Almost seven years ago, I was sitting in a dive bar* with some friends from college. We had moved to different cities after our various undergraduate experiences, and rarely got to see each other. I sat across from them and another mutual friend and coasted on bliss. I relished the comfort and joy of having beer in a bar playing punk music with people who shared so many touchstones with me – concerts, people, places, parties. People with whom I could talk in shorthand. I felt connected in a way I hadn’t in years, years that seemed brimming with pregnancy, parenthood, divorce, work, classes, exams, but not a lot of effortless connection.
But, underlying that social happiness was a buzz of elation because I had just found out that I got accepted into medical school. It was an unexpected, against the odds, fantastic dream fulfilling surprise. I applied late in the application cycle, and had to fight to even get my application considered. I was told to retake the MCAT due to the scores being just too stale to count, even though it was safely within range to be considered. I crammed for the exam in 6 weeks. I hadn’t had a physics class in 5 years. I somehow even improved my score, but was told the application window had just closed. I begged my plight to the young chipper voice at the other side of the phone line who told me just to wait until the next cycle, and I would surely be invited to interview. “Please,” I pleaded. “I’m 34.” I got the interview. I brought the application administrative staff home baked cookies. No joke. And I make awesome cookies.
So, I sat there in the bar with a stupid grin on my face, and I was hyper aware of everything. The delicious beer, the laughter, the music, the horrible overpriced art in the decor, and the strange elation in my chest of a scary dream coming true at that brief, delicious moment in time that the dream is true, but isn’t reality yet. Medical school was just a bunch of fantasy and hopes, not grueling hours of studying and gross anatomy. I was able to spend a night out with my friends on a Saturday still, without the endless string of Monday exams to come for the two years. I promised myself to hold on to that moment, and to never take for granted how wonderful it was to have a dream come true.
Today, I am sitting in my back yard. I recently moved. My house is finally mostly settled. I have a lovely little spot just outside my kitchen on my tiny patio under the awning, with my fragrant potted rosemary bush and subtle wind chimes. The breeze still has a touch of that gorgeous March coolness to it that lingers every year in Miami just a few weeks longer than my cranky cynical mind thinks it should. There are birds and butterflies and bustling neighbors in the background. I have things to do – dishes, laundry, shopping, even more unpacking, but I have time. I don’t have the kids this part of spring break. I am on a light outpatient rotation. I was able to sleep in. I took a deep swig of my coffee and closed my eyes, and felt the breeze. I felt elated. Yes, it’s wonderful to relish these last lovely mornings before Miami gets unbearably hot and muggy. But, I have an underlying elation in my chest.
I got accepted into a brand new obstetrics and gynecology residency. I found out during the shortest and most wonderful interview of my life this Friday afternoon. I am more than halfway through my second year of a family practice residency. I applied to a very geographically limited number of obstetrics programs when I was finishing medical school. I interviewed at several, but didn’t match at any. There’s only one program within 500 miles of where I live and share custody of my boys. The next year, I applied again, and got invited to more interviews. These interviews were at wonderful programs in places where I didn’t know a living soul, like Macon Georgia and West Virginia. In the meantime, I was struggling through 80 hour workweeks that included 6 night shifts in a row. I rarely saw my kids. I rarely saw my friends. I rarely saw daylight. I slowly cancelled all of my out of town interviews, one at a time, as they approached, because I couldn’t see surviving an intern year in an obstetrics and gynecology residency, which would be more grueling than the one I was in, and not have the family support I did here. I also wasn’t willing to move and leave my boys behind. Again, I interviewed at the only local obstetrics and gynecology program. Again, I didn’t match there.
I worked through my second year of family practice residency this year without thinking of reapplying to obstetrics. A new program opened up in Kissimmee, which is about 4 hours north of here, and my oldest son said he wouldn’t move with me if I applied and got in there. This is the first time he said he wouldn’t even go. The interview season came and went, merely a wistful blip on my radar. The osteopathic match drifted by, and the allopathic match started releasing results this week.
Except, I just found out a week ago that a new program got approved. I have heard rumors and rumbles of new at least six new obstetrics programs being opened for over seven years of medical school, fellowship and residency, and none of them had materialized. I never heard a whisper about this program. What’s even more bizarre, I had done a 4th year rotation with the director of obstetrics there, and she must not have known of the possibility yet, and I just finished a four week rotation in their family medicine department with one of their medical directors, who didn’t mention it. Oh, and one more thing. THIS SITE IS LESS THAN A MILE FROM MY HOUSE.
After a flurry of emails, research and phone calls on my part, I procured a phone interview with the new obstetrics residency director and graduate medical education director. It was a five minute interview with two of the nicest people I’ve ever known for five minutes. They had my CV. They had been told about me by the director of obstetrics at the site, by the clinical education director at my medical school, and others. They wanted me, I wanted them, and the match already happened, so they could recruit me directly.
I was ecstatic. My dream came true, again. In fact, my dream from that night 7 years ago included my eventually becoming an obstetrician. That was the promised land at the end of my reverie that night at the bar. It was becoming harder and hard to access that place of joy and thankfulness when I struggled as a family practice resident. Part of the dream had not materialized. I hated to say “Sob, woe is me! I’m going to be a family practice physician!” and realized how stupid and obliviously privileged and ungrateful that sounded.
But today, the dream is realized. It’s still sinking in. And I still have a day well rested and quiet to sit and relish in the fantasy of getting my dream job.
“My goal in life is to unite my avocation with my vocation,
As my two eyes make one in sight.” – Robert Frost
So, one more cup of coffee. One more pause before I get to the dishes in the sink. Because this is the feeling I will be tapping into when I’m exhausted on the labor floor, when I’m struggling with learning a new surgery, when my kids and I are fighting because I’m exhausted and they are resentful because I don’t seem to have quality or quantity time with them. The breeze, the calm, the sounds, and the elation.
*I love that when I googled the name of the bar, a box popped up with information about the hormone prolactin.