Thursday, March 23, 2017

live your life, stake your claim

Recently I moved. I had to move, because my landlords had decided to sell their house. It wasn't the best time of year to be moving. I had about 17 deadlines looming during the time I was supposed to be house hunting, and I had only signed the dotted line on the contract for my soon-to-be job about a month before I had to move. So that took buying property off the table- of course, that was a welcome relief, because even though I've been living in the same square mile radius for 10 years, I still have a real fear of committing to home ownership.

I ended up renting a house that is probably a bit more decadent than I deserve. I am not complaining about that- it's a beautiful house, and I sometimes feel like I'm on vacation when I'm at home (not great for productivity except for productivity found in the sun-filled kitchen). But a funny thing happened when I got the place- a number of my colleagues expressed discomfort with me for renting the place. The comments were along the lines of "for just you?" I get it. As I said, I fully acknowledge it's a bit decadent. But I cook a lot. I like to have people over. I like to have a spare bedroom so that people can visit from out of town. It's a little decadent, yes, but it's not exactly insane. Setting aside all of that, though, I also have the means to afford the place.

Still, I keep joking around that when I enter the house every day, I am pretty sure my neighbors think it's the maid coming in to do the cleaning. It's one of those half-jokes that bends a little too close to the truth. The part I don't include in the joke is that I am, currently, content to have them think that. It's easier. I'd rather have the neutral looks of someone thinking they're watching the help go in to do the cleaning than the definitely not-neutral looks of the neighborhood wondering how I have the audacity to live in such a place. I realized with this move that I have always kept a low profile in terms of my living situation, and part of it was not to do with being a cheapskate (which I admittedly am), but rather this need to remain unnoticed. It had seemed paranoid. But in 2017, it hasn't felt paranoid at all.


My cousin had a surgery and I could not be there. She chose a hospital which was a solid 3 hour drive away, and I was working on a hospital rotation. Her parents and brothers were there, but still, when there were (relatively minor) complications after the surgery, I was on the phone with them trying to sort through what was actually going on as well as how to comfort them. Two weeks after she was discharged, she called me frantically one morning while I was in the midst of rounds with a team of interns and attendings and very sick patients, begging me to drive an hour to come take care of her. She had developed a headache and was convinced she was bleeding into her head.

Within a short exchange with her, I knew she was not catastrophically bleeding into her head the way she thought. She was due for a CT scan that day. I did what physicians do. I triaged. I had 32 sick patients to take care of in the hospital as well as two patients I needed to see that afternoon in the clinic. I called a few other family members and no one else could get to her either. My cousin was not alone- her fiance was there. But he does not work in healthcare, and isn't the person to calm her down when she's panicking. I offered to come that night, which was the earliest I could be there. She was convinced she would be hospitalized by then, and she had already summoned her mother, who was flying in that evening. So, she bluntly told me, if I came that night, it would be too late.

She didn't have a bleed, not at all. She had tapered off her steroids too quickly and she had a headache as a result. I knew she was hurt by my choice to stay at work, wounded that I had not dropped everything to get to her, and a bit offended that I had suggested that she was probably going to be just fine. And I realized, once again, that medicine has this habit of creeping into you at a molecular level. For better and often worse, it becomes how you live and breathe. I was a decent doctor that day. I knew who really needed me and didn't need me.

My cousin, she didn't see it that way. To her, I was just a shitty cousin who was choosing her patients over her family. And I couldn't really blame her for feeling that way.


Every time I sit down to write anything, including the little anecdotes above, it just feels so pointless and trite. So much is happening right now that I feel like my head is exploding with both a crescendo of thoughts and a stunned silence. I can't even address the very big things happening. All I can do is keep writing something down, mostly little notes to myself in the hopes of finding some clarity in this muddled world.