Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Thing About Residency

Last night, Will and I put Grace to bed and had our first moments of alone time... barely, before Will had to leave to go to work until 7 a.m. I became a barnacle while he talked to me, and before I went downstairs to fix his dinner and coffee, I begged him not to go.

"Okay, I'll just quit my job," he said, hugging me.

"Wait," I replied, turning my head out of his chest. "I can't support you and your extravagant lifestyle. I'll fix your sandwich."

My card sharks
It's the joke that always gets a smile - quitting residency, even though it's what we've talked about since our dating days. The promise of residency started this marriage during medical school. Two graduations later, here we are: and I am ready to be done. Yes I, who only venture into the hospital to provide Dr. Husband with sustenance during long shifts, accompany him while he returns a library book, or wait for him in the lobby to meet us post-shift (if someone - could be Grace, could be me - is feeling the cabin fever), am tired of residency.

Five months in, and it's really not so bad. Will's rotations haven't been the worst, just different. Okay, some of them are the worst. I'm not a fan of these overnights, but this week, he only has three in a row plus a 4 pm to 2 am shift. I think logging is the real time snatcher - hours spent with patient files, detailed and signed. Oh, and having to go from an overnight shift to grand rounds, like husband will do tomorrow.

It always seems like the better thing to do - quitting. I get tired of therapy, tired of teaching classes, tired of Grace's teething interrupting her nap schedule... and then wondering how I'm going to handle the second sweet thing in a few months. Ug, where is my desert island with a Wegmans and an internet connection? When can I nap without a baby monitor?

Then Will tells me about his patients. He tells me the funny stories and the sad stories. He tells me of cases he's proud of, and what he needs to work on.

I tell him about my day - what Grace is eating, how well she's self-feeding (and what she's throwing off her tray today), how therapy went that day (and other general activities we've done together), what I taught during class, how my work load is treating me, and anything I've read that day or thoughts I toss around for discussion.

Using a spoon is so two minutes ago...
Some days, we see each other for a few hours. Other days, the whole day. Today was less time than usual, but more than yesterday. I like doing simple chores with him - cleaning the kitchen, tidying up, feeding Grace dinner, playing with Grace and reading to Grace. After a day of "go-go-go", even being together feels relaxing.

Then he's back at work, and I'm at home, half-working on a powerpoint for my younger kids, and half-blogging. And I realize how lucky we are to be on this journey together. A classmate of Will's has been sick for the past few months, working himself to the bare minimum. I made extra soup, loaded up some favorite sick foods and drinks, and texted him stop over on his way home (we live by the hospital). He kept saying we were being too nice, but why pursue medicine if not to help heal the body--and soul too? To add a quality to another's life?

The thing about residency is that it is hard - yes. This is the last stage of training for doctors. Will calls this the "hand-holding" stage. In medical school, you mostly observed and sometimes got to sew someone up. In residency, you're officially an M.D. with a prescription pad and both you and the patient have the deer in headlights look: What's wrong? No, I'm asking you. Oh, you're asking me?

The other thing about residency is that it is worth it: the kind of satisfaction Will gets from helping his patients is obvious by how hard he studies those ridiculously thick books with little lettering. He's reading his ICU book this month for next month's rotation. He wants to be able - more than capable, more than confident - and the more I think about it, that's what a lot of us strive for, if we choose the challenge.

The ability to be, and do. I love teaching my students. I love talking about history and doing Socratic method discussion. It's not enough to memorize - context is king, understanding is relevant. The same goes for being a mom: do I wish Grace would stop pulling my hair and trying to swipe my glasses? Absolutely. But I can never wish her other than what she is, because taking care of my baby - especially through the harder days - is what gives me deeper purpose. It reminds me that I am here to serve. We are all here to serve

At a dear friend's wedding a few months ago, the song after communion was "The Servant Song"; it was breathtaking way to begin their marriage:


"Will you let me be your servant? Let me as Christ to you? Pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant too."

As Will and I approach our second anniversary, we feel our marriage is stronger. We have always loved each other, and in two years, that love has manifested in many different acts: the way he takes care of me when I am preggo-nauseous, the way I make sure he eats, our mutual love of playing with Grace, and the way we rely on each other so completely. Will has a complete servant heart, whether he is with a friend, with family, or at work with a colleague or patient. He is a doer - he leads by doing. He blesses me daily with his goodness, love and support, and I have learned to let him take care of me too.

This servant's heart of his is why I try not to bemoan his shift work, or electives. He is learning to better serve the people of our community, and future communities. Many of Will's cases in the emergency room are not emergencies - but they are emotionally urgent for the families. The baby with a low-grade fever who wouldn't stop crying at 3 a.m. The 91 year old lady he spent four hours trying to resuscitate. The statutory rape victim who is 28 weeks pregnant (same as me). The woman who miscarried at 13 weeks. The traumas, the abdominal pains, the headaches.

"We are pilgrims on a journey, we are brothers on the road. We are here to help each other, walk the line and bear the load."



Residency feels hard for the spouse at home, watching the clock, bearing the load of laundry (my nemesis), unloading and re-loading the dishwasher, and forever tidying the same room over and over again, like Sisyphus pushing his rock up the mountain (only to have it roll back to the bottom!). It is essential that I recognize how good my work is too, though I don't need a specialized degree or license to act upon it. I can emotionally support him on the tough days, and provide a safe, loving home. And we hope, by example, that we will teach our children what it means to serve and love, and be able to graciously accept service and love in return.

Monday, December 8, 2014

GHB: Lately


Grace pulling up to stand on her own...


Grace patting the belly/ saying hello to her baby sister...


Grace refusing to nap/ visiting Dad at the hospital...


Grace saying "my turn!"


Grace relaxing (a personal favorite activity of mine as well)!

I'm finally caught up on grading (don't worry, my AP kids are turning in another essay by tomorrow), Will is working overnight, freezing rains are expected during the next 24 hours, and I'm 28 weeks preggo with no pictures to prove it.

It's the second week of Advent - I am trying to read daily Scripture and a chapter of The Christmas Mystery to the "very interested" Grace. I'm listening to the Christmas Carols station on Pandora and trying to keep up with the laundry, let alone decorating. (Our tree is up!) We spent most of mass tonight in the quiet box because Grace decided to test her mezzo-soprano potential, and it's Will's new favorite place. Fortunately, Grace decided to ham it up for the couple behind us, and we could rejoin the pew after communion.

Happy feast of the Immaculate Conception!


TIC: Imagination and Children with Special Needs

Today at The Imaginative Conservative...

Her therapists rave about her crawling and how awesome she is at “weight bearing” on her right side. And is not that what we strive for in this life— to bear the weight of glory?
“For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:15-18)
“Hard” is not the standard by which we should judge our life. Easy is not a virtue as much as it can be a pathway. It is worthwhile to live out the divine love in our fallenness because love is good, love is true, love is beautiful. Love can make the road harder, and it can also make the road purposeful. Parenting in love is imagining beyond reality–not in a delusional way, but a hopeful way, a possible way.

Parents with children who have special needs (“children” should always go before the “special needs”) must see beyond the daily frustrations, past other children meeting milestones, and relish the achievements of the individual. By educating themselves on developmental trials and stages, parents are able to see a wider picture of what their child is doing, and where their child is going. Some children will not progress at the same rate as Grace, even with help. This is a different kind of trial. Some children do not have a clear diagnosis—another hurdle. Whatever the circumstances, parents must be their child’s biggest supporter. There is nothing outside therapy can achieve if parents are not in the forefront of teaching, loving, and playing with their child.

At our friends A&C's wedding (9/14)
This is not a time for theories or to bemoan your parental lot that you have to try harder; your child has to try the hardest. This is a time of action. This is the time to support other parents (and be supported), to smile at the day and love your child. Love through words, love through actions. Paralyzing fear or laziness has no place in the day of us parents whose children are fueled by that compassion and zeal.

Even when she fusses, we have learned to push Grace a little harder to see what she can do. I have learned how to stretch my daughter and how to massage her. I myself have been stretched beyond my comfort zone. I have had to overcome my own fear of not being the best thing for my daughter. But a therapist cannot encourage, love, and teach my daughter the way I can, every day. I am the one who feeds her, changes her, takes her on errands. I soothe her, sing to her, pray with her, and read to her. We smile, laugh, and have fun together. She was recently given (washable) crayons and loves to draw. She holds two or three at a time and shows them off to me.

I relish it all.

Read more here.

Friday, December 5, 2014

In Thanks: Dr. Daniel Sundahl

One of my most favorite professors is retiring... and since I may have cried writing this e-mail/ letter to him earlier this week, I share part of it in honor of a man whose lectures had a profound influence on my life. He taught me in three classes over three years. Thanks for your 30+ years of service, Dr. Sundahl: here's to going fishing and laughing forever with Ellen!


“If you gather apples in the sunshine… and shut your eyes, you shall see the apples hanging in the bright light.” ("Intellect", Ralph Waldo Emerson)

I can still see myself in your classes, thinking more than talking; scribbling notes; absorbing. The synesthesia of education; the poetry of life. Even now, my one year old is crawling under my desk - she hands me a button. She is calling out for her Dad, whose office she just crawled from to my hole, filled with boxes of notes and old papers and letters from friends. Grace doesn’t know about weeping phoebes or Neibuhr’s “The Children of the Light and the Children of Darkness” (though she thinks it has to do with nap time), and she has yet to recognize what being American is culturally.

But I like to read her Frost’s poems as I combat the weaknesses of my own nature to feel sad. The hurt and bitterness that my baby had an unexplained stroke when she was in utero, and the want for her individuality to always define her - not her struggles. How her triumphs in crawling, pulling up, and now, beginning to try to walk come from her inner drive and potential. I thrive knowing she is part of a wider story.

When she was first diagnosed at 8 months, it was scary. She didn’t show the symptoms of a bad stroke - and I kept my fears holed up for a few months, until I began to write about them, and more about Grace, and share the grandeur of my little baby. To preserve the memories, and allow myself to feel deeply and develop my poetical consciousness in order to better tell our family’s journey through cerebral palsy, through residency, through my own teaching now (in U.S. History), and through life; “And of course there must be something wrong/ In wanting to silence any song.” ("A Minor Bird", Robert Frost)

Thank you for teaching me the importance of a story, of a song, of a poem. Thank you for being my teacher.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

A Whole New Year for Grace

Today is the start of Advent, the Christian new year. It is St. Andrew's feast day (join me for the novena! starts today!), and it is Grace Harriet's one year anniversary of her baptism!


Grace was baptized at Our Lord Christ the King Catholic Church in Cincinnati, Ohio - the parish I received three of my four sacraments. She was baptized by our parish priest, who married Will and I just shy of a year earlier.

The quest of Christian parents is to raise their children in the faith- but what did that mean for us? Will and I have explored different avenues, especially where a baby - who is definitely not at the age of reason - is concerned. We want her to be exposed to the Christian life and community, so that she may come to know Christ personally and see him in all around her when she is old enough to comprehend and be able to accept Catholicism with reason.

Tonight, we are going to light her baptismal candle and say the following with/for her:
V. Do you reject Satan?
R. I do.
V. And all his works?
R. I do. 
V. And all his empty promises?
R. I do. 
V. Do you believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth?
R. I do. 
V. Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary was crucified, died, and was buried, rose from the dead, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father?
R. I do. 
V. Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting?
R. I do. 
V. God, the all-powerful Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has given us a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, and forgiven all our sins. May he also keep us faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ for ever and ever.
R. Amen. 
We guide Grace to teach her about God, so that she may see truth through example and learning. Her father and I are still on our own spiritual journeys - and with Grace, we are given further incentive to seek goodness and God.

Happy new year in Christ, little daughter. May God continue to pour his blessings and mercy upon you!

Do you celebrate baptisms in your family? Or did you celebrate growing up? This is a new tradition we are starting in our family, and I am excited to see how the children like it as well in the years to come!