Monday, April 20, 2009

ugly confession.PATIENCE

He held the door open for me as we briskly walked out of the office. With a guiltless look on my face I said, “Jon, do I come across stand-off-ish or something?”

And he was honest. He told me that Yes, I did come across like I was just a bit superior to the lady working the desk; that Yes, I did treat her poorly like I was in a hurry to get the answer, and that Yes, I needed to work on it.

This whole experience in medical school, seeing patients, spending hours & days studying by myself, pulling myself through the firey ring of tests & exams & clinical experiences, all of this has undoubtedly changed me.

In many ways, it is for the better. I am more acutely aware of the fragility of life, the inevitability of death, and the gift of health. I look at my husband, my parents, my siblings differently—I see the life in them instead of focusing on the day I’ll lose them as I used to. I am more attentive to the darker side of life: the addictions, the illnesses, the horrible situations that surround the lives of some Biblical-Job-like individuals. And in an entirely different way, all of my experiences have culminated in me desparately trying to just be a better person: to throw aside my worries, to trust the One who put together my days, & to accept my life as it comes serving my Lord, my husband, & my community in the meantime.

On the other side of the coin, however, I have changed for the worse. And in many ways, the parts of my personality, my social-ability, & my compassion have been lost in the shuffle, consumed by the selfish requests of the masses of life-sucking patients.

I used to look at the store clerk, the grocery bagger, the retail assistant & pour out compassion on them. I used to try to relate to them, to be patient with who they are & to meet them where they are at.

But somehow, somewhere along the way, I’ve lost it. I’ve lost my compassion. I’ve misplaced my ability to kindly relate to them.

Each day when I head to work, I’m required to put a smile on my face. With my uterus cramping, my emotions on a roller coaster, my sinuses full of snot, my head pounding, it doesn’t matter: I need to put the patients first, to throw aside my own opinions & judgements & emotions & faith, I need to focus solely, completely, & totally on them. In the midst of listening to her complain about her sore fingernail & him complain about peeing too often & her tell me about her failing relationship & him boast about how many sexual encounters he has had in the last month, I have to reach into the depths of my love-tank & pull out another smile, another nod of approval, another ounce of patience. I’m expected to respond quickly. I’m required to welcome them back to the office. And it is vital I do all of this in 15-20 minutes. Per patient. Which means I have to be quick. I have to talk fast, work quickly, & make decisions almost immediately.

And all this serves me well—in the office or hospital. But outside of the medical environment, outside of those sterile white walls & hard hospital beds, away from the bleeps of machines & sobs of patients’ families, those traits that I’ve acquired to be a better someday-Doctor hinder me.

I’m short with the office clerk. I’m rushed when the grocery bagger bags my fresh produce. I’m particular & overly opinionated with the hairstylist. I’m all-too-degrading in my direction-giving to the man in line behind me at Starbucks.

I’ve changed. I’ve changed for my job, because of my job, & in many ways in spite of my job.

Jon told me I needed to work on better separating work & home, job & family.

I think he is right.

Where do you need a dose of change in your life? In what areas have you grown calloused toward showing the compassion of Christ through words, actions, or service? Who in your life is willing to be honest with you about your actions towards others?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

nature vs. nurture

She worried about seeing the doctor because she’d shown up ten minutes late. She worried about the germs on the plastic seats in the waiting room, the three pounds she gained when she stepped on the scale, the smell she left when filled the sterile cup in the bathroom. She worried about the water she wasted when she flushed the toilet.

She worried about all the complaints that she had; she worried how she might come across. She worried about her stomach pain, her abnormal bowel habits,Am I not eating right? She worried about her husband’s performance at work during the day, about whether or not her children would suddenly stop breathing at night. She worried about making her son’s soccer practice and picking her daughter up from preschool. She worried about the food the family ate, about the additives & Red Dye #40 in the Kool Aid her kids drank at the birthday party last weekend. She worried about her house, the untouched laundry by the washer, the termites that might be quietly tearing down their house.

She worried about her children’s college education, about their monthly budget, about spending too much & not saving enough. She worried about not clipping enough coupons, about visiting the doctor too often, about being over-the-top-conscious of all the germs.

She worried about her health, about her fatigue & not feeling well. She worried about her performance as a mother, her involvement at church, her role as a wife. She worried that her stomach pain might be something bigger than just a bad stomach ache.

And it was.

She worried about the medication she was given for the bleeding ulcer. She worried about the side effects & the cost her family had incurred because of it. She worried if it was contagious or genetic—if her children would get it too. She worried that she might die in her sleep, leave her husband earlier than retirement due to unplanned death, or fall into a giant sink-hole on Main Street.

She worried about cancer, about heart attacks, about obesity. She worried that the soup she bought yesterday wasn’t organic or the meat she fed her family might have had hormones in it. She worried that she wasn’t taking enough vitamins, wasn’t getting enough sleep, and wasn’t exercising as she should.

She worried. And she worried. She worried when she woke up, when she ate her meals; she worried as she fell asleep at night.

And I can’t help but wonder if the one who didn’t worry, who took life as it came, who kept stresses to a minimum, who ate the foods he enjoyed, who found a sport that kept him fit, who found a spouse he loved, who raised his children with spontaneity; I can’t help but wonder if that one didn’t live longer, live richer, live happier.

A growing debate exists in modern medicine: nature versus nurture. Is it our genes or our environments that dictate our health, our personalities, our longevity? Is it our upbringing or our innate individuality that dictate who we become? And is it our habits, our exercise, our food-conscious tendencies that keep us healthy, or is health in our genes?

Friday, April 17, 2009


Those hands. Those young, calloused hands, tired from a hard days work. Those hands that held hers, that got clammy on the first date & shook when he lifted her white veil. Those hands that held their children—the small, delicate children that grew inside her belly. Those hands. Those old, thin hands that hold her thinned, atrophied body now. Those old, thin hands that wrap around her hips while she unsteadily walks, that take her aged hand with comfort & stretch her fingers to ease the contractures. Those hands—the ones that have held her through this journey.

Those feet. Those young, springful feet, sore from running. Those feet that brushed against hers between freshly laundered sheets in the intimate quiet of their bedroom. Those feet that paced the creaky wood floor holding crying babies while she soundly slept on the other side of the wall. Those feet that traveled to work each day, home at night; those feet that carry him to the grocery store to buy their food, those feet that trail behind the vacuum as he cleans their house, those feet that lovingly carry that dinner tray of food to her in bed each night. Those feet—the ones that have carried them through this journey.

Those arms. Those tanned, muscular arms, sore from long days in the trenches. Those arms that were washed clean each night, that sat down at the dinner table to a meal she had prepared for the family. Those arms that pumped by his side on his morning runs, that nuzzled children against his chest, that changed her car tires; those arms that now lifted her into bed each night & guided her to the toilet. Those arms that are always ready to wrap around her in a comforting embrace should she feel alone, even for a second. Those arms—the ones that have wrapped her in comfort during sickness & health.

That smile. That white toothed smile, the one that made her melt from the beginning. The one that lead to the squinted eyes & barreling laugh—the one she looked forward to each night. That smile, the one she saw as he asked if she’d spend forever with him, the one she gazed at from the front of the church on their wedding day, the one she matched as they held their children. That smile that greeted her after a long day at home, that she looked at from across the pillow in the dark of night, the one she still sees everyday lead purely by love. That smile—the one that reminds her, day after day, he is still totally in love.

And that love. The one that has survived job loss, parental loss, & miscarriage. The one that bloomed in the crux of youth, grew through wars & free love, and persevered through economic turmoil. The one that stands by her failing body, fisted hands, shaking head; the one that holds her tightly between the sheets, that fixes her breakfast, is fixated on her heart. That love—the one that outlasts this life.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

tough stuff.

We’ve had some tough decisions to make on the home front lately--& a heaping helping of tougher realizations that go along with them. If you haven’t figured it out already, I don’t do well with the future—I think about it, plan for it, think about it some more, but when push comes to shove, all I am really doing is worrying about it. About where we’ll live. About whether or not we’ll get my medical school loans paid off before we turn 40. About the life we’ll build for our children--& whether or not it will match our initial goals when we recited our vows.

I found this article. And I read it. And it totally resonated with me.

Jon just got back from training a couple of weeks ago. He was gone for almost 5 weeks—5 weeks during which I stewed & contemplated & worried about all things ‘future’. Until we finally talked about it when he got home…

And he reminded me the most important thing of all: we are in this together.

That is the beauty of marriage—the beauty of unity in marriage. We are on this journey together, humbly bowing before the One who made us one. Our goal was to follow the path He paves for us daily…and although it may get rocky, bumpy; although the path may end or the trail may make a switchback (or fifty), we’re sweating it out together.

The article was a nice reminder of that: the need to make a decision, regardless of how difficult, & move on together.

Which is what we are trying to do.

We’ve made our decision over much prayer, late night pillow talk, & serious contemplation…now life just has to unfold…& we have to hang on tight to one another while we make a run for it.

Monday, April 13, 2009

ugly confession.WORK

I am not going to lie—not going to fib one little bit to anyone who asks me: medical school is horrid. It is rigorous, exhausting, overwhelming, emotional-breakdown-provoking, trying….really just horrid.

I’ll never forget the looks of approval I got when word got around that I had ‘gotten in’. The sweet ladies at church gave me hugs, their husbands shook my hand firmly; it was almost as if everyone had adopted me & was rooting for me. And although I still feel many of the prayers sent my (& Jon’s) way, it has become a much less “glamorous” experience than I originally thought I’d have.

For the past two years (last 9 months not inclusive), my days, nights, weekends, bathroom time, shower time, workout time, car rides, long drives, and airplane flights have ALL been spent studying. We’d go out to dinner: I’d have my notecards. I had to take a shower: I rigged an extra large plastic baggy with an over-the-shower-head hanging contraption so I could slip a piece of computer paper inside & study while I lathered my hair without ruining my color-coordinated notes. A two hour car ride was in the plans for the weekend: my iPod was full of lectures. A 45 minute stint on the elliptical at the gym meant 45 minutes of studying. IT NEVER ENDED—and actually, I’m coming to the perhaps even more horrid realization that it will never end.

I chose a profession of learning. And while I appreciate the challenge, enjoy the process, & crave new information (information other than this morning’s depressing headlines), I do have days where I’d like to shut my brain off & shut all my medical knowledge in a closet—or deep, dark dungeon. You see, this education has, in many ways, sucked the enjoyment out of many experiences. Stories about “gross stuff” aren’t as funny anymore because I know half of it recited by my friends totally couldn’t be true—the physiology or bacteriology or pharmacology or whatever-ology just isn’t possible. Sick people aren’t as interesting anymore because I’ve grown tired of hearing them complain about conditions they brought upon themselves (chronic knee pain in someone 115 pounds overweight, infected skin in someone who neurotically picks at scabs). Healthy people aren’t as exciting anymore because I know that my love for them in the future will be confounded by the lack-of-reimbursement by insurance companies for well-patient visits. And generally, LIFE has just lost some of its adventurous flavor with the broad knowledge base I know carry around like a ruck-sack strapped to my brain.

About two weeks ago when I was really struggling with my (& that of my family’s) future in medicine, I had to sit down & re-examine my motivations for applying to medical school in the first place.

Jon & I decided from the get-go that we would live solely off of his income—whatever it may be. So poverty line or plush-life aside, we are sticking to our original plan. My motivation for choosing medicine was largely for our children. I wanted to be able to do for them what my parents have done for me, which really came down to two things: support them throughout childhood, giving them ample travel & cross-cultural opportunities and support them financially throughout college, paying for their education in full & thereby giving them the freedom to choose a profession that they like. I figured as well that my working would give us more opportunity as a family to live just a bit more comfortably & travel more.

And those original motivations still hold true, absolutely. But I’m finding my greatest struggle in the balance between my work in medicine & my home life of the future. I’m finding the greatest irony in the fact that the profession I chose deliberately to make a better life for my family may very well be the thing that keeps me away from them. And I’m finding the greatest hesitation in working at all.

I feel the need to add in that I’m certainly not quitting, not throwing in the towel, not letting the poop hit the fan, not giving the fat lady a microphone or making wings for the pigs. I’m NOT QUITTING—in fact, at this point, quitting is not an option for us.

What I do want to get across, however, is that I’m struggling with this whole concept. The concept of balancing life & work & family & children & husband & creativity & writing & photography….it is overwhelming, absolutely. Overwhelming when the physician DISsatisfaction rate hovers around 70%, when the reimbursement for long hours worked continues to fall, when the loans for tuition continue to grow, & when the 24 hours God provided for each day just aren’t enough.

I know I’m not alone in this. I know I’m not the only woman feeling this way. I know many women are my secret heroes I haven’t met yet—the women who balance it all beautifully. I’m just not sure I can be one of those.

It is ugly. And this is my confession.

Jon is overwhelmingly supportive--& I can’t quite put into words how incredibly grateful I am for his support, his stand-by-me, & his tolerance of what I’m about to go through in residency. He is willing to co-parent, willing & wanting to be involved in the lives of our children. He is willing to work hard, extra hours, extra days to provide for us. And for all those things, I am indebted.

In the meantime, however, I am working on trusting God with the details. I am praying that I find a residency program that is family friendly. I am praying that we find affordable housing & are able to live on just a bit more than rice & beans (because beans give me horrible gas). I am praying that we find support in our community, both locally & spiritually. And most of all, I am praying that the Lord provides a job opportunity that allows more balance between a profession I am madly in love with (despite how horrid school is) and a family I am just giddy for.

Where are you most struggling with balance? Is it an event? A commitment? A relationship? A creative outlet? A habit? Did an original motivation exist that has been scewed, obstructed, or changed in the process? How are you coming to terms with its current state--& how do you resolve to change it?

Monday, April 06, 2009

ugly confession.JUDGEMENT.

It was a tough day in church for me yesterday. And actually, it isn’t the first time I’ve walked away with head full of thoughts & heart heavy with the sin of judgement.

It’s no secret that I’m human. And many times I’d like the change the saying “I think, therefore I am.” To “I think, therefore I JUDGE.” Because the truth is that I do. I look at the beggar on the streetcorner & fail to consider his past, his feelings, his hunger for something greater than food. I look at the morbidly obese woman who waddles into the office & my mind usually reverts to the stereotypical thoughts of “laziness”; in fact, I often find myself wondering how she let herself go that far. I see the rambunctious kids tearing down the magazines in the checkout aisle in front of me & judge the mother trying to “shoosh” them—often failing to consider the circumstances of their lives: the father they might have just lost, the stresses they might feel at home around a scantily clad dinner table.

I know that God calls us to be pure of heart, to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, to not judge, not covet, not want … but it is one area of my life I seem to have trouble with. Yesterday mornings' church service drove the point home…again.

Our church has two campuses—one is at the main campus & offers a more “southern gospel” style of praise music with a big (HUGE!) choir & lots of jumping in the aisles; the other (the one we attend) gives a more contemporary style & feel—it is housed in an old movie theater. The alternative service beckons a younger crowd—many college students & couples with young children.

Yesterday morning, the girl in front of us—barely thirty, if I had to guess—was obviously enjoying the presence of the Lord…by screaming. I have trouble closing my eyes & concentrating on worshiping the Lord in the first place (I like to watch the musicians)…but her jumping up & down wasn’t helping. Then, when she let out a scream that would have been better placed at a High School Musical performance from the mouth of a 13-year-old-Zack-Effron-crazed-fan, I really lost my ability to concentrate. Add to that the girl, also seated in the row ahead of us, who praised Jesus by swinging her hips like those of nightclub dancers…and I was really distracted.

The truth, though, is that I’ve let those screams & swinging hips distract me from more than praise during church. I’ve let the world’s distractions—clothes, houses, the internet, striving for the cultural standard of perfection—keep me from concentrating on the One True God.

I’m finding that I either need Spiritual earplugs or time away from distraction…

This week I’m trying the latter.

What people are you most prone to judging? When & in what situations do you find it most difficult to love people for who they are, despite all external circumstances? In what areas of your life could you use a pair of Heavenly Earplugs (or sunglasses??!)??

{be back after Easter…}

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