I’m the boss now

It’s a career milestone the first time you get to be on the other side of the job interview desk. Not that I like to watch people squirm, but I’ve done my share of interviewing from the job-seeker point of view. I know what that side of the table feels like. It’s a nice twist to be the one asking, “Why are you interested in this position?” and “Tell me about a time when you … yadda yadda.”

What knocked me down a peg what the fact that the first interviewee I met for this position has been in my industry longer than I’ve been alive. Tell me that wouldn’t be strange. I’d write more about it, but my company probably has some policy that would get me fired for doing so.

I debated adding one of those wacky interview questions you sometimes hear about into the mix. You know, the “If you were an ice cream flavor, what would you be?” or “Why are manhole covers round?” type. I don’t think I went that wacky, because those just sound stupid. But I do remember one company where the interviewer asked me what superpower I would choose. There must be some hidden meaning to the answer, but I must have missed it. I didn’t get the job.

Random funny story:

In husband news, during dinner the other day, Will looked up from his stir fry and asked how my doctor listens to heart sounds with breasts in the way. He had wondered this since a very awkward encounter with a female “actor patient” in his clinical class.

I tried to remember my last physical exam and couldn’t. Apparently, they don’t teach those “essentials” in Essentials of Clinical Reasoning. For male students who can’t run home and ask their wives amusing questions, how would they ever know? Medicine is an odd career.

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Don’t cry over spilled milk

I’m not proud to admit that I have, in fact, cried over spilled milk. At least once. I’m even less proud to admit that this weekend, I fought with my husband … over a stick of butter. Of course, butter wasn’t the real issue, just as it wasn’t the spill or the milk that made me cry. In the milk incident, knocking over a glass full of skim was simply the last straw (so to speak) of a day-long string of frustrations. At that point, what’s there to do but cry over spilled milk?

The infamous butter battle began innocently enough. We were headed out the door, already a little late, and I was grabbing ingredients to make fresh garlic bread at our friends’ house, our contribution to the dinner potluck. I held up about three tablespoons of a stick of butter and asked if Will thought that was enough.

The butter battle
He wanted to bring the whole stick. I said that was wasteful. He said I was being stupid. I exploded at the perceived verbal abuse. And so on, and so on. We ended up fuming all the way to the dinner, snapping at each other in the car with our friends (they’re married; they get it) and not making up until the next day.

Every married couple I know has their “butter battles.” The toothpaste cap, the rinsing (or not) of an empty milk jug, the most logical placement of a toilet plunger … these are domestic battlefields upon which many a spousal war has been waged. I can’t quite laugh about it – yet. But I can step back far enough to separate the butter battle from  the real issues: Will’s behind on studying for next Monday’s test, I had the worst workweek in years, we don’t see enough of each other.

Marriage = sacrifice
Compared to most of the world, we live an outrageously blessed and happy life. Complaining about my life does sound a little like crying over spilled milk – I get that. But medical school is no float down the lazy river. For a marriage to survive these four years, and the years of residency that await, it takes some sacrifice from both spouses. Me giving up the desire to have a “normal” husband who works 9-5 and can spend evenings and weekends hanging out. Will sacrificing the straight A’s he’s used to, and settling for B’s so we can have a sliver of a social life.

Sure, we may have to make a few more sacrifices than your average 20-somethings. But strong marriages are based on sacrifice, learning to meet the needs of another person and to put yours aside. Those are lessons we all could use.

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The NHSC results are in!

September 30 came and went. No letter. According to NHSC, that was supposed to be the magic date for scholarship recipients. If you didn’t get it, you’d know by Oct. 5. October 1 came, then October 2. Although, as we kept reminding ourselves … we are dealing with the government, after all. The next day was a Sunday, so we thought for sure if we didn’t hear by Monday, then it was all over.

You can imagine my disappointment when I got back from Zumba on Monday night and Will showed me the day’s mail – a cable TV ad and a pre-approved offer from Discover. No letter, no scholarship. On NHSC’s Facebook page, people were complaining that they hadn’t heard yet. Turns out no one had. And so we waited.

Tuesday rolled around, the day NHSC said the scholarship rejects would learn their fate. I had just gotten back from a meeting when I saw a message from my husband on my work e-mail. There was nothing but a subject line that read, “Check yo gmail, foo.” If it was possible to could tear open an e-mail the way people used to rip open college admissions letters, I would have given myself a paper cut.

Once I saw the words “We are pleased to inform you …” I stopped reading. I nearly screamed into the phone when Will picked up, probably pissing off an entire hallway of co-workers, but it didn’t matter. We got the scholarship!

Why the screaming? Three years of med school paid in full, plus books and fees, and about $1,000 cash stipend each month. Since we’re already living off my income, we’re going to plug away at undergrad and first-year loans with the stipend so we owe almost nothing when we become “real people” again.

To make an extremely complicated explanation short, the government pays for a year of med school for each year we commit. Since we missed applying for the first year, we’ll have three years paid for and owe three years in an underserved area after Will finishes residency. It could be a rural area with a dearth of doctors, an inner-city clinic that has a hard time keeping staff or a federal assignment, such as an Indian reservation or an immigration center. In six years when Will is licensed to practice on his own, we can apply for any NHSC approved jobs. So we’ll see where we end up. Pretty much anywhere is sounding good for a nearly $200,000 scholarship.

Some well-meaning friends and family posted “Congrats, God is good!” on my Facebook page. While this is true, it makes me wonder whether anyone would have posted “God is good” if my status said we’d been rejected. Probably not. God is good all the time, not just when awesome things happen. But that’s a topic for another blog.

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Round-trip tickets to the middle of nowhere

The champagne is chilling in the fridge … all we need now is a little letter (or e-mail, or phone call, we’re not picky) that says Will got the National Health Service Corps scholarship. A few weeks ago, he found out he’s a finalist. We’re supposed to know by Sept. 30 whether he’s in.

I keep hoping they’ll let us know early, but given that we’re now on the outermost thread of a tangled web of government services, I’d be surprised if they meet their own deadline. As anxious as we are to hear their decision, it’s been really fun to daydream since signing the contract saying if we get it, we’re committed.

For some reason I’ve latched on to a clinic site in Yakima, Wash. Maybe it’s because the city lends its name to the kayaks I see on cool-looking cars with bike racks and bumper stickers for ski resorts. I’ve never even been to Washington, but in some weird way, I’ve always expected to end up there. We finish medical school in 2013, maybe do a primary care/pediatrics residency in Seattle, have a baby (or two), move to Yakima for our three-year commitment and become bona fide northwesterners.

Or, we follow Will’s plan, where we end up with two tickets to Middle-of-Nowhere, Montana, so he can work as a doctor on an Indian reservation 500 miles from the nearest sushi restaurant or live theater production. Let’s hope those tickets are round-trip.

There are lots of options. Although NHSC gave us all of two days to decide whether we’d commit three years of our lives if accepted, they did link to a very helpful list of current openings so we’d have some idea what might await us in six years. There’s work in the prisons, at immigration centers on the coasts, in rural areas and impoverished inner-city neighborhoods. Something for everyone, it seems.

We see this as not only a way to pay for medical school, but also as a short-term mission to the underserved and (usually) less fortunate. Will has always wanted to do medical missions trips, and this may just be our first foray into selfless medicine. Now we just have to get the scholarship!

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Unwinding: the need for the occasional breather


When I was little, I loved when my dad would walk in the door from work. I’d accost the poor man with my three-year-old energy before he could even sit down. Usually, Mom would usher me into the kitchen to color or play with Play-Doh while Dad read the paper or checked his stock prices on the phone (before the Internet!). She’d tell me daddy had to “unwind.”

I hated that word “unwind.” It meant even after being away from me for 10 hours, my daddy would rather read the newspaper than watch me arrange my stuffed animals into a chorus on the piano. But after 15 minutes of down time, my dad would be his playful self, ready to ooh and ahh at my preschool shenanigans.

Now that I’m the grown-up, I realize what a perfect word “unwind” is. After most days at the office, my mind feels like it’s tightly coiled. I imagine the stress of my day running through my body like electricity through one of those low-energy light bulbs.

Unwinding with a guilty pleasure, such as Facebook or a gossip TV show, makes me a much more pleasant person to be around the rest of the evening. After a few months of bickering early in our marriage, my husband got this.

But I realize that in medical school, there’s no such thing as unwinding. When Will was an M1, even “breaks” such as Thanksgiving came with the burden of a big test on the first day back. His life is med school, with pauses for meals, exercise and the occasional date. But studying is the rule, and breaks are the exception. Unwinding and training to save human lives just don’t go very well together.

But maybe they should. Perhaps a chance to unwind would actually make medical students more efficient (not to mention more human). Now that he’s an M2, Will’s tests are only every three weeks instead of every week or every other week. Rumor has it breaks will actually be breaks, because exams will be scheduled before the break instead of after. Maybe unwinding will happen at least once a semester.

Then again, Step 1 still looms on the horizon. I guess unwinding will have to wait until graduation. Or retirement.

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You know you’re a medical spouse when …

You know you’re a medical spouse when … you’ve carried around a chest of real human bones in your trunk. A medical spouse or a twisted serial killer. I’m the former.

My husband is only in his second year of medical school, so at this point, it’s all been classroom and lab stuff. Yes, he’s done the notorious cadaver dissection, but mostly it’s been lectures and textbooks, not labcoats and patients. Still, the closeness to life, death and pathology can be disconcerting.

For instance, the human skull that sat on Will’s desk for a while. He’d been studying cranial anatomy, and I came home from work one afternoon to find a very old, very authentic skull – in my home. It’s just not one of those things you can ever be prepared for.

What’s weirder, if this can get weirder, is that some long-since graduated student wrote on the skull. In pencil. I’m not sure why the fact that it was pencil bothers me. Would it have been better in ink? Probably not. But that skull once held someone’s brain, their mind, their consciousness. And now someone has written anatomical terms on it, erasable, in case they mislabel the foramen lacernum or the sphenoid bone.

Aside from the penciled labels, it looked surprisingly like the plastic skulls you’d find in the seasonal aisle of a drugstore around Halloween. I doubt the Halloween decoration designers have ever seen a real human skull. I’d estimate this experience puts me in elite company. I mean, how many normal people get to keep skulls in their house for a week?

I fought the urge to break into a Hamlet soliloquy (Alas, poor Yorick!) and ignored the thing until he returned it to the school at the end of the unit. He did well on that test.

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A word from the Mrs.

I write for a living. I interview people, do my own research and then arrange pixels into words on the screen — and I get paid to do it. My eighth grade self would have called this a dream job.

I used to write for fun. I played around with poetry, kept a journal and dabbled unsuccesfully in songwriting. I even had a blog while I studied abroad, although I think it had all of 10 readers on a good day, and half of them were related to me.

Something funny happens when they pay you to do what you love. Something about putting a dollar amount on passion. When you come home, you want to do anything but what you spend the majority of your workweek doing. I wonder if this happens to musicians, who spend 10 years practicing to land a gig with a major symphony. When the principal oboeist comes home from work, does she pick up her instrument for pleasure? Does the major league baseball player toss the ball around with his kid, or does he suggest something different?

I’m one of the lucky few. In a world where trash needs to be collected, toilets need to be scrubbed and french fries need to be dipped in hot oil, I get to earn a paycheck doing work that, at least at some point in my life, I would have done for free. I still do love writing and admire a beautiful turn of phrase, I just had little patience or interest for it outside of my 8-to-5.

Until now …

I’m in my mid-20s. Plenty is going on in my life that I want to remember, plenty of events — both unusual and mundane — that I want to hold onto.  My husband is in medical school and applying for the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) scholarship, which will pay back his medical school loans in exchange for working in an underserved area for three years.

One thing I’ve found as we embark on the doctor education process is that there’s little support for medical students’ spouses. I know there are thousands of medical wives and husbands out there, struggling through lonely nights and weekends filled with studying.
Maybe this blog will provide some comfort, laughter and reassurance for them. Maybe this will never be more than a record for myself. Either way, I’m OK with that. If you do happen to read this, please leave me a comment and let me know what you think.

Posted in medical school, Uncategorized, writing | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments