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.


  1. Beautifully written, Julie. This is tough stuff. The repetition of either laundry or vacuuming or anything similar can be too much. And some will say, "ah, but you can do it with prayer and mindfulness, etc etc." Sure, I am not saying it's not possible, but my God, it's ridiculously difficult. You just want to scream. Sometimes, a load of laundry is just a load of laundry and you will never like it, ever! :) Is patience the answer? Perhaps. Love certainly is, as you write here. Breathing is good too, I find! ;) There is no easy answer, or even an answer. Just try to take it one day at a time, and each hour of the day, somehow we can try to remember God and gain strength to make choices which will nourish us. Prayers for you and the family, my dear friend!

  2. My sisters sand the servant song after the Eucharist at our wedding, too! It makes me cry every time, for some of the very reseaons you mention and imply here. Keep it up, girly!

  3. Love the Servant Song! We also had it at our wedding Mass :) It's a tear-jerker.

    "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?" Made me laugh!!!

    Love to you and the family!

  4. I keep wanting to comment, but I just have no idea what to say other than I just love this post!