantastic afterwards, and I'm ready for the next one.

I'm grateful to be mostly recovered. I have new appreciation for those with chronic pain. And most importantly, I'm running again and feeling like myself.



Thursday, September 6, 2018

Letting death in the room.

Taken by the author. Mukwonago, WI. Oct 2016.
One of the most heart-wrenching things I witness at work is people saying goodbye to their loved ones. Today I watched a husband say goodbye to his wife of 31 years, with their son also present at bedside, weeping as his mother died.

I stay in the room for all terminal extubations, along with the ICU nurse and the respiratory therapist. It's always an emotional thing to witness; I think we all find some kind of unspoken moral support in having each other present, besides the obvious practical needs to be there (RN to give meds, I provide orders/ explain things to the family/pronounce/ask for autopsy, RT weans ventilator and removes the endotracheal tube).

I stood in the room and watched the RN bolus morphine and midazolam...I watched the patient's respiratory rate. I watched her face for signs of struggle, her body for signs of stress. There were none, so we were ready to let her go. I gave the final "ok" to the RT to remove the woman's endotracheal tube, as I thought her respiratory rate and sedation level were adequate so that she would not struggle without the ventilator's assistance (pressure and oxygen). Her sats dropped to the 60s immediately once she was on room air, she developed circumoral cyanosis, and her heart rate was dropping. The medical staff all left the room so the family could alone be with her. She lived for about one hour after extubation, deeply sedated, and died without any struggle. I returned later to pronounce her death (1250) and obtain autopsy consent from her husband. He readily consented and said she would've been an organ donor, if her cancer hadn't prevented her from doing so. He asked "What will your team learn from doing an autopsy?" and I explained the top clinical questions that I thought could likely obtained only via autopsy.


In the moments before the medical team goes into a patient's room to do a terminal extubation, there's often a collective "let's do this" sobriety. As in "This is hard. But, we will do it, and we will do it well." And we do, our team always does. Unfortunately in an oncology/BMT ICU, we are all skilled at helping people die well. And at this point in my career, I'm skilled at that part of my job and proud of it. Not proud in a perverse way, but proud to be able to palliate symptoms of pain, anxiety, and breathlessness in one's last moments of life. Proud that I can help guide families through the emotional agony of watching their person die. Proud that the last images they see of their loved one are peaceful, quiet, calm, well-choreographed. Respectful. Clean. I am grateful that we have the ability to allow people to die without suffering, to serve our patients in this way, to calmly let death into the room after beating it back for so long with our various medications, procedures, life support. We spend hours trying to corral irrational forces (life and death) with rational means (science)--it's almost absurd at times.

But as we let the dying person leave the earth, as their suffering ends, the survivors' suffering begins. Their love wasn't free; now they grieve. All of this had me thinking this afternoon--about love. Whenever we love someone we do it knowing (somewhere in ourselves) that someday one of us will say goodbye to the other. It's an overwhelming thought to ponder for too long. You'd think this would hold us back sometimes, but no. We throw ourselves wholeheartedly into love--loving our partners, friends, children, pets...while knowing that it is all temporary and that this will hurt eventually. Talk about optimism! Humans crave love and connection, we cannot resist it (can we live without it?) even though we know that eventually it is 100% guaranteed to come crashing down around us. Every time.






Wednesday, August 22, 2018

5 months in - just breathe, just love!

5 months into being the mother of 2 little boys and I barely have time to breathe sometimes. I work as a Pediatrician but I had completely forgotten how very very very very very very (can I just type the word “very” for the rest of the post?!?) hard mothering a newborn is. Add to that some complications, a rambunctious, highly intelligent 6 ¾ year old, a husband 2 years into his tenure-track and 35-year-old bones and you have a recipe for fatigue that rivals the best of them.

5 months of cuddles. Of tears. Of such profound joy that it takes my breath away. For example, I remember the first time Zo told us how very much he loves his “baby bro” and how he’s his “best buddy”. Mothering for the second time has also been very humbling. When we found out that our little one was losing too much weight and could not exclusively breastfeed I felt like an utter failure. I KNOW how to breastfeed a baby after successfully doing it with our first and I thought if I powered through, me and Mau would get-it-done! But I had to come to terms with the fact that sometimes a mama’s body and a baby’s body just can’t power through, you just can’t will enough strength in his little low-birth-weight jaws to muster up enough energy to be a good breastfeeder. It took lots of letting go, lots of submitting to our reality. And y’all know I cry, a whole lot, so this made me weep and gnash my teeth like nothing else! But as I snuggle his now chubby little thighs, I remember the donor breast milk, the formula, the supplemental nursing system, the bottles, the reflux and I can smile. And it’s all okay even if it’s not what I envisioned.

So 5 months in, I know why my patients miss follow up appointments. Even with my father here with us almost full time I am inundated with Early Intervention, Cardiology, Ophthalmology, and other appointments. He’s perfectly and wonderfully made (took a while for me to be able to say this) but his little life requires a team for him to thrive. And thrive he is! We have all overcome so much and we have so much more to go. To all of the mamas out there in MiM land - wishing you and your babies so much love, health, and happiness. Even when mothering isn’t what you envisioned just remember that you and your baby were meant for each other. Learn all you can. Teach all you can. Be gentle with yourself and your baby.

5 months in. Inhale. Exhale. Smile. Inhale. Exhale. Smile. “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return” (Nat King Cole).

Sunday, August 19, 2018

The Return Of The Resident



This isn’t the most elegant post, but I thought that I’d share some of my before and after thoughts about starting residency again after my six months at home with my little one. 


Pre-Rotation:
-I’m starting with a tough rotation. I want to get it over with, so I’m happy it’s first, but historically, it’s been my least favorite rotation of all. 
-I have a terrifying schedule, regardless of now having a baby at home to spend time with. How am I going to do this with extra sleep deprivation!?
-I think I’ll miss Baby Ticketyboo, but I feel that I’ll likely be too busy at work to dwell on it.
-Really skeptic that pumping at work will happen. But I really want it to. I put so much into making it this long breastfeeding, it would suck to have to stop now (no pun intended). Becoming attached to breastfeeding was not something I anticipated pre-baby. 
-I’m curious to see how Mr. Ticketyboo fares at home with Baby Ticketyboo (they’ll be home together for the next 6 months). 


Post-rotation:
-I’ve now been back for over a month. I finished my tough rotation, and I’m finishing up my second rotation, thankfully a bit lighter. 
-I’m so happy that the tough rotation is out of the way! Although the schedule was hectic, I had a better experience with this rotation this time, and worked with a good team. 
-The first day, I remember feeling strangely out of touch with clinical medicine. I understood all the medical lingo and my medical knowledge did come back quickly, but it all felt faraway initially. I still don’t feel 100% back in the groove and feel less confident than usual, but I’m getting back to normalcy
-Missing Baby Ticketyboo has not been too bad so far. He’s usually all smiles when I come home and not having my days dictated by baby fussiness and how well nap time goes is actually nice. We’ve not been successful in getting him to go to bed earlier than when we do (around 9 pm) and he still wakes up 1-2x overnight, so I’ve spent time with him everyday despite being back at work. I have been reticent to sleep train and move him to his own room because I’m worried about seeing him less when we do.
-I surprisingly don’t feel too tired during the day. Of course, my fatigue scale includes total exhaustion secondary to residency. For me, having a newborn was less tiring than residency. I actually came back from maternity leave with more energy than usual. I’ve so far maintained it to a certain extent. I’m still tired getting out of bed in the morning most days though. It’s discouraging to think that I’ll likely spend most of my working adult years feeling tired. 
-I haven’t been perfect about pumping, but I pump at least once per work day, ideally twice if I’m finishing around 5 pm and ideally three times if I’m finishing around 8 pm. Luckily, my supply has proven pretty robust, so we’re still EBF for now. I’d like to keep things going as long as possible. We’ll see, as I have some hectic call schedules in the upcoming months. I’m not too sold on the health benefits of EBF from 6-12 months and beyond, but I’d feel guilty stopping since it’s a source of comfort for Baby Ticketyboo, and if I stopped, my sole reason for stopping would be work. 
-Mr. Ticketyboo has been awesome at home with Baby Ticketyboo! It has been amazing to have a stay-at-home spouse while working. It meant a less stressful return to work for me, and it really helped us more equally share childcare responsibilities. Plus, there’s even more father-baby bonding now, which I feel is important for good family dynamics. 

So, overall, I’m surviving residency with a baby so far, and honestly enjoying it more with my little family to come home to. That said, I want the next few years of residency to fly by, but time with my little one to slow down. I'm so afraid of missing out on his best years.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Ode to my couch

Sometimes I think the most definitive memories I will have from this time period will come from my couch.

This is not my couch’s first life. It is secondhand from one of my aunts. We bought a house (our first house) after medical school and didn’t have a lot of time/money/interest to put toward new furniture, so we adopted this one. Her kids are now in high school and college, and give my aunt a lot of crap about selling the softest comfiest couch they’ve known for a better looking fancier one.

In our childless days, this is where my husband and I sat to play Nintendo games together with a dog in between us. We watched movies and ate Chinese food back before we had an active 9 month old who could reach  everything on the coffee table.

It is a perfect couch for post call naps with a dog at your feet. It is covered in soft fuzzy blankets thought to protect the couch from the dog but moreso add extra snuggle factor.

We brought baby home from the hospital at the first snowfall of the year. Our extended family was sick during Thanksgiving and as I was very hesitant to bring my baby near any germs under 2 months of age, so this is where our small little family sat with plates of takeout turkey and potatoes from a local cafe pretending to watch football but really all of us  intermittently napping. It is one of the favorite Thanksgivings I ever had because it was cozy and all about my own little family.

I spent the majority of my maternity leave on the couch with baby snuggles sleeping on my tummy. I either had a coffee or a book or would play my Nintendo switch over his head. The only time in my entire life I have ever completed a video game was the week I was post term pregnancy waiting for induction and they wouldn’t let me work and during my maternity leave. It is the snuggliest I have ever felt in my whole life with the snow falling outside and all the warmth inside.

Fast forwarding - baby is now 9 months old and more of a little boy than a baby each day. He is a great explorer and crawls and scoots himself around non stop. Our living room is our biggest room so it seems like all my free time is spent on this couch, watching him bang two toys together, only to find two different toys to start banging them together.

I’m post overnight call today. We have crawled and played. And Baby is napping in his crib and I am back on my couch. Time for a nap. The dog and blankets and couch are calling.

Kicks

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Forty years and counting......

Random ponderings on turning forty........


  • There is genuine sadness and mourning when a favorite piece of makeup is discontinued.......it has taken me years to perfect the “easy, 5-minute, naked-face” look. Now I have to start that one piece over again and it genuinely hurts me..... 
  • Alternatives to having a kid: 1) purchase $12,500 worth of organic produce and just pile it up in your living room. Leave to rot. Periodically stomp through it wearing Peppa Pig rain boots and a set of PJ Masks jams. Sometimes pretend to clean it up with a set of tiny wooden cleaning tools. When it starts to smell, scream at your spouse that it is his or her fault that the mess is there. Then toss in an emphatic “you hurt me, you’re not my best friend anymore!!” when he/she denies it. 2) drive to a bank on a tiny pink tricycle with streamers, rob it using only the threat of violence with your ridiculously fast-growing finger- and toenails, then take the pile of cash you claw away from the teller and just light it on fire in the middle of your living room. Repeat monthly. At least 10,000 USD should equivocate the experience of parenting. 3) buy some clothes that you really love, but get them two sizes smaller than your fit. Then look at them hanging in your closet every day while you pull on big shapeless scrubs, or Lycra yoga pants stained with unknown substances and with a forgotten mermaid sticker on the bum. Tell yourself that someday you will wear those again, but know that you won’t. In fact, you never did. Also, download an audio file of Honey Boo Boo complaining about a lack of syrup on her hot dogs and play that on an endless loop in the background. You know, just to sharpen your mind. 
  • There are many trade-offs for waiting until later in life and marriage to have a kid. For example, with the presumed extra patience afforded by years of taking so much crap from the external world comes creaky, swollen and painful joints, stretching to their limits with every game of “pretend to be a floor worm with me!” or kneeling on the bathroom floor next to the bathtub, eating invisible cake slices out of bathtub toys with all of her rubber duck friends. But, when your kid makes you some fake strawberry shortcake out of a washcloth and some Paw Patrol purple body wash and hands it to you in a plastic cup with a star-shaped hole in the bottom, you eat that shit. Heck, I’m just happy to be invited to the party. 
  • Alone time is the greatest gift the universe has to bestow upon me. There is never enough of it, and it nourishes my soul for when it gets people-y out there. The kid gets the majority of my energy, followed by job and hubs, mostly in equal proportions. Regeneration time is critical, and I’m learning to not feel guilty about it. 
  • The more that I age, the more that I learn to stand up for myself and what I believe in a more fierce and unapologetic way. Being told how to use my voice by any number of different people with different agendas and issues is becoming harder to stomach. I genuinely appreciate differing opinions and polite discourse (the more animated, the better!), but when people try to strong-arm their issues and life views on me with tone-policing and gaslighting, well, Iam done sitting back and taking it, especially in my own personal space. I’m too old for that noise.
  • Work-life balance is impossible (at least for me). It’s never balanced. One thing is always outweighing something else. It’s more about trying to keep my head above water, occasionally being really good at one thing or another, oftentimes just getting by, and hopefully not letting anybody die on my watch. There is also reminding myself that most of the time, the job I’m doing is good enough, and I’m learning to be okay with that. Being a doctor isn’t for the weak of heart. And being a mom isn’t for the weak of head. Sometimes my heart prevails in medicine and I cry. Sometimes my head prevails in parenting and I cry. It’s all so, so hard. But also pretty badass and (mostly) rewarding. And being a wife is a delicate and ever-moving target of balancing head and heart. Sometimes this is the hardest job, loving the one you’re with and nurturing that commitment. 
  •  My husband and I have had an awful lot of loss in recent years, to include both of my parents, and his mother. Raising our daughter without these loved ancestors has brought on a lot of pain in such unexpected moments. She never got to meet them, and yet we see each of them in her nearly every day. Nature is a remarkable thing, perpetuating itself in this way. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to do this whole parenting thing for a myriad of reasons, but catching glimpses of my mom and dad again every now and again in my daughter’s face or voice is about as spiritual as it gets for me. I embrace this fully. 
  • I’m truly happy to see forty, and I hope to have sixty more. I do love this life, including the joy, the pain, the humor, the tears, the angst, the stress, the happiness, the closeness and the love. Each new day is not guaranteed. The first forty (wow!) have been pretty damn good. Looking forward to what comes next.......

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Slime and Slides and Sutures and Fireworks


Since I'm a resident and my husband works full time, our kids are in full time camp this summer. Which has worked great. The availability of pre-care and after care in a fun environment without the bustle of the school year has allowed us to let go of our nanny for the summer and just be us. Which has been exhausting, but surprisingly really rewarding.

However, without that extra piece of our childcare puzzle, days like July 4th posed a conundrum. My husband works all holidays for the overtime pay and I had conference in the morning and a swing/evening shift. And no camp.

So, come the morning of July 4th, my Monkey (4) and Chicken (6) got to experience an EM conference. Set up with ipads, snacks, markers, crayons, peppa pig figurines, and donuts. They lasted for almost half way through, but finally got antsy that the little "bring kids to work day" experience ended 3 hours in.

As a reward for being great sports, I promised them that we could make slime when we got home. I hate slime. It's sticky and slimy and is a sensory overload of amorphous blob. But it's all the rage this summer and my daughter's "best wish," so slime experiments it was. After trecking to Target to buy all the necessary ingredients, and a cart full of not-on-the-list other Target "necessities," we made 3 kinds of slime. 2 were successful. One was so gross and mushy and was such an utter fail. Not sure how Pinterest parents do it- this was  hard and messy work!

At 5:30, my husband came home and we switched shifts. I went to work and he manned the barbeque and firework portion of the day's festivities. While I experienced the rest of the night vicariously with videos watched later, hours after they were sleeping, I smiled at the dichotomy of my life as a resident. At our lives during this residency. So thankful my I have an awesome flexible co-parent and that my kids get to learn the importance of hard work, while having all the same fun as well.

One of the unique parts of going into EM is the variety of work hours. Yes, I work a lot of nights and weekends and holidays, but I also get to be home a lot in the mornings, early weeknights, and  random Tuesday afternoons. Hopefully, I continue to enjoy it as much as I have this first year!


For reference, here were the winning slime recipes: (adapted from links from littlebinsforlittlehands.com)

Basic Slime (from
Ingredients: Elmer's Glue, saline solution (Target Brand - any saline with boric acid and Sodium Borate), water, baking soda, food coloring

Recipe:
Mix 1/2 cup glue and 1/2 cup water. Stir until well mixed
Then add food coloring and/or glitter
Stir together
Add 1/2 tsp baking soda and 3 Tablespoons saline solution. Mix REALLY FAST.
Keep mixing, then kneading, until you get the consistency you want.

Tip: hands get messy so wear gloves or be sure to wash them after to prevent staining from food coloring.

Fluffy Slime:
Ingredients: Elmer glue, shaving foam (old fashioned barber shaving foam. Gel doesn't work- we had better luck in the men shaving section), saline solution, water, (if you want)

Mix 1/2 cup glue and 1/2 - 1 cup of shaving foam (depends on how fluffy you want it- we played around so didn't measure exactly). Add color/glitter.
Then add about 5 TBS of saline solution. We added a bit of water to make it more workable, but experiment.
Mix/Stir/Knead together. This one is SUPER STICKY and very stringy and messy. So be aware.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Hello from LlamaMama

Hello MIM!

LlamaMama here. I'm an MS4 going into Pediatrics, wife of my college sweetheart, and proud mama of an energetic 1-year-old (how did that happen?!?!) boy. I've been reading this blog ever since I was thinking about becoming a mother in medicine. I've always known that I wanted to work in a health-related field, but a bad case of imposter syndrome, coupled with worries about work-life-balance kept me from pursuing a medical career for far too long. There were no physicians in my family, and most of the women had given up their career ambitions to focus on their families, which made this career decision that much more intimidating. MIM was the first space where I found women honestly sharing about their joys and struggles in prioritizing their medical careers and their families. In the last few years, I've found lots of awesome women physician mentors, in addition to continuing to follow this blog. I'm so excited to join the list of regular contributors!

A little bit more about me: I grew up in a few different countries, and am now married to a wonderful man who also grew up in multiple countries, so when we do get free time, we love to travel (we've already taken the baby on two international trips and several cross-country!). I love to cook and eat delicious food, and I'm working on finding an exercise routine that I enjoy enough to do consistently. I am a social introvert, figuring out how to balance deepening relationships with my husband, son and close friends while still making time to re-charge alone. I look forward to sharing my joys and struggles with you all.  

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

I forgot to worry about that!


Hi! So excited to join this sisterhood. I am a pediatric hospitalist at a mid-sized children’s hospital. I am blessed with 3 amazing children and a supportive, talented husband who is thankfully not in medicine but rather works during normal human hours.

I am pregnant with my fourth child. I have had 3 normal, healthy pregnancies and delivered 3 healthy, full term babies. I was apprehensively hoping for the same this time around. No such luck; at my routine anatomy scan, I was suspected to have placenta accreta. For those of you who don’t remember from medical school, here’s a crash course. Normally the placenta adheres loosely to the uterine wall, and is able to detach easily following delivery. With placenta accreta, the placenta adheres to the uterus pathologically. It invades inward, doesn’t separate spontaneously after delivery, and can cause massive hemorrhage if manual separation is attempted. Most patients who have placenta accreta require a life-saving hysterectomy. There are 3 subtypes: in a standard accreta, the placenta simply attaches too deeply to the uterine wall; in placenta increta, it invades into the myometrium; and in placenta percreta, it invades through the myometrium and serosa, and occasionally into surrounding structures and organs (most commonly the bladder, but any organ in the vicinity is potentially at risk).

I immediately transferred care to the placenta accreta referral center in the nearest big city. Within 2 weeks I had an appointment and within 2 minutes of meeting my MFM she told me I was a “hot mess.” I have placenta percreta. Go big or go home. (I think I want to go home.)

People comment on how “well I’m taking it.” How “strong” and “resilient” I am. “You look great; you don’t even seem worried,” people tell me. I don’t seem worried? That’s cool. Because I am worried. I’m worried about a lot of things. In fact, here is a list of things I’m worried about.
  • The very complicated cesarean delivery, complete with a hysterectomy. I will be on the table for about 6 hours, and there will be various surgical teams parading in and out of the OR.
  • Intraoperative blood loss, with potential for massive hemorrhage. I will almost certainly require multiple blood transfusions, and if things go particularly badly “massive transfusion protocol” will be initiated, which puts me at risk for complications including fluid shifts, electrolyte derangements, DIC and ARDS, to name a few.
  • Damage to surrounding structures, including but not limited to my genitourinary tract. That placenta is freaking close to my bladder, people.
  • Let’s just put this out there: death. There is in fact a 7% mortality rate for cases like mine. Even in the major centers, even if the operative teams are prepared.
  • Oh, and the baby. In order to reduce the risk of these complications, the baby will need to be delivered preterm. And not late-preterm. Preterm preterm. Like a preterm baby who is at risk for sepsis, IVH, chronic lung disease, NEC, and all the other preemie ailments.
  • And the more minor things too. That pesky surgical incision that will extend vertically from my pubis up to my xiphoid. Recovering from this surgery, which will render me essentially nonfunctional at home. The possibility that breastfeeding may not go well, and may not be possible at all. The fear that this pregnancy may become even more complicated, and I may need to deliver even earlier than planned. The fact that I don’t have enough paid time off, and I will need to take unpaid leave for several weeks, something that I’m not sure we can handle financially. The loss of my fertility, completely and forever.

But life goes on. Thankfully the baby is fine and the pregnancy is otherwise healthy, so there’s not much to do between now and delivery. So I get dressed, get in my car, and go to work. I take care of sick patients, supervise residents, and teach medical students. And on nights in the hospital when things are slow I work on my mandatory compliance modules. Every year we are obligated to do like 40 of them. They range from mildly clinically interesting (preventing central line infections, reporting suspected child abuse) to stiffly corporate (anti-kickback statutes, reminders not to commit fraud) to downright irrelevant and time-wasting.

One night on call I had some free time so I decided to bang out a few modules. I was up to “Preventing Operating Room Fires.” Groan. This one was not only completely irrelevant (I wasn’t even allowed in the ORs! Not even to, say, do an LP on a sedated child!) but it was an 18-minute-long video. As I started watching the video, I froze. I realized that even though I wasn’t allowed in the OR as a doctor, I was about to be in one as a patient. And I slowly but suddenly wondered: WHAT IF THERE IS A FIRE IN THE OR??? THIS COULD TOTALLY HAPPEN TO ME! And it dawned on me, that with all the things I was worrying about – the massive blood transfusions, the damage to my genitourinary tract, the 7% mortality rate, the preemie baby – there could ALSO be an OR fire and I FORGOT TO WORRY ABOUT THAT! How could I forget to worry about something that had a nonzero chance of happening and could have devastating consequences? I didn’t sleep for the next 3 nights.

I remember my last night on call before delivering my youngest child. I was 38 weeks along and healthy. One of the patients I admitted was a 4-month-old infant. She had had corrective surgery to repair anorectal atresia with a rectovestibular fistula and needed to be monitored post-op. As I took the history from her parents and discovered that they did not know about this condition until after she was born, I remember having a similar realization: I had been worrying about all the usual things – prematurity, infection, birth hypoxia. But anorectal atresia with rectovestibular fistula? I had completely forgotten to worry about that!

Worry is a funny thing. Psychologists postulate that worry is beneficial insofar as it helps people do the things they need to do to keep themselves safe. Studies have shown that people who worry about skin cancer are more vigilant about applying sunscreen than those who don’t. But I already transferred to the regional center and am compliant with my prenatal care, all the things I need to do to optimize my chances for a good medical outcome. At this point most psychologists would agree that worrying won’t do me any good. It doesn’t help anything. But that doesn’t stop me.

A few friends jokingly suggested that I focus all my energy on worrying about that potential OR fire and not bother worrying about anything else. It’s not a terrible idea.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Summer reflections

Hello! My name is Michelle and I am brand new to the world of blogging (so be gentle with me). I am a Mom to two energetic boys who keep me on my toes. I also spend the rest of my time taking care of other people’s kids as a pediatrician.

Since we are now knee deep into summer (I don’t know about you but it feels like school just let out and already we are starting back to school shopping!!) I was reflecting on our busy summer days and how they are different then the laid back lazy summer days of my youth. Summers are a funny time when you are a working Mom. It starts a few weeks before school lets out when Moms start speaking of how they are looking forward to lazy days and all the fun summer projects they are going to accomplish. I often feel envious of the stay at home Mom’s summer. (And this is not meant to spark the stay at home vs working Mom debate. We are all valuable in what we do - we are all good people doing good things.) What I mean is I have a longing for lazy days with no schedule and no commitments. The ability to lounge in pajamas all day if that’s what we choose to do. I see facebook posts of cute kids with bed hair and pjs captioned ‘just woke up’ at 10 a.m. and I sigh. I hear my patients tell me that they are getting ready to go away for the summer and think ‘what is it like to take 6 weeks off’ and I sigh. I talk to other Moms and listen to them tell of putting their kids in day camps for a week to break up the boredom of their carefree summer days and I sigh. The fact is in my family our summers look a whole lot like our school year does. Summer camp is not a boredom buster for us but a requirement for our two working parent family. We still get up at the same time and leave the house at the same time to get to summer camp everyday. I still try to get them in bed at a reasonable time at night while allowing for some ‘it’s summer can we stay up late’ requests. Aside from not having homework to do and after school activities we have the same rhythm to most our days. And at times that is a great thing - because my kids do thrive on a schedule (and really so do I) But there are many moments that I long for the lazy days of my summer. When I was a kid we didn’t have summer camps and scheduled activities. We woke up whenever we wanted to and watched way too much TV and swam most of the day. We rode our bikes back and forth from my Grandma’s house where she would make us grilled cheese sandwiches and let us eat popsicles in the hot sun. I wonder sometimes if my kids are missing out on that and wonder how I can get that for them. Which is ultimately ironic because I work hard to make a better life for my children and now I contemplate a life not working to give them a more schedule free life. I know this is my own internal debate because my kids are having the time of their lives - they are doing Hogwarts camp and Lego camp and all sorts of fun things. I hear no complaints from them at all. I do worry about their need to be on the go all the time and wonder if that is a byproduct of our scheduled life. My oldest, especially, has a hard time when there is no plan for the day and has a hard time with unscheduled down time (which of course as a parent is the thing of my dreams!) So I worry - as we all do - about making the right choices knowing all along that the choices we make are often not in our control at all. But I still can daydream and live vicariously through those stay at home Moms leaving with their kids for their long lazy summers on the lake and think ‘maybe someday’.