Long Time No See

The last time I posted, I had just found out that I matched into one of the programs on my Rank Order List for a residency in pediatrics, accomplishing a goal I’ve had since I was 14.


It has been such a long time since then, and I haven’t written about it. After Match Day, there was so much to do, and it felt like we had no time. It all went by so quickly.

We immediately went on the hunt for a house. On one Saturday, we toured 19 properties, put in an offer, and bought our first home.


My brother got married with my Ladybug as the flower girl:


I finished my final med school rotation in the NICU, which I absolutely loved.


We had to find a new daycare and it completely broke my heart to leave the one we’d used since the Ladybug was 8 weeks old.

I GRADUATED!


We took a family vacation to Key West, FL, Dry Tortugas National Park, and Savannah, GA.


We spent two weekends painting the house and moving in, with the help of the best family and friends.

Then the fun started. Mountains of paperwork and training and licensing and certifications before even starting orientation.

And now they call me Doctor. Paging Dr. Allie. It is real, and no longer a fantasy or far off in the future. It doesn’t feel like it at all. I’m currently on my second rotation, which means I have “survived” July of intern year, but not without rubbing one of the children’s hospital’s ladybugs for luck on my first day.

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Welcoming 2017

Looking back over the past year, I thought I’d start out with my resolutions for 2016. How well, or how poorly, did I do? Where do we go from here?

Here’s an excerpt from last year’s New Year’s post:

Last week, I found this idea: a “7 x 2016”, a prompt for making wishes become goals instead of ‘traditional’ resolutions. I really liked that idea, so here goes mine, with a couple additions:

Learn how to.….. speak in medical Spanish. Back in high school and even college, I was pretty good in speaking Spanish with native speakers. However, it’s true that what you don’t use, you lose. I’ve bought a guide and have already conquered the first chapter. Here’s hoping for better communication with some of my future patients. This one has been a success, in some ways. One of the perks of being a medical student is that sometimes we are offered discounts on this… like Rosetta Stone. Our class got a deal on the Spanish set, and I jumped at the chance to use a program to increase my skills. I’m still not done with the program or with the Medical Spanish text I bought, but every little step is a victory so I’m calling it a win.

Start……. My Year of Kindness. One thing I’ve been noticing lately is a genuine lack of kindness in our community. I’ve got a few ideas on what to target for each month, and I’m really hoping this new venture is a success. More on that soon. This was also a success, and one that I am very proud of. In January of last year I pioneered a project christened My New Kentucky Home that served the refugee and new immigrant populations of my city, and it was a smashing success. What a way to kick off a year of Kindness!

Stop…… Doubting myself. I do it all the time. It’s a hard habit to break, but I realize what a detriment it is to my psyche and my performance as a student, wife, and mom. There is no room for it anymore in this new year. I have gotten better at this. It is a very slow process, but I’m gaining more optimism by the day. It’s so easy to give up on some things because they seem so daunting. Slowing changing that inner voice has helped my life in a big way.

Travel to.….. This one is my favorite, I think. While I feel like I am overdue for a visit to somewhere outside the USA. It’s been almost 5 years since we went to the Caribbean. However, I think that adventure might still be awhile off. This year, we’re planning on a post-third year pre-Step 2 studying family vacation to Washington, DC and Virginia Beach–three new states for me and the Ladybug’s first trip to a beach. Much slower-paced than we’re used to, but that’s ok! Making memories with my family is a priority this year. We made a ton of memories on that trip to DC and Virginia Beach! The little one had a blast too, so I think another beach vacation is in the cards for 2017.

Find…. Two half-marathons to run this year. With rotations, it’s not like I can just pick which ones to do this far ahead of time, so I’m wondering if I should skip the local half-marathon in April (during my OB/GYN rotation… just watch my week of nights in L&D be the same time as the race) and plan for one in summer and another in the fall. Any suggestions for fun ones to run? As it turned out, the local half marathon WAS during my two weeks of Labor and Delivery, when I was working intense hours at an intense pace. So, this goal was a flop. I failed. But that doesn’t mean that I didn’t gain something along the way. I was much likely to be found at the gym this year, even if I didn’t get to run in those races that I hoped for. I no longer hate the gym. I no longer feel that it is a chore to go, but instead I actually look forward to going. Baby steps! My most consistent part of the year was probably during Step 2 studying, since I would get in a run before sitting down to study as part of my daily routine.

Try…… New restaurants in our area. Since there is a great probability that we just may not be living here after The Match, I’ve insisted that instead of always going to the same places (which I love, honestly), that we try some new places that are unique to the Louisville area. We’ve asked friends of ours to go with us to a new restaurant once a month. I’m really excited for this new Double-Date Night! This was also a major fail. Between my schedule, the Handsome’s long hours at work, and conflicting schedules with friends, this one did not get off the ground. However, we still have high hopes for 2017 and adding more friends to the mix.

Be more……. Girly. Since being in med school, I quit dressing nice for class/school in general unless it was absolutely necessary. Then once I became a mom, I put myself last on the list of people to care for. I love dresses but don’t think they look right on me. Since losing so much weight, the brand-new clothes I bought for rotations in July already don’t fit me, which is a blessing and a curse. I hope to actually acquire some style this year, and maybe even keep my nails painted and try new lipstick or something. So this one is a win for me too. This has been the first year in a long time where I actually took care of myself. Taking pride in my appearance wasn’t on the radar before because I was simply trying to survive, and spending time on myself didn’t feel like it had good return on investment. However, now I am feeling better about myself (it’s all part of changing that inner dialog!).

And then two I added to make my own “9 x 2016”:

Less….. Screen time/wasted time on my phone. I wonder how much efficient I would be if I transferred all of my phone time to work time. Not that it’s bad to focus on something outside of medicine for awhile, but I find that I scroll through all the social media apps when I’m bored and spend much more time on them then I intend. There was good and bad to this one. I was much better about staying off of Social Media during my dedicated study time for Step 2 CK, but outside of that, I STILL pay far too much attention to my phone.

More…… Memories/Playtime with my kiddo and hubby. The Ladybug loves for momma to come home and do nothing but play until it’s her bedtime… which sometimes eats up a large amount of my study time, and sometimes makes me worry that I’m not a good medical student. However, I don’t think this is time wasted (such as when I’m on my phone). I always, always, always make sure that I tell her that I am happy to see her and that I love her as soon as I pick her up each day. I want to soak up all of this sweet toddler time as I can. This one was definitely a win. 4th year has aided in my ability to make more special moments with my family, since I’ve had much more ‘free time’ this year than in the previous three years. Every opportunity I get to pick up the little one early from daycare to take a surprise visit to the park, I take. It has been amazing and so sweet.

So what does that leave for 2017? 2016 was my best year yet for sticking to my goals throughout the year. Previously, my ‘resolutions’ were usually broken by the first few weeks of the new year. This year’s successes are making me much more optimistic for 2017 and beyond. 2017 has the potential to be the best year yet with so many new adventures on the horizon: my brother is getting married in the spring, I graduate in May, we will be purchasing our first home before the start of residency, and I will finally get my MD and start training to become a pediatrician. Many new things were introduced into my life this year, which were unexpected and totally outside of my 9×2016 list. I have started meditating using the Calm app (which I love!), increasing my yoga practice, and becoming minimalist. These were things I never saw coming but I am so glad I found them/they found me and my family, and I fully intend to keep them throughout 2017.

My 9×2017:

Learn:… Spanish. This is just a continuance, and still something that is very important to me. It has already helped me form greater bonds with my patients and their families just by saying the phrases that I do know, and acknowledging that I still have more to learn but I am TRYING.

Start: Racing. I made good strides of going to the gym more frequently and PR’ing my times, but I want to bite the bullet and actually race this year. I’ve already signed up for a local series of races where I can build up my distance.

Stop: Feeling guilty for not knowing everything. So much of medical school is realizing just how much I STILL DO NOT KNOW even when I am killing myself with studying. It is OK that I do not know everything. There is an opportunity to learn each day, and I plan on fully taking advantage of that and asking more questions… all of which will make me a better physician.

Travel to: We have several plans for travel this year, with the first adventure being next week. I could go on and on about this one, but for now I will just say there will be hiking and sunshine and a few new states/possibly countries.

Find: The right program, the right home, the right mentors. Some of these are time-dependent, but there will be a lot of work to do come Match Day (3/17).

Try: New restaurants (a continuance of our goal for last year) along with new foods! As part of interview season this year, we get a lot of dinners out with residents in all of these new cities and I’ve made it a secondary goal to try meals I would ordinarily never try. From butternut squash ravioli to my first taste of Indian food (which I LOVED!), it’s been a good idea to branch out and try new cuisines/flavors.

Be more: Of an advocate. One of the things I love most is projects, especially those that help people. I do not have much experience on the political side of things, but as I start residency it is increasingly important to me that I learn how to fight for my patients, their families, and their needs. Learning this skill is one of the things I am most looking forward to in residency, in my new role. How exactly do I plan to do that? First of all, I’ve been interviewing at programs that excel in advocacy. There are other opportunities for training through local and away electives. I’ve also been looking for great mentors. No matter where I end up Matching, I will have a solid foundation to help me with that endeavor.

Less: Screen time. This one is a hard one to break (I mean, I’m blogging right now, so….), but I realize that especially with screen time, less is more.

More: Meditation, exercise, relaxation, reflection, minimalism. All of these things, to me, go together hand-in-hand. What I haven’t been doing much of lately is reflecting and writing about how these things have helped change our lives for the better.

I am looking forward to a 2017 full of adventures and memories. What are your goals for the new year? What big adventures are on your heart and mind? Share with me! Let’s encourage each other to make 2017 the best year yet!

Six Years… and Counting

In the hustle and rush of a med student’s schedule, I often don’t get to spend as much time with my friends and family as I’d like. But there’s one person in particular that I feel like I’ve put through a particularly hard ringer in the past two and a half years, and that is David.

When I first met him, he had just moved home from a job in Iowa, was living with his mother, and didn’t have a job here yet. I was particularly miserable when I met him… I felt lost. I had been through a bad breakup earlier in the year, had been rejected after months on the waitlist of my dream medical school, had left behind many friendswas working a job I wasn’t sure I even liked, and enrolled in a graduate program I wasn’t sure I fit into, all while trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life. I’d considered dropping everything I was doing to join the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps… I had the applications filled out but had not had the courage to hit “Send”.  I imagined a life of loneliness, being married to my work, and maybe someday adopting children if I still wanted them. In reality, at that time, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to meet anyone until after I got my own life figured out.

But…. he sure was handsome. And he was kind. He had a sharp wit and understood my science jokes. He had his own science jokes. When I talked about all of the trips I dreamed about taking “someday”, he was the first guy that didn’t balk at me…. but instead, added in his own. And when I rattled on and on about my dream of becoming a doctor, with one unsuccessful application cycle under my belt… he didn’t try to talk me out of it, as others had. He is always encouraging, always supporting, always pushing me to find new horizons. In the past 18 months, he’s had to deal with my insanity of becoming a mom… and endured all the silly songs I have created to make our daughter smile (sometimes, I am sure he thinks I have lost my ever-loving mind).

This year, we celebrated six years of our fairy tale. Things haven’t always been easy. There have been many obstacles that we didn’t foresee: funerals, sick family members, two more unsuccessful medical school application cycles, a successful application cycle, last-minute switch in medical schools, getting pregnant during medical school…. This year alone we’ve dealt with the stress of Step 1, moving, juggling a toddler during a long and draining surgery rotation, an unexpected funeral… In the year to come, we’ll deal with the stresses of the Matching process, together.

In these years, he is unchanged. He continues to surprise me with his thoughtfulness. He has never once told me my dreams were too big… instead, he stretches their boundaries and makes them ours.He has never once told me things were too rough. He lets me vent my frustrations when I need to. He has his own frustrations that sometimes I feel he keeps to himself because he knows I am stressed. However, this life is still pretty sweet, and I love him more each day. I never thought that this life was possible. He is a treasure, and my perfect match. I am so thankful for our  we have built together.

Very often, I remember what life was like pre-David. I remember all of the things that ran through my mind, and I remember that I didn’t like where my life was going. This all makes me realize just how lucky I am that he chose me.

David, my handsome…. I can’t promise white Christmases or always-clear skies…. But I can fuel your adventurous side, and walk those trails hand in hand. Happy anniversary, David. Six years of adventures behind us, and hopefully many more still to come.


18 Months to Go!

 

Natalie Christmas Charlestown

Guys! I am now on Christmas Break and third year is officially halfway over. How on earth did that happen so quickly?!

If there is one thing that I learned in med school so far, it’s to always be prepared. Today was no exception. My neuro classmates were mixed in with the peds, OB, FM, IM and psych classmates to talk our shelf exam today. Halfway through the shelf, the NBME (the company/organization that makes the shelf tests and Step) servers went down. Over an hour later, we were all finally allowed to finish our exams. By that time, my brain was no longer in “exam mode” and I was starving, so I have this feeling that the neuro shelf will not be my best. But there’s nothing I can do to change that now.

Afterwards, I rushed home to start baking cookies for the annual Americana Winter Festival where ULSOM has hosted a cookie decorating booth for the kids for the past several years. I made 9 dozen sugar cookies and then rushed all the way over to Americana before rushing back home to take the Ladybug on a carriage ride through a local small town to see Christmas lights and displays. Even if the morning didn’t go as planned, the day was still pretty great, and I am now so thankful for a break for two weeks to enjoy the holidays and visit family and friends. I may even get to update this blog a bit.

A friend reminded me a couple days ago that in 18 short months, we’ll be called “Doctor” and have our MDs. That, to me, is so scary! I’ve learned (and re-learned, and forgotten) so much this year already. The Ladybug just turned 18 months old, and that amount of time seemed to go by so quickly!

My First Diagnosis

…and it’s not what you think.

The memory of that day has haunted me ever since.

My grandma called on a Sunday afternoon, which used to be fairly normal. I talked to her for a few minutes, then handed the phone off to dad, since that was who grandma wanted to talk to on Sundays when she called. (I was still in high school, so yes, I lived at home.)

Once dad took the phone, I turned to mom. “Grandma has Alzheimer’s,” I said.

Mom looked at me, startled. “What did you just say?”

I told her about the conversation. In the few minutes I had been on the phone, Grandma had asked me several questions and each one she repeated multiple times, even after repeating my answer back to me.

My Grandpa had Parkinson’s, and later developed Alzheimer’s. Grandma was a retired RN, and took care of him in the home they lived in for ~50 years. He never spent a single day in a nursing home or hospital. I was quite familiar with what these issues looked like. During those few minutes on the phone with my Grandma, I knew. My blood ran cold and my stomach churned. A few years later, an actual doctor diagnosed her with Alzheimer’s (presumptively of course, since plaques and tangles can’t be confirmed until autopsy, if one is performed). We lost her tragically on Thanksgiving during my first year of grad school.

This week we’ve started our final new course, Clinical Neuroscience, and we started the week with neuropathology. Learning more about cognitive disorders has kinda freaked me out this week, and awoken some memories I guess I had repressed. I think what scares me most is wondering. I have no idea if maybe I carry the ApoE4 gene… And I do not want to know.

Our Great Escape

We leave in the morning for our 2013 vacation! I am so excited! There will be plenty of updates with pictures, so stay tuned while we go “get lost”!

Monday we got our first choice in living arrangements in Iowa (YAY!). Tuesday I finished my cousin’s bridal shower gift, which is being taken to the shower for me since we’ll be deep in the heart of Yellowstone’s caldera by then. Wednesday we packed and attempted to get ready for the trip and the move. Today I mailed my brother’s 21st birthday present (yep, we’re missing that too).

This week at work has been draining. In addition to regular lab stuff, we (not me) decided to run two sets of surgeries and two sets of Flow in the four days I was working. Let me tell you, this was SO MUCH FUN.

Today was an adventure. My boss’ wife was in a car accident yesterday afternoon (she’s fine; the car, not so much), so I was going to be on my own for the harvest in the morning, with backup from M. We decided to start at 9am. Starting at 9am generally means getting there 8am to help prep. M didn’t decide to show up until 9:15am and then acted like we had never done this experiment before, so I had the privilege of starting out my day grumpy, stressed, and fatigued. I’m not quite sure what her problem was today, but somehow she managed to screw up our timeframe even though we cut out 3hrs from our original protocol. It was definitely not our best day in lab, and this definitely wasn’t how I wanted to spend my last day working with M. I was not full of grace today, unfortunately. C’est la vie.

But, there is lots of good news. By God’s grace, my To Do list (including school stuff) before the trip is completely finished, which is nothing short of miraculous. I finished going through two books I needed for my manuscript, and they have been returned on time (by the skin of my teeth). And I’m working on a few other things that have great possibilities. (If you submit a piece for publication, and within 24h you have a connection request on LinkedIn by the Editor… is that a good sign, or kinda creepy?!)

I am so ready to leave this mess behind, not think about moving or med school, and just get lost in the mountains. I think I am most excited about seeing the stars a lot more clearly than we can see them here. We’ve been planning this trip for a year and a half.(Well, really, David’s done most of the planning.) Happy second wedding anniversary to us!

Are we there yet? 😉

Called Home

A soul was called home last night.

I thought it was going to be a normal night. As it happened, I made an early break from work and decided to make a couple short stops on my way home, including a pit stop at the grocery. On the drive home, I was daydreaming about what all I was going to do with this magical thing– spare time– that had suddenly fallen into my lap.

The sun was shining. It was a beautiful day. I thought about going for a run at the park before David came home. He had agreed to taco night, so that would be a fast, easy meal to prep. I could work on my manuscript. I’ve been planning on making more banana nut muffins. I could pop open a bottle of wine and continue watching Season One of Game of Thrones. The night was full of possibilities!

As I’m in line at the grocery, my phone rings.

Hospice was calling me. Unexpectedly.

I paused before I answered, to prepare my heart. This is never a good thing, I thought.

Candles_in_the_dark

I have been volunteering with hospice for four years now. This was the first time I had been called for a new segment of our program, the 11th Hour Vigil. When one of our patients is near their time, one of us will be called to go sit with them, ensuring that no one dies alone. One of our patients was actively dying, and the need was quite emergent.

In cases like these, you don’t ask questions, you just go.

I rushed home, threw dinner in the crock pot, shoved groceries in the fridge, grabbed my hospice badge, and raced to the facility.

Admittedly, I can be a little awkward the first time I meet someone in hospice… not really knowing what to say. Walking into this new situation, I never know what I am going to find. To just walk into someone’s life so suddenly can be a strange thing.

By the time I arrived and found the correct room, family had gathered. I introduced myself and stated why I had came to visit. They were wanting to read aloud the patient’s favorite Bible verses but didn’t have one to read, so I went to find one at the nurses’ station. I think my willingness to help the family is what made them begin to trust me.

It’s nice to be on this side of things; I spent time with the family and the patient. I got to hear the stories. There was much laughter, many tears, but an overall sense of peace. I learned so much about this patient in a very short amount of time. This patient was very well loved. I was in no rush to leave. These people that I never met before in my life, took me in. They let me be a part of their story, and a part of their last memories of their loved one. I can’t seem to wrap my head around the fact that I will never see them again, after all of that. Over a duration of three hours, I listened. I prayed. We prayed aloud together. I know nothing about the pathophysiology of death. I know nothing about disease processes. But I do know what it is to grieve and to need someone to listen. These small things that we can do for each other make a huge impact, even if we don’t realize how at the time.

And during the middle of this, I got a text saying that a friend of mine who I’ve briefly blogged about before, was being sent to the ED down home. I added her to my prayers. Medicine is involved in so many life events, most of which we do not have control over.

Death can be such a sad, horrible thing. Suffering is so unpleasant and heart-wrenching to watch, let alone experience; I really hope that God calls our spirits home before the final stages of death, when we are no longer really “there” anymore.

There came a point in time where the mood in the room changed. Breaths were coming more shallow and slower. The laughter stopped. More tears followed. The staff members at this facility were wonderful and very supportive. I stayed with the family until they departed for the night. They thanked me for coming on such short notice and for staying with the patient for so long.

When I got home, the kitchen was torn asunder; my own fault for how I left things as I rushed out the door. But, I have so many things to be thankful for. God has richly blessed us. I came home to my wonderful husband, food in the fridge, a roof over our heads. So many things we can take for granted in the hustle-and-bustle of everyday life. Tonight I am thankful that God used me to bless someone; and as always, I always get much more out of it than I feel that I am able to give. I may have given up my weeknight, but I gained so much more. Last night was just one more reminder of how I know without a doubt that I am supposed to be a physician.

This morning, I had a wonderful note from my supervisor in my inbox. It is nice to have a bit of acknowledgment for a job well done, but really, it was not necessary.

Hospice is a wonderful, beautiful gift. I encourage everyone to think about giving their time to support their local hospice organization. The kindness and love that I see poured out into my community is astounding.

So tonight–if all goes as “planned” this time–I’ll make a little dinner, cuddle a little longer with my husband, pray for this family, and hope that God is able to use me in an obvious way again soon.

“We cannot always do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” ~Mother Teresa