Sometimes, There are Just No Words

There has been radio silence on this blog lately. I’ve tried writing this post several times and just can’t seem to do it.

Surgery was a very rough rotation for my family. It wasn’t just the change in schedules because a normal day was 5am to 5pm for me, with call days being 5am on call day through at least 8am the following morning. When I was home, I was exhausted. Part of the required assignments was completion of online video modules; on more than one occasion, I literally fell asleep on top of my laptop doing the modules. That is just the nature of this particular rotation–it was exhausting, but the majority of the time I was still having fun, even if I didn’t see myself going into surgery.

There are just some things that you can’t prepare for. My strategy for the surgery rotation was to keep my head down, work hard, be helpful, and move on. I didn’t think I wanted to go into surgery, but I was looking forward to the experience and learning a lot.

On the night of Memorial Day, David got a phone call. From his mom. Which wasn’t exactly unheard of, but this time things were different. My father-in-law was diagnosed with small cell lung cancer in July, and he was going downhill fast. After a couple of hours of panic at the sudden change in status, the ventilator was withdrawn. With the diagnosis, we knew there wouldn’t be much time, but we were not prepared for this so soon. This happened after midnight and I was due to get up at 4am to be in the hospital before 5am to see my patients. I still went into work that day, because 1) short notice 2) there was nothing I could do for my family as we were all in shock and 3) I deal with grief better when I am busy. That was the first time I have ever thought that I really didn’t want to spend time in the hospital on a particular day, so it was quite unlike me.  I did let my clerkship leadership know, and they did let me take off a day to comfort my family and help with the arrangements. The funeral was on my post-call day, so I didn’t need any extra time off for that. I am not the type that likes to ask for help, or likes to have special arrangements made, but this was one time that it was nice to have supervisors that were understanding. The situation put me into a mental funk that I still don’t think I have recovered from, on top of still having some guilt for missing a day of work–I totally felt like a slacker even after I made up the time and assignments.

The most difficult part, though, was being home. My father-in-law was a good man, and I loved him, but I’ve only known him for 6 years. It was much harder for David, and I didn’t feel like I was doing a good job of comforting him when I spent so much time away. This is why I feel medicine is a tough profession for families–the perception is that time away is weakness (especially in surgery). Many people have asked me how I balance being a mom, wife, and med student. Most of the time, it’s not too bad, because I get to do so many of the things that I love on a daily basis. However, there are plenty of instances where I feel like I have stretched myself too thin. This was one situation where I definitely felt like there just wasn’t enough of me, or enough time, to go around.

There were a few other things that happened during my surgery rotation that were beyond my control, and that are beyond the scope of this post, but I have learned from them and moved on. This particular rotation was Murphy’s Law for me… everything bad that could have happened, did happen, and happened at the worst possible time. I haven’t really felt much like writing/blogging since, especially about this topic. After several weeks, I am just now getting back to feeling like I know what I’m doing again, and with that, comes the need to write.

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2 thoughts on “Sometimes, There are Just No Words

  1. I’m so sorry and I’m so late to this piece. So many things going through my head as I read this, but probably the biggest is that I think doctors who learn how to grieve well are gifts to our world. They have the unique mixture of gifts of healing and grieving and it affects every patient they touch. Thank you for sharing.

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