As I sit here in this rural Toyota Dealership waiting for my car’s sideview mirror to get fixed [after an unfortunate accident…] my eyes glance at the date on the corner of my computer screen. July 2nd 2016 — a little over one year after starting and finishing the supposed “most difficult year” of residency and a physician’s career.
I imagine people reading this would at this time want that question answered — what it that hard? Yes. It was definitely the most challenging three hundred and sixty five years of my twenty seven years on this planet, but simultaneously the most rewarding. If you type “intern year” into Amazon’s search bar you’ll come across many books written by physicians of different decades trying to capture the intensity of the dreaded first year. Whether it’s Samuel Shem’s sharp humor in House of God or Matt McCarthy’s more recent work “The Real Doctor Will See You Shortly” all these writings share themes of fear, struggle, doubt, and eventual success in common.
I read a few of these books during the time I had off before moving to Omaha — even though as I think back and shake my head at the uncanny similarities between my training and those of doctors through the decades nothing could have really readied me. It was full of so many emotions, struggles, people fighting to stay alive and those slowly being whisked away. I had days when I came home completely drained wanting to literally collapse on my couch and other days when I’d find it in me to head to the library late and glance at topics that I knew I had to learn better.
Exactly one year ago I wrote a post called “The Weight of Responsibility” — in it I described what it was like on my first day in the hospital wearing the long white coat. I still remember those days all too well — I haven’t forgotten the feeling of being weighed down by this awesome responsibility. The burden is still there but it is not as heavy, either because through the months I’ve learned to ignore it or [more optimistically] I’m starting to learn medicine.
I’ve grown tremendously the past year — from what I’ve done to myself, what others have provided for me and also what has happened around me. I’m lucky to be apart of a residency program with so many caring people and a culture of support and professionalism. It was truly a blessing to match where I did. If there’s one thing I’m proud of, it’s that I’ve learned to make reading apart of my life, much like writing in this blog — it’s here to stay.
There have been a handful of really difficult times this year — deaths of patients and feeling overwhelmed in a rising tide of work and expectations. Besides being lucky to have support around me, an outlet through this blog, I also feel blessed in moments of prayer — I’ve never been one to clasp my hands together often but when I do it helps.
The first year of residency, what a whirlwind of emotions and exhaustion — I learned that they ricochet violently from ups to lows; each day could bring life or death and you had to be ready for either reality. There’s a poster on my wall where I study — I have the question “Who will you rely on at 2AM” scribbled out in pencil. Every time I look at it I recite under breath “me”.
It takes slowing down and closing my eyes to remind myself how much things have changed this year. Getting into the rhythm of residency means never letting the foot off the gas and perpetually running to read more about patients or treatment plans. When you go home it means trying fit in errands or go over topics that you need to know more about for the next day. Though I’m happy with the stamina I’ve built for this kind of life I need times like now to close my eyes and remember what it was like when I first began. I know that I provide better care now — that’s all I want now and tomorrow too.
It’s easy to lose yourself in this lifestyle — the grind makes you lower your head and push constantly. This year I hope I learn to grind harder but also relax — it’s clear you need both to live well. There is such an influx on physician wellbeing in the literature and for good reason — because it’s so hard to achieve.
If there’s one other thing that being away from home has taught me it’s how much I truly miss it. Not that I don’t enjoy living out in the Midwest, Omaha has it’s own charm. But there’s giant New York cityscape poster in my otherwise bare walled apartment and it’s all I need to look at to remind myself what I’m working to get back to. One day soon I’ll be biking in Central Park listening to scratchy music from some guys radio and wondering if my three years of Omaha really happened or were a dream. That’s how I think about the Caribbean now anyway.
It’s true — it’s been emotionally exhausting but so rewarding at the same time. I can’t believe one whole year has gone by. I’m so excited to start my second year and honored that I’ve gotten this far. Long ago I dreamed of becoming a physician, someone who stood for good and took care of people. I can’t believe I’m living out that dream now — I want to lose myself in it more and more each day.