Tuesday, March 28, 2017

"Creative Block"

When do you find time to be yourself?   The self you are outside of medicine and parenthood? (Maybe the glimpse of a self you were before medicine and parenthood?)  Outside of being a pathologist and parent I also derive joy from making art.  Well, maybe not immediate joy, but it is a sort of deep satisfaction.  I see making art like I see working out: Sometimes it sucks when I'm doing it, but afterwards I always feel better that I did it.  When I finish a painting and I’m happy with it, I feel the same deep satisfaction and pride that I do when I look at my beautiful little boy.    

But when I say “time” I’m not talking about the hours and minutes.  I have hours and minutes.  My toddler goes to bed at 8 pm every night.  My husband splits the housework and childcare with me.  I go to bed at 11.  That’s almost 3 hours each night that I should technically have to myself.  But I find myself too tired to use it effectively.   I have the time but not the energy to be creative.  I feel like it’s all drained from me by the time our baby is in bed.  And maybe that’s to be expected.  I work full time.  We have an 18 month old.  To be creative you have to have a certain amount of energy.  Those three hours are also the only time I have to get my ADLs done...shopping, taxes, doing the dishes.  Even as I sit here writing this at 9 pm, I’m so so tired.  My eyes hurt.  I’m tempted to throw up my hands, give up.  Make my tea and read a book (sadly sometimes merely Facebook).  I even have a studio and a painting I’m currently working on (sporadically).  But the time I’m in there is often so infrequent that I can’t remember what colors I was using each time I return.  I have completed precisely one piece of art since our son was born.  When we bought our house I picked out the room I would use as a studio.  My husband is proud of me that I do this other thing outside of medicine.  But sometimes I tell him that it’s silly that I have this whole room to myself when I barely use it.  I have had other dry spells in my life that were not related to having a baby.  So maybe having a baby is just an excuse?  Or maybe there is something to this feeling of being spent, dissipated at the end of the day that leaves no room for creativity?  

I haven't written on MiM as much as I planned to either....Sometimes a blank word document is just as terrifying as a blank canvas.  What do other MiMs do to keep themselves creative?   How do you find the energy? 

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Last Week

My little family had a tough week last week. In addition to the usual chaos of single-working-mom-with-two-kids life, which includes (but is not limited to) two morning drop offs during the week, ballet, play rehearsal, soccer, swim class, my own personal interviews for a potential promotion at work, and a snow day during the week (oh how I could do a single lengthy post on the chaos of being a doctor mom with two kids on a snow day!), three year old E got sick. And we landed in the hospital.

I should mention that my seven year old daughter, M, has immunity of steel. She had the usual colds, fevers, early childhood sicknesses until roughly 18 months old, and then she’s been rock solid since. I can’t remember a time in 5 years that she’s seen the pediatrician other than for a wellness physical.  

And then there’s E. He’s had an ongoing solidly built relationship with our pediatrician which has landed him in her office so many times we all stopped counting. Sometimes I see her so much (and I like her SO much!) I think I should take her out for coffee or something!  For a while it was bi-weekly, for a new cold, fever, cough.  Between the ages of 6 months and 16 months, this kid was hospitalized three times for respiratory problems.  The frustrating thing was he would get overtaken by a cold which would turn into brochiolitis, land in the hospital with hypoxemia, get treated with oxygen (and time) and get better, but no one could really put a name on it.  It wasn’t asthma. He got tested for CF (oh, that was a harrowing day!), amongst other things, and the pediatricians landed on a diagnosis of “tracheomalacia” and told me he’d grow out of it.  So for 2 solid years, we walked on eggshells with this little guy and his tenuous health.  And, slowly, he seemed to get better and the “colds” got less frequent, and I slowly let go of some of my anxiety about him getting sick.

Last week, he wasn’t himself on Monday and had a low grade temperature. I didn’t think much of it because he wasn’t coughing and thought he’d rest a little on our “bonus” snow day. On the morning after the snow day, he still had a low grade temp so I kept him home from school but I needed to be at work. I was precepting for three residents, two of my colleagues were away on vacation, and there was just absolutely not a single soul (believe me, I racked my brain!) who could precept those residents for me. So, I brought E to work with me -- he was psyched! He sat at my desk, drew pictures, played on the computer, got fawned all over by my colleagues, and enjoyed the bonus graham crackers and apple juice in the ‘supply’ closet! He was really acting fine, even a little energized by being at my office, but a slow, barking cough began to emerge.

We left my office midday and went to the pediatrician (it was a covering doc as our usual pediatrician was out that day! Sigh.) to find he had since spiked a fever, and his room air pulse ox was 92%.  He had a right lower lobe pneumonia [ok, this is the part where I confess I listened to his lungs when he was in my office -- which I try to NEVER do, except I did this time -- and thought I also heard a pneumonia but tried to leave that to his real doctor to decide!]. They gave him nebs in the office (I told them they never work, but they always say it’s worth a try) and his pulse ox remained at 92%.  So, we left with our amoxicillin prescription and a word of caution: “You know what to do. You are a doctor. If he gets worse overnight, don’t even call us. Just go to the ED. If you are worried tomorrow, bring him in again.”

I should have known. It always gets worse.  This kid gets sick fast.  So he got his first dose of amoxicillin, and I waited.  You know that waiting -- the kind of waiting moms do -- where we are so worried, need to be distracted so we don’t obsess, then we second guess our judgement, try to convince ourselves it will be ok, exercise some magical thinking that all will be fine as soon as the antibiotics kick in, and the time can’t pass quick enough.  I put E to bed at 6 pm because he was so tired and miserable, and the next 3 hours were unbearable. He would sleep for 5 minutes, cough uncontrollably, wake up and cry, and then be so tired he’d fall asleep again, and then do the same thing over and over. It went on like this for so long. Did I mention I also was getting my 7 year old fed, showered, ready for bed? Oh yeah, that too!

At 9:30, while holding E in my bed, trying to get him to calm so that he could get some much needed rest, he woke and cried and said “Mama, I need help. I need help.”  So, that’s it.  I sped into action: clothes on, coats, boots, hats, gloves for kids, I woke up M, I put both kids in the car (10 degrees outside!), dropped off M at a friend’s house to sleep over, and drove to the ER.  E’s dad eventually met us there -- another story.

In the ER, E’s room air pulse ox was still 92% but when he fell asleep, he got hypoxemic to the low 80s.  I’m guessing it’s why his sleep was so fitful.  So, we got admitted. And we spent 3 days in the hospital. From the gurney in the ER, I sent emails and texts to my clinic manager, medical director, and colleagues to cancel all my patients and my meetings, and the interviews for the promotion that I’ve been working toward.  The rest of the week was a wash.  In fact, all the stress and chaos of ‘everything else’ just melts away when you have a sick kid. I told myself, “I’ll catch up. It will be ok. Everything else will wait.”  And it did. Time stood still with him in my arms. All I needed was him to get better.

E is fine now. He is back to preschool, and back to his usual self. M had a few days of being bonkers because her routine was off as we figured out how to move all the pieces of the family puzzle while I stayed with E in the hospital (thank goodness for good friends!). But, she was truly a champ during it all. And, we are back to ballet and soccer and swim class and play practice and birthday parties and the crazy of morning school drop off, and I’m back to patients and meetings and interviews. And somehow we are all staying afloat. And we are making sure to do it all with lots of hugs and giggles and a few dance parties mixed in -- the chaos is there, it’s never going away, and we are trying to keep it ‘light’ for now because that’s all this doctor mama can take at the moment.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Guest Post: Finally

I have been tired since May 2015. I am so, so tired. But the sleep deprivation proved to be worth it today. You see, today was Match Day. The results were good. Outstanding, really. Not only did I match to my number one ranked program, but my future institution is one of the most prestigious medical centers in the world.

My journey to get today was not easy. It took me three application cycles to get accepted into medical school. The emotional toll alone of receiving dozens of rejection letters is enough to make anyone go a little crazy. But with application cycles also comes time, and as we all know, with time comes a decline in ovarian function. Women physicians are all too familiar with that line graph comparing ovarian reserve to a woman’s age. I was finally accepted into medical school at 27. By that time I was married to a man nine years my senior who was very eager to start a family. So we decided to have a baby… while I was in medical school.

After a pregnancy complicated by complete placenta previa, studying for Step 1 in the height of my third trimester, and a major placental bleed during third year orientation- my beautiful Ben was born. I have loved my son with every ounce of my being since the second I heard him cry. He has brought our family indescribable joy and not a moment goes by that I am not thankful to have him.

But being a parent is even harder than I imagined (I still have PTSD from the newborn period). Being a parent while in medical school seems like an almost insurmountable challenge. It has been exhausting and challenging and there were times I did not think I would make it to today. But today is proof. When I celebrated the news of my match, I got to share that moment with my loving husband and our smart, wild, daring, and sweet little boy.

Yes, I am still exhausted. And no, I do not believe I will get to catch up on sleep anytime soon. But just as my increasing age correlates to my declining ovarian function (that damn graph), it also represents the passage of time. My grandmother used to say that the days were long but the years were short. So to all the women who wonder if they can be a mom while in medicine... the answer is YES. Do whatever is right for you and your individual circumstance. And if you do have a baby in medical school (or at any point in your medical career), there will be times when it’s awful and times you genuinely don’t believe you can do it anymore… but it is so worth it. And whatever you do, enjoy every second because my grandmother was right. There were so many long days, but these sweet, sweet years are ever so short.


Thursday, March 16, 2017

Itty bitty ones and screen time

Screens! There are so many. And they are everywhere. Even AAP relaxed their screen time recommendations in recognition of the ubiquity of screens. I remember when my little one was born, AAP recommended no screens for children under 2. Current recommendations relaxed the no-screen age from 2 years to 18 months. Like many other things related to parenting, I have been flying by the seat of pants, and experimenting as I go along. Here are some observations from our ongoing screen time adventures.

Under 18 months? No screens for you: We did not adhere to that. Part of it has to do with very different approaches that me and my husband take to screens (and parenting in general). I was the stickler in the beginning, determined that my child would view no screen until 2 years. Husband is several notches more laissez faire than me, felt screens were fine birth onwards. After several battles, a compromise was reached. I don't recall the exact age, but it was somewhere between 12 and 18 months.

So many screens and so little time: At first, I didn't distinguish between different kinds of screens and let the toddler do as he wanted. TV? Sure! iPhone? Why not! Laptop? Here ya go! But then I dialed it back quickly after seeing him flip from one video to another at a dizzying pace on the touchscreen phone. My toddler has pretty good attention span for doing tasks, but watching him with that level of stimulation gave me future ADHD nightmares. For now, I have stuck to less interactive screens like TV. Watch a show. Finish viewing. Turn it off.

Screen as a pacifier: Kids and restaurants don't mix well together. "Twenty minutes in a high chair is about all you can reasonably expect from a toddler... Little bodies need to move" When he was having a meltdown, initially a smartphone seemed like a very effective pacifier. Avoid the angry stares from other patrons. Enjoy our meals in peace for a little bit. But then our child became Pavlov, and we were his little rats. When every meltdown was rewarded with a phone, they just became more frequent. Eating out is an important social skill. Sowing seeds for that ineptitude so early didn't quite sit right with me. So I stopped caring about strangers stares. If the meltdown was too intense, one of us walked out with him until he calmed down. Now instead of playing with a phone at a restaurant, he plays with his food. Baby steps!

Screen as babysitter: AAP recommends against using screens like electronic babysitters. Easier said than done! As I discussed some of my childcare challenges with limited financial resources in a previous post, this is the rule I feel guiltiest about breaking, but I continue to break it anyway. In AAP's ideal world, "parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing". In my real world, while my child is glued to the front of a TV, that is some precious time to hastily get stuff done. However I did find a workaround through a loophole for that AAP recommendation. Toddlers love to view the same thing over and over. We cut the cord and watch most of our TV via Netflix/Amazon Prime etc. I watch a few episodes of some shows with him, and then play the same ones over and over for him.

All programming is not created equal: I have found PBS to be the highest quality, though even with PBS, not all shows are equally good. By far my favorites are Sesame Street, Daniel Tiger and Peg+Cat. There was a even a study showing correlation between Daniel Tiger viewing and children's emotional intelligence. Adding anecdotal evidence, I have taught my son to apologize using the episode where Daniel Tiger learns to apologize. And to clean up after himself using Daniel Tiger's jingles "Clean up, pick up, put away. Clean up, everyday".

Practicing the preaching: All this fussing about my toddler and his screen habits have made me rethink my own screen time. Excluding unavoidable screen time (work/school related), I tried to take an inventory of the my avoidable screen time. I am not much of a regular TV watcher, my biggest avoidable time sink was checking social media on my smart phone. A strategy that I have had moderate success with involved creating extra hurdles to view social media. You can read about it in greater detail at my blog here. Less time with my face in a screen meant more time being present (actually present) for my munchkin.

It's been a bumpy ride but I feel like we have reached somewhat of a steady state with our relationship with screens... for now. But these pesky children keep growing up, ensuring that the steady state will not stay so for long. Screen time for kiddos has been in recent news, with stories of links between increased screen time and diabetes risk and teens replacing drugs with smartphones. Even without those scary stories, I am dreading navigating the whole wild world of smart phones, video games, internet and social media when my itty bitty one is no longer so little and outgrows PBS Kids. Mothers in Medicine with children of all ages, share your own screen time adventures. What has guided your approach to your children and screens? What screen related rules do you use in your house? Did you have it all figured out or do you fumble around like me?

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Request Case

One of the things I really enjoy about being an anesthesiologist is the wide variety of patients that I see. You never know who you're going to have the privilege to care for on a given day. Although my group is large, I will occasionally be assigned to a patient that I personally know. And occasionally, someone I know will request me as their anesthesiologist.

Last month I took care of a friend who requested me for her surgery. It was a very straightforward case, everything went smoothly, and she expressed abundant gratitude at the end of her experience. I was also asked to do anesthesia by a friend for a surgery that, knowing her history, was going to be fairly complicated. That one gave me pause, but I did it and everything turned out well.

Gizabeth recently wrote about being a doctor to her friend, and I'll bet that some of you have also taken care of friends (or have become friends with some of your patients). I would venture to say that being an anesthesiologist or surgeon to a friend adds an even further layer of complexity because there is an immediate "life and death" aspect to what we do. However, either fortunately or unfortunately, patients don't usually appreciate this.

On the "pro" side, patients can feel a great sense of empowerment in choosing their own anesthesiologist. A good attitude and sense of empowerment going into surgery can translate to less stress on the patient and better overall recovery. During my residency, I had a scary brain surgery. At first, I thought it would be awkward to personally know my surgeon and anesthesiologist, but out of convenience and timeliness, I chose to have the surgery at my own institution. I was able to choose my anesthesiologist - who at the time was one of my supervisors! In the end, I felt great comfort in personally knowing my healthcare team.

On the "con" side, there is a phenomenon in our specialty called VIP syndrome. Taking care of a VIP subconsciously makes people pause and do things slightly differently than they would normally do, rendering the whole process vulnerable to errors. What if your friend suffers an adverse event under your care? And are your decisions objective enough in the situation?

What do you think? Would you and/or do you take care of friends? How about family members? Let us know your experiences with requests for care by friends, acquaintances, or family.

Friday, March 10, 2017

The doctor self-diagnoses again (a delightfully disgusting story)

Genmedmom here.

I've posted about my own recent miserable illnesses on my own site so often lately, I'm afraid to post anything else about being sick there. People will start to think I have some underlying issue, like an undiagnosed immunocompromised state.... or hypochondriasis.

But I have to share the gross details of my latest medical problem! I have to, because it's so disgusting, it's entertaining.

So my kids and I have been SO sick this winter. There was Norovirus at Christmas, and then the flu three weeks ago (despite being vaccinated), which for me, then triggered a horrible asthma exacerbation...

But last week, I was finally feeling better. I remember thinking, "Gee, I finally feel better..."  and probably jinxed myself.

By the end of the week I was really congested and feeling run-down. "Great, a cold coming on, this sucks," I thought.

Then Saturday afternoon, I was more congested, and the mucous was really green. I felt kind of woozy, with mild chills. I ignored it and went for a four-mile run in ten-degree weather. Weirdly, it was invigorating, and the hot shower afterwards was heavenly! The mucous drained and drained.

"Ha! I beat that one!" I congratulated myself.

But, Sunday: worsening congestion, thicker gray-green mucous, facial pressure... and then there was this smell.

I smelled it first in our kitchen. A warm, dirty dishwater smell, like when you open an old dishwasher before the heat cycle is done and all that steam with the hot-moist-food-particle odor hits you full in the face. WTF? I peeked all around trying to find the source.

Then at church, I smelled it again. The kids were running around and I was distracted, so I didn't think about it too much other than, "Yuck, what's that?"

Later, at home, still soooo stuffed up, I blew my nose for the millionth time, and got a huge glob of nasty slimy mucous. For some reason, I thought to sniff it.

And there it was. That smell. It was reminiscent of when I worked part-time in our college cafeteria and there was an immense sink for soaking all the pots and pans and serving dishes in super-hot water with some kind of toxic detergent, and the clouds of steam would waft up with the odor of all those food scraps: leftover meatloaf, cherry jello, brown gravy, pea-soup, and harsh industrial-strength cleaning solution all mixed up together in one nauseating and assaulting aroma...

I realized (with a shudder) that the source of that nasty smell was my own face, my own mucous. SO GROSS SO GROSS SO GROSS!!!!

Of course I googled this, trying to figure out what was the principal bacteria responsible for this gray-green discharge with the very particular odor... No luck. Needless to say, I'm on Augmentin and I feel alot better. 

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Early dementia

"We have a problem," my daughter's kindergarten teacher recently told me during a parent teacher conference.

"What's the problem?" I asked.

"You forgot to pack your daughter's snack today," she said.  "Also, you forgot it one other time.  I don't know what's going on there."

I pay a small fortune for my kids to get school lunch (which I'm convinced they don't actually eat), but in addition to that, we have to pack a snack.  I don't remember having snack time in elementary school.  I think we got lunch and that's it.  But regardless, snack time is the convention.  And on two occasions in a three month period, I forgot to pack it.

The thing that surprised me is... am I really the only mom in the whole class who forgot to pack a snack twice in three months?  Is that really something that should make the teacher look at me like I'm irresponsible?  I have a lot of things to do in the morning and I just forgot.

I used to have a great memory.  

I don't know what happened.  I can't remember anything anymore.  I have alarms in my phone to remind me to tell my daughter to pack her clarinet on band day, to remind her to study for her Friday exams, because I'd never remember otherwise.  I put reminders and alarms in my phone about every appointment, every social event, everything I do.  

And it's still not enough.  My kindergartner is totally incapable of remembering her backpack in the morning if I don't remind her, and yesterday, I forgot to remind her.  So we got to school and.... no backpack.  I had to call my husband and beg him to bring her the backpack on his way to work, which he did, but I forgot to put her dance clothes in the backpack, which was practically the only thing she needed in the damn thing anyway.

But at least her snack was in there.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

On Family Medicine

I wondered during undergrad if I could do medicine and "have a life". I didn't have a lot of first-hand contact with physicians, and had just started to consider a career in medicine, so I really didn't know what a medical lifestyle was like. I knew it could be incredibly demanding and busy, but I wasn't sure how much flexibility there would be. In the end I suppose I still didn't really know, but I figured if others did it, I could figure it out too.

We had the chance to get early clinical exposure at my medical school. I had always planned to do family medicine, so every Wednesday afternoon in my first year, I would take the bus to the family medicine clinic of Dr. B. Dr. B's patients adored her. She truly listened to them, and was clinically excellent too. Seeing patients -- real people with real problems! -- was thrilling. I get a reminder of this from time to time in my office when I have early medical students join me. Looking at a tympanic membrane is exciting to them! It's a great boost. 

During medical school, I went through the "cardiology! neurology! infectious diseases!" rotation in my mind, until it was clear that being a generalist was what I wanted. Internal medicine was tempting, as I actually enjoy learning minutiae, but I loved women's health, pediatrics, and doing preventative care. The flexibility of a career in family medicine was unmatched in my eyes. So from clerkship onward, I continued to feel that family medicine was the right fit for me. 

I now have a family practice of about 1200 patients in a small group practice, and see patients for about 30 hours per week.  Charting, results and other paperwork takes about 8-10 hours a week.  I block one day off every month for self-care or catch-up time - with young kids, if I have to cancel a clinic due to their or my illness, it’s nice to have a day available to re-book patients. I can book off in advance for appointments for the kids or myself, or fit in local CMEs or meetings related to some community health work I do. The demands of my practice - and of home - fluctuate from week to week, but generally it feels like a good balance. 

I ran into a lovely, well-meaning non-medical friend a little while ago. "How's work going?" she asked. "Ah, it's been a long week." I said. "Lots of coughs and colds?" she mused. "If only!" I thought. I tell this to students a lot: family medicine can be very challenging, medically, and very draining, emotionally. So rather than things like a chest cold or plantar wart being boring and mundane, they can be a very welcome break from the challenging things we see at times.  The medically complex cases are invigorating, and the emotionally draining cases, highly meaningful; the "mundane" cases act as a much-needed foil. And above all, when you know your patients like you do in family medicine, it becomes much more about caring for the person in front of you than about the particulars of their issues. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

MiM Mail: Challenges of being a working parent of school-aged children?

I'm a resident and a mom, with two kids in elementary school. As my kids have gotten older it has gotten a lot easier to "balance" medicine and home life, but I am still quite frustrated with some of the residual things I'm unavailable for. Specifically, it's tough feeling out of the loop regarding school and extracurricular activities, such as having someone else do their homework with them, not being there right after school to hear how their day went and meet their friends, and not getting to observe many extra-curricular activities to determine their quality/worthwhileness. How are you moms of older kids staying involved with those important aspects of their schooling and overall life? When I attend parent-teacher conferences I seem to get positive feedback about how things are going but it's also somewhat generic. I was also wondering in general what some of the challenges of being a working parent of school-aged children and teens are and how you've counteracted those? It seems most of the advice online is for moms of younger kids. Thanks!

Thursday, February 16, 2017


(Warning: serious serious whining and verbal diarrhea ahead, but I will blame it on not getting more than 5 hours of continuous sleep more than twice in the past >11 months. Admittedly, entirely my fault.)

I feel like I’ve maxed out. I want to “cry uncle” to life right now. I am tired. I need a break. Break from work, break from kids, break from the baby, break from my boobs, break from dishes, break from the cycle of daycare-work-evening marathon getting everyone fed/bathed/sleeping-passing out while putting my older daughter to bed and feeling guilty for not being able to get a couple more hours of work done afterwards. Then waking up all night, feeling like a wreck in the morning, and doing it all over again with no end in sight. Break from my husband being so busy too. Break from taking a raincheck on every holiday that comes around (birthdays, Christmas, Valentine’s day, anniversary) because it feels way harder to actually plan something or think about gifts. Break from feeling constantly broke and not being able to get help around the house, babysitting, etc. Break from feeling too tired to have sex. Break from making dinner and planning meals. Break from being the one who plans everything, even if we were to have some sort of vacation. I don’t even want to go on a vacation because that would mean more work. Break from feeling like I never am on top of my lab work or studying. Break from feeling more exhausted and depleted over the weekend and at times longing for Monday morning to arrive. Break from absolutely everything.

I think what I really need is to travel back in time and enjoy a weekend when I was 10 years younger. Because if I went to a hotel overnight and slept for 12 hours, I would think about the kids and miss them. I would feel bad that my husband wasn’t getting rest too, because he needs it just as much as me (well, maybe I do a little more haha) or that we weren’t using the opportunity to reconnect and have some special time together.

I always remind myself that this is all self-imposed. I had unprotected sex. I chose to have kids. I chose medicine. And I wanted both at once. I am a sucker and never stopped nursing my now 11 month old to sleep and have created a monster who wants me every few hours all night, every night. But I am too tired to resist going to him, because the sooner I do, the sooner we are both back to sleep. It’s terrible. This phase of life isn’t easy for anybody. I know some people never can ever even entertain the idea of taking a break because of life and financial circumstances so I should be grateful for the theoretical possibility.

Deep breath. It’s okay. One day at a time.

I think I just need to sleep.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

I Am Her Doctor, and Her Friend

I have a good friend named Mary.* We met at 15 (she was 14), volunteering at a camp for severely handicapped children. The weekends were called Respite for the full time caregivers. The campers ran the gamut - Cerebral Palsy to Prader-Willi to Down's Syndrome. We both excelled at our task - this was before service hours were a college application box to checklist. We believed that what we were doing would make a difference.

We became fast friends. In spite of our lofty aspirations, we were also teenagers finding ourselves. She was and still is gorgeous, I was drawn to that. She was also lots of fun. I had a hardship driver's license, and we headed offsite one night to buy a Playgirl magazine at a local convenience store. We got back to camp, looked through the pages, and were profoundly disappointed in the staged pics of men in thongs. "Who gets turned on by this?" we wondered. The Playboy's I snuck from under my Dad's bed when I was a tween were much more interesting than this.

Once we double dated in her small town of Salem - she set me up. Let's call them Dusty and Dylan. I was the only licensed driver. I decided to be the sober driver. They were all drinking Purple Passion. She and I had to use the restroom, so we stopped at the local grocery store.

While we were in the bathroom, the boys were up to no good. We climbed back into my 1983 Oldsmobile Toronado convertible.  I stuck the keys in the ignition, and saw blue lights flashing in my rear view mirror. Seems the boys had decided to steal beer from the storeroom without telling us - stashing it in my backseat. We sat in the grocery store high box, surrounded by plexiglass (remember those?) until we were finally told we could go home sometime well after midnight. Thank God, I told Mary. They are honest.

Mary and I are the kind of friends that while staying the course move in and out of our friendship for years at a time. It's our norm - we both have big circles. I will never forget her support after my divorce. She invited me to everything for a year - her parties, her Florida vacation home. It was a respite for me and my kids. She also recommended her storeroom floor designer to be my decorator, who helped me with my home after my divorce. When I was married last fall, her store's event spinoff furnished my beautiful reception at the Clinton Library.

We hadn't caught up much in over a year, so I was surprised when she texted me last week. "I'm having surgery next week. A cyst the size of a grapefruit. I told the surgeon to send it directly to you."

I texted the surgeon immediately. "I've got this, you don't have to do anything. I've called the gross room."

I scoured two pre-ops on her surgery day, before finally finding her. When in the second one, I asked some nurses to help me find her. One challenged me. "Are you family or friend?"  I answered, "I'm her friend." "Well then you need to check in at guest services. All family and friends must go to guest services. Leave pre-op, you will find it around the corner to the left." I felt taken down a notch - my doctor coat meant nothing to her but a challenge to beat down, and since she didn't recognize me she put me in my place. I was so shocked I just did what she said - I have been in pre and post op many times over the years and have never been treated that way. I vowed, in the future, to assert myself more. I'm not only her friend, I'm her doctor. Albeit one behind the sidelines, but important nonetheless. So if I need help finding her in pre-op, you can direct me to her instead of sending me outside to a queue.

Luckily the cyst was benign - her surgeon ordered a frozen so she and her family were assured right away. But the surgery was complicated, so she was inpatient for almost a week. Affording me to visit her often, share gross and micro pics of her specimen, support the anxieties of her and her family. Catch up. I miss the hell out of our teenage selves. But in our long conversations we proved that we are both still here. Same people, future incarnations.

"Thank you so much for spending time with me this week."

"Seriously? I should thank you. I am normally buried in my scope. Well, except for when I interact with Dr. Woods and Dr. Music. But really you are a breath of fresh air. I am sorry for your circumstances, but proud to support you. I sign out 65 cases a day, and there's no way I could give each person behind them all the attention I have given you this week. But sharing your path, the gross and microscopic pics - makes me feel like a real doctor. I don't do this for other patients. This week makes me wish I could on occasion. And last week, this would not have been possible. I was super slammed. This is a crazy slow unusual week, and I am glad."

Texting her surgeon the day after her surgery made me realize how touch and go it was. She texted back, "It was like someone poured cement into her belly. There were so many adhesions from previous surgery. My partner and I felt like residents again. It was the hardest surgery I have done in practice. I can't imagine her pain tolerance - it must be huge. We freed up a lot of her bowel, she should be much more comfortable."

I hung out with her one afternoon while I was waiting to go to a late meeting. "They said it might be awhile before I can use stairs. I'm thinking of getting a bed delivered to the house."

"Well, that shouldn't be a problem. You are a furniture mogul, after all. Just call your peeps and have them deliver."

"LOL. That's exaggerating."

"Not at all." She and her family have many stores throughout the South. "I'm headed out early. Treadmill/yoga night for me - no kids. Hope you get a good night sleep. I'll visit in the morning, if you are still here."

Luckily she went home the next day. I got to celebrate the good news with her and her husband during an early morning visit by her doctor. When I went back to check on her late morning housekeeping was already scouring her room. I texted her, "I'm glad you are gone but I'm going to miss you so much - let's catch up soon over dinner and wine." She texted back, "Thanks again Giz, definitely soon." I may be her doctor, but I am definitely her friend first.

*Posted with her permission. And her appreciation. She's my first and best audience, and I'm so happy she likes this essay.

How Many Balls Can I Juggle?

I've been trying to dig deep and reflect on my own work-life balance... I feel like I'm living in a world in which my mantra to my learners and advisees is "Do as I say, not as I do."

I love to teach. I'm in an academic position because I thrive on teaching while working clinically. I teach medical students, residents, fellows and am engaged in faculty development. I'm encouraged by my mentors to "be academically productive" however I'm not entirely clear what that means. Write, publish, be educationally innovative, do research, stay sane and be a good mom and a good doctor. 

I need a new organizational scheme. My most successful portion of my organization is my google calendar. I literally cannot do anything without it. I've got it color coded and labeled. My week in view is dizzying with color coordination and notes. My to do lists, however, are scattered between different notebooks, notes on my phone, loose pieces of paper that find their way into the ether. I need a new work flow solution. I need to find a way to keep track of things and move my academic work forward in meaningful ways.

I sat down in a coffee shop the other day to try to make sense of it all and stratify things into columns and was overcome by this subtle feeling of butterflies and anxiety in the pit of my stomach. I've never really been ridden with anxiety, however this discomfort is rearing its head more and more frequently... feeling like I'm missing something, am forgetting something, am going to drop a ball, be found out as a fraud who cannot "do it all."

While I'm not junior in life, being a "non-traditional" physician, prior career as a nurse, I am early in my career as an academic physician. As such, I feel this pressure to continue to do things which further my personal and professional development. At the same time, I want to be sure that I am giving my son the time and dedication he needs from his mom.

As an ER doc, my schedule is widely variable, shifts in the day, evening, night, weekends, holidays. Sharing my son with his father affords me the opportunity to work academically without interruption about half of the time. There's still work which needs to be done when I have him. So, I try to balance it by not working while he's awake. Sometimes I'll have a random Tuesday free and we do arts and crafts, read, go to the park, ride bikes, run around playgrounds, run errands. These are the precious moments I hope he will remember and treasure... I know I do. We make meals together, he shares his days spent with my nanny and daycare and at night, I tuck him into bed, sometimes dozing with him. He looks at me beforehand, puts his little hand on my face and says "Mommy, I love you bigger than the Earth." After drifting off with him for a bit, I get up and set my sights on my late evening tasks... emails, curriculum development, evaluations, mentoring grand rounds presentations via chat mediums or Google Hangouts or FaceTime. 

I sit here sipping my chai tea, reviewing important dates for the next academic year, the next evolution of my growth and development as an educator, curricula which need updating and modification to be in line with current educational methodology, exploring alternative ways in which to teach and engage learners in an overall curriculum which has less and less "time" for what I feel needs to be included. 

I feel fortunate to have been given some incredible opportunities to take on leadership positions and influence our future doctors. How many of these am I capable of managing? Am I giving each of these precious opportunities the time and dedication required? Am I being the best educator and physician that I can be? Am I being the best mom I can be? Am I seeking out mentorship appropriately to optimize my productivity? Am I interfacing with the right people? Am I serving my learners to the best of my ability?

My life is a concept map.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Unreliable Moms

I'm going to come out and say it:

It stinks making plans with other mothers of young kids.

They are never free.  It's either date night or a soccer game or a kids birthday party.  And if I do manage to make plans with one of my mom friends for a playdate or girls night out, there's a 50/50 shot that someone will start throwing up and it will get canceled.

I used to think it was just me.  That my friends were particularly unreliable or they didn't think I was fun enough to make time for.  Then I joined the Facebook group for my town, and it opened my eyes. Women will make a post saying they are desperate to make friends and they will set up a playdate for a bunch of kids at the park.  Then the very woman who complained she didn't have any friends will flake and say she can't make the playdate!

I had a conversation with the woman who started the Facebook group.  She told me she organized an event for the moms in the group, multiple people RSVP'd, she reserved a location, and then she was the only person to show up.  I told her the same thing happened to me when I tried to organize a book club for the moms.

It honestly makes me want to just have friends who don't have kids.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Well Intern Exam: Half-way through Intern Year

Do you have difficulties falling asleep or staying asleep? – No. I can fall asleep anywhere at any time. While I’m waiting for the garage door to open at home after a night shift. While my husband is telling me about his day. My kids have taken to telling me to drink coffee as soon as I get home so I don’t fall asleep while reading to them. The act of sleeping is not a problem. The time to sleep is the problem.

Do you engage in 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week? – Ha. I’m laughing to hard to formulate an appropriate answer. I run once a week for 30 minutes. On a good week I go to an exercise class. My fingers have become very nimble at typing.

Do you make time for family and friends? – My list of thank you notes to write is piling up. Nobody outside of immediate family got Christmas gifts this year. A rushed photo on Christmas morning texted to friends and family was our Christmas card. My kid has a birthday party coming up and I have no idea what we are going to do for it or how it’s going to get arranged. My kid’s teacher has introduced herself 3 times to me because she “doesn’t think we’ve met before.”

Do you wear sunscreen regularly? – I have the best skin cancer prevention practice - I don’t see the sun.

Have you had any unintentional weight changes? – Clinical medicine has been great for my midline. I can fit into all my old pants I outgrew in medical school!

All in all, Intern year is a rollercoaster of emotions and stress. Some days I love what I do and feel so lucky to be part of this profession. Other days, I look at the MA’s in the clinic and envy their ability to work regular hours with loads of time for pursuing interests outside of work. Some goals I’ve succeeded at this year, such as getting more efficient with day-to-day activities, working on research, reading everyday. Other goals have fallen terribly by the wayside, such as writing on Mothers in Medicine, being more involved in the kids’ school or seeing my non-work friends. I have a new forehead wrinkle (particularly unfair given I’m never in the sun). I’m lucky to have a supportive husband and awesome kids that (mostly) don’t make me feel guilty for working long hours. And my hairdresser lets me nap while he does my hair.

Now a little more than halfway through Intern year, I’m still happy I choose to switch careers and go to medical school. I’m still happy everyday (most days) I get to be a doctor. I’m taking that as a good sign. Now, to figure out the getting more exercise bit . . .

Friday, February 3, 2017

Let it Go

Let it Go has been stuck in my head, oh, maybe 3 out of 7 days of the week. On a good week. For at least a year. More? (This has to be causing some sort of permanent brain damage.) Despite anyone’s intentions to shield their children from Disney and princesses (including mine), Elsa, Anna, and the gang are a nearly inevitable part of toddler/preschool life these days (Mommy? Why do all my friends wear sparkly blue dresses every day?). My 3.5 year old daughter hasn’t even seen Frozen in its entirety, and actually doesn’t seem to really want to. She doesn’t even like Elsa in particular (She is firmly a Paw Patrol girl- she wants to be Skye when she grows up- yes, a puppy pilot. I encourage her to shoot for the stars, even if that means becoming a dog!). But there is something about Let it Go and the music video… she loves singing along and copying Elsa’s movements of shooting snow darts and letting her sumptuous braid down (which is hilarious by the way). And, as ashamed as I am to say this, I love it too- I think we’ve contributed to at least 1000 of the nearly 1 billion views on Youtube. Watching Elsa transform into this powerful, stand-up-straight, confident, unapologetic, gorgeous, and very sparkly woman is actually very enjoyable- she clearly loves her newfound boss-status.

The other night, she requested to watch Let it Go yet again, and I tapped the wrong video on Youtube- it was a short interview with Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel while they recorded songs from Frozen. I really loved what Idina Menzel said about the song. “It speaks to anyone holding back anything that makes them special and unique… What a relief to find those points in your life when you’re just able to let go and be completely who you are.” Nothing mind-blowing I guess, and very literally what the lyrics of the song say haha.

But I found myself thinking about it today as I hummed the song in my head while doing my tissue culture work. I think this past year has been my Queen Elsa metamorphosis. As Anna said when she first encountered Elsa in her ice castle, “Elsa… you look… different.” I, too, feel like a different woman than I was a year ago. I don’t feel like a terrified junior resident. I don't feel like a scared mom. I took a year out of residency to go back to the lab and do bench work and, thankfully, still love it and have found my stride. I got my first real grant where I am the PI. I chose my subspecialty training path and secured a fellowship position. We had a second kid almost a year ago and are all still alive. I no longer feel like everything is hypothetical in the future, but that there is now a path… that I’ve finally differentiated into the physician-scientist and woman that I want to be. I am owning it, standing up tall, and proud. It feels good. This is who I am and this is my life’s work. (I do wish it was something more exciting, like being someone like BeyoncĂ©, but maybe I can one day make biomedical research sexy) I realize that it is very sad and pathetic to be extracting profound life lessons from a Disney song, but hey, this is about as cultured as I get these days. May I hold onto this feeling for more than a fleeting moment (or at least remember that I once felt this way)…