Sep 15, 2011

A Different Life?

I've recently had a little more time for reflections on my life, my chosen path. I'm working nights, and when it's not too busy, I'm able to lay down in between patients. I don't sleep because I am always waiting for my pager to jolt me out of bed, but I can enjoy the quiet. It's getting cool again, and I'm able to run outside, putting one foot in front of the other as my mind untwists whatever is subconsciously present, much like a dream. In these moments of quiet, I wonder about what my life would have been like, had I not gone to medical school. I don't doubt that becoming a doctor was a good choice for me, but was it the only one that was right for me, like I had thought at the time?

Let me be clear. I don't regret becoming a doctor. But, I think about what my life might have been like, as someone else. Or at least as myself, having made different choices. I could be a yoga instructor. I would have been good at that. I could be a professor, with a doctorate in clinical nutrition- my other professional love- or maybe a dietitian, like some of my friends from college had become. I could join my friends on their travel, because I would have time and money too, without worries of massive school debt or a constrictive schedule where I celebrate two days off in a row. I could be a wife and mother, a homemaker, like so many of the women at my gym and who come to see my at the hospital.

I know I am already a wife. But I'm talking about being a different kind of wife. The kind of wife that takes care of chores, the kind of wife ever available for listening, and sex, and companionship. The kind of wife different from what my own husband has. He has the kind that spends every other night away from home and is away even more hours on top of that, who can be distracted, with a limited attention span and patience, who wants to use the bed only for sleeping and expects an equal contribution, if not more, to household chores. The kind that a "dinner out" consists of driving 45 minutes to the hospital and enjoying a cafeteria meal together in between pages.

I think in a different situation, I could have really enjoyed being a mother now. I feel separated from my peers as they have children, as their facebook pages are filled with darling photos and cute anecdotes. I look at my facebook page, and decline putting up another status, because I don't have much to say outside of my life at the hospital. I deliver babies every day, and hand them away to anxious mothers, eager fathers, most younger than I. I am a little jealous, not only for these couples starting their families but for the sole fact that the mother is in bed at 4 am while I am up making rounds.

My dad says that anyone can get pregnant, but it takes a special person to have a baby- meaning me, the obstetrician. He says that I'm special, because these choices that are difficult, and sometimes isolating, that set me apart from other twenty-somethings...they mean that I have worked hard enough to get to have this privilege of being different, of getting to do a really important and special job.

One of the very best things about my new job is the other residents. Aside from childhood friends and a few treasured college/med school friends, I haven't connected well with others as a young adult, I think because my life took such a sharp turn away from the typical twenty-something experience. I'd go to church, to small groups, gym classes, and parties, and find that I really didn't have much to offer to a conversation once the conversation turned away from medicine. Relationships shifted into a more familiar territory- ie doctor/patient- as acquaintances began asking me advice on their pregnancies, but it didn't do much for me feeling like one of the gang. Some didn't understand why I was gone so much, why I wasn't available to volunteer more or be more reliable. And now, I have seven other people that deeply understand my situation. We can never get together all at once, because at least two of us are always working at any given time. We can share these stresses and fears about being subpar spouses, worries about becoming good doctors, laughing at jokes that others wouldn't understand or find funny. They understand that a date is spending time together, regardless of whether it is at a cafe or cafeteria.

The reason I write these somewhat wistful and non-cogent thoughts down is that upon talking with other residents, I've found this to be a fairly common thought process, and not one that I think might be intuitive to someone outside of residency. A chief resident mentioned to me that she loved her job, but felt like she could be completely fulfilled with a different life as well- one as a homemaker and mother. A third-year resident who I adore has a craft closet and could stay home happily baking bread. My heart broke for another resident who came back sobbing back from maternity leave. My best friend from medical school wrote me that she was literally sitting in clinic the other day, looking at the patients piled up, wondering what she had gotten herself into, wondering if maybe she should have considered other options, like cooking school. One of my loved co-interns told me once that she thought what she did was important, and she wanted to be good at it, but at the end of the day, this was a job, and her life and family came first. The census overall is that we love what we do, but we'd love a normal life for once too, and fantasize a little about what our life would look like if we hadn't invested all this money and time, if we had made more typical choices.

Kinda makes me feel better about my half-fantasy of becoming a stay-at-home yoga instructor.


  1. Hi Little Doc,

    As the spouse of a resident I've heard these thoughts from her as well. Don't forget that we spouses are right there with you guys. We know how important your work is and we love our residents. The fact that you worry about being a good wife means you are probably one of the best out there. So many people don't think about being a good spouse or not, just their own happiness.

    As a grad student I have had many of the same thoughts as you have expressed. Would I be happy if I was something else? Probably, but it's too late now!

    Jake B. (yes that one!)

  2. We don't really find these careers - they find us. This is why we were placed on the planet. This is, indeed, our destiny.