Saturday, November 22, 2014

just for a moment, let's be still

Lately I have been thinking that I could just start a blog called "this week in heartbreak" based on my job. For example, this week's contenders would be:
  • The elderly man who has leukemia that just won't respond to any therapy, who is universally adored in our unit. I had to perform a bone marrow biopsy on him this past week and he thanked me and told me I did a good job. Also every time I go to see him, he always says he is glad to see me.
  • The couple who are in their 70s who sit side by side in the hospital room, like they are trying to reenact those scenes in When Harry Met Sally where elderly couples recount how they met. They met in Staten Island, childhood sweethearts.
  • The woman who was just diagnosed with breast cancer, who I met in my clinic for the first time yesterday, who ended our clinic encounter with "I am so glad you are my doctor." This was particularly heartfail material because about forty five minutes prior, I was seriously considering quitting due to not feeling good enough.

But I can't write about such things without it sounding awfully schmaltzy. I love, love, love my work, but at least once a week, more often multiple times a week, I question my competency. Everyone tells me it is the nature of the beast and all that, but it chips away at me, and usually by the end of the every week, I have a pit in my stomach and feel doomed.

Which is why, on my day off, I often find myself trying to do something in the kitchen. Because that's a place where I've spent a lot of time over the years. I don't follow recipes well, and I don't write down a lot of the details of how I make things, but most of the time, I can still produce something salvageable. And when I really want to feel accomplished, I make caramel. I have written about why it is therapeutic to make- it requires undivided attention and a feel for things. You can't daydream about chemotherapy regimens and lab results while you are making caramel, or that bastard will turn on you and take you down.

And now it is fall, and it is the season for caramel and all things apple. Last week I experimented on my day off and made a cake with grated apple and roasted sweet potatoes. It was okay (mostly because I covered it in brown sugar frosting), but it was not a keeper. Last year, I used smittenkitchen's recipe for apple cider caramels. I tinkered with it, but not much, because her recipes are fairly airtight. Those were tasty caramels but they were the kind of caramels you wrap in waxed paper and give your friends, and they love you forever. So, you know, kind of perfect. But I was not trying to make those types of caramels today. I wanted a caramel sauce. And I also did not feel like dealing with a candy thermometer.

Making this sauce was a process. First, I had to boil down 4 cups of fresh apple cider until it's about 1/3 to 1/2 cup. Then I deviated from the recipe, so all hell broke loose. But it's also different when I am in the kitchen, because the only downside of failure is a waste of perfectly good ingredients. So I just plugged away and sure enough, I managed to make a thick, apple-intense caramel.

On my next day off, maybe I will figure out what to do with it.


To switch gears a little, in my last post, I was writing about how the choices we make come with a price and we have to pay for our dreams, and the artist formerly known as piedpiper pointed out that this is more of a universal plight than I had perhaps suggested. He is right. And I was reminded of it this week, because someone very near and dear to me came out of the closet. It broke my heart a little that he felt he could not tell anyone sooner, and it was heartrending to hear that his family had put a lot of pressure on him not to tell anyone about it. He sounded so happy when he told me, and I realized how this must have weighed on him for such a long time. Already, he is having to pay a lot and in his case, it is not even a dream he is living, just his life.

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