Sucky first years on the job

My first year as a tenure track professor was actually just as bad as my husband’s medical residency.

Life was easier in some ways as I did not have a baby and my parents had no health issues, and much of the work was work I could do at home. But it was also harder as I was single and alone in a new town in the middle of nowhere, with all the stress and tension of dating and also the lurking worry that my window to have a family would close before I could even find a relationship.

I remember entire weekends where, after working a full week of 14 hour days I did not have one single minute off. And (to add insult to injury) having to “volunteer” to staff 8 a.m. open houses on weekends where the university tried to recruit local high school students who weren’t going to come to the university anyway.

We had the same issue as medical residents that there was zero sick leave during the academic year. If you were sick, someone else covered your umpteen classes and then you paid them back (and oh boy did you pay them back.) In the end, that was why I left. I’d rather have a day of truly free time when I needed it then three months a year of quasi-free time when I didn’t want it. And I’d rather live where I wanted the whole year than live anywhere in the world for three months and on sabbaticals, assuming that family life allowed me to do that anyway.

So that was the end of the tenure track for me. I have never regretted it for a second. I see my husband doing his residency and I am just glad that I am far away from that slave-driven lifestyle myself (as far from it as I can be while being married to it, and having a full time job myself, I mean.)

I don’t want to do this any more

I don’t really want to do this any more. I don’t want to see my father in this state. I don’t want to believe that something so unlikely could happen to us. I don’t want to accept that something so awful could happen so fast. I don’t want to accept that after all that chemo it is never going to get better and that it will almost certainly get worse. I don’t want to cart my dad to doctor after doctor in a wheelchair, worrying that he will fall when transferring from the chair. I don’t want to think of my dad as someone with brain damage. I don’t want to see him with a beard as until his cancer I had never in my life seen him anything but clean-shaven and put together. I don’t want to open my e-mail 20x a day and find no e-mail from him. I don’t want to remember all the medical blunders and mistakes that cost us two months. I don’t want to hear my mom say how we need to fight the disease with everything possible, thus prolonging the torture for all of us. I don’t want to research drugs and treatments. I don’t want to know more about this disease than our oncologist. I don’t want to call the onc and ask for a prognosis. I don’t want to worry that I will give my father my cold and kill him. I don’t want to lose him. I don’t want to see other grandparents walking down the street with their grandkids and know that if I’d just married earlier my dad would have had that too. I don’t want to hear other people complain about their parents. I don’t want to hear about a God whom I can only conclude either does not exist or is indifferent to the suffering of kind people who believe in him. I don’t want to see what said God has done to my father, who–unlike me–believed with all his heart. I don’t want to ride to doctor appointments in a special wheelchair van.

I don’t want to love a husband who changes the subject when I talk about my dad. I don’t want to accept that before too long this husband and my baby daughter will be my only family, so that my life will consist of two people I can’t talk to about anything and one whose welfare I am responsible for so that I cannot take a break to grieve. I don’t want to admit that a huge part of the problem is probably me. I don’t want to accept that if I get cancer at similar ages to my parents, my life is half over. I don’t want my life to end like my father’s. I don’t want to hear my husband say “you feel so alone because you don’t have siblings, like I do,” because I don’t have siblings, it isn’t my fault, and at this point in my life none are going to spontaneously materialize. I don’t want to think that now only my mom and me remember my childhood, and that someday there will only be me. I don’t want to Google “will we meet our loved ones in the afterlife?” knowing that most likely the answer is that death is going to sleep forever, and that after we go there is nothing left of us to care about questions like these.

I don’t want to remember my uncle’s e-mail after the earthquake that destroyed my family’s home in India–“don’t worry–we have not lost much, compared to others who have lost all.” I don’t want to remember how a few years after the earthquake, my uncle died abruptly in his 40s. I don’t want to think that now my father has a brain tumor, and that he and my uncle will never retire together in India the way my father used to talk about. I don’t want to think that now that the time has come to worry, neither my uncle nor my father is able to do so, as one is beyond worry and the other is no longer capable of it, and that we too now have lost all.

The Doctor’s Wife, Part II: Dissolving

Part 1 here.

Once I was a scientist, and a professor, and sometimes a writer.

I still work full-time. But now I am also a mommy, a cook, a housekeeper, and a daughter of a father dying of cancer and a mom who has been walloped by neoplasms too.

In the space of two years, my life has dissolved, and some days I feel like I have, too. I wonder: Where is the old me, who wandered around the US and world going to professional conferences? Who always knew there were two parents who cared whether she was home at night, whom she could always call?

And I am a doctor’s wife. I’ve hesitated even to write it as I feel a little queasy identifying myself as an appendage to someone else. I’ve collapsed into a footnote to other people. “Real” doctors (I am a Ph.D.) save lives, and sometimes confronted with the gravity of that I wonder what the point is in my own career; especially having two parents with cancer, medicine feels so much more important than teaching science or writing, or anything else I will ever do. An ordinary scientist writes papers that nobody reads. But even an ordinary doctor has a huge impact on people’s lives. I hope that my growing feeling that nothing but medicine matters is a fallacy, and jobs can be important without being urgent.

images

Here’s a link to a collective blog by other doctor wives: http://doctorwives.blogspot.com/

There’s a whole online community of medical spouses out there, but I feel just as out of place there as I do everywhere else. Most of the blogs I ran across were by devoutly Christian SAHM’s much younger than myself, writing about how they coped with loneliness by telling themselves that their doctor husbands were working hard out of an eventual desire to provide for them. In my case, I have my own career, we aren’t in debt, neither do I need my husband to be a provider nor do I wish to depend on him that way, and he’ll be going into a specialty that isn’t well compensated anyway.

Still other bloggers write about how they remember falling in love and the memory of the person they fell in love with motivates them. We were Indian and had–not exactly an arranged marriage–but close, so I don’t have those memories to fall back on either.

I recognize that I sound really negative here, but I am really just fumbling in the dark for that motivational thought that will work for me when I am alone at night, as I am sure there is one. I know I have to get through this horrible time for my daughter, but the thought that I no longer have the luxury of collapsing because I am now responsible for someone else–that is even more stress.

My husband tells me repeatedly that it’s reassuring, emotionally, to have a doctor in the house, and that it’s good for family. How his whole time growing up he never had to see anyone outside the family for medical services. I’m sure it’s useful to have a doctor at home, but it’s reassuring to have a plumber at home too, and folks survive without them. And because he isn’t an oncologist, my husband’s medical training hasn’t helped my father or my mother in the slightest.

Insurance pays for my family to see doctors. What I need (and what isn’t covered by Aetna) is someone close to me to listen when I say how much it hurts to watch my father succumb to brain cancer and dementia, how out of the blue this is and how I thought things like this happened to “other people.” How I can’t bring myself to make long-term plans any more because I feel like it might happen to me any day. How painful it is to watch my parents suffer so much. But someone who is around illness and death fifteen hours a day and thinks that advanced cancer is normal is perhaps the person least able to understand what it’s like to be on the other end of the medical device–supposing he were even home to understand, I mean. That’s why I have this blog. It isn’t why I started this blog, but it’s why I keep it going.

I have no idea how my life is going to work out, or how I will get through the next few years.

Surviving

My husband has begun residency. This means that basically I am on my own as a new mom, on top of everything else. My husband and I are mid 30s because he was an “IMG” or “international medical graduate,” which is to say that he was already a doctor abroad. So we have an infant baby.

It has been about three or four weeks; I’ve lost count. So far I have survived. I was able to go with my parents to the oncologist. I was able to pick up my dad’s prescriptions, baby in tow.

I read a lot of stories about doctor wives with multiple kids. They are surviving. Maybe I can, too.