the final leg : on fellow year three

Friday, June 27, 2014 | | 0 comments
monday marks the start to the last leg of a very long journey.  a journey far greater than i had imagined it when i made the decision to apply for medical school many wrinkles and under eye circles ago.  i entered college as a psychology major (isn't that what all children of psychologists start with?) and to this day find it fascinating.  but it was in the spring of my freshman year that i took a class in "Spirituality and Health" and decided "this is it!".  i remember the heavy humid heat that hung in the air as i walked from my evening class to my cramped dorm room with the sense that i had it all figured out (HA!).   i remember deciding on that walk that being a medical doctor was what i was meant to do with my life....a far cry from my childhood plans for a life as an ornithologist.

in retrospect i had absolutely no idea what being a physician really meant.  how incredibly difficult, how mentally and physically grueling (ahem, 70+ hour weeks while 38 weeks pregnant with a toddler at home! you survive that, my friends, and i'm fairly certain you can survive anything!), how indescribeably fulfilling it is.  perhaps if i knew then what i know now i would have been too afraid to embark on this journey.  i'd love to think otherwise but there is a small part of my heart that feels it to be true. for that, i'm forever grateful for my naivete.

i wrote THIS post after completing my first week of fellowship.  funny how it feels like a lifetime ago when i think about how much has happened in 2 short years.  funnier still is how the observations i made after just barely getting my toes wet stand the test of time.

four years of medical school, three years of residency, and now 2 years through a 3 year fellowship in Hematology/Oncology (blood disorders & cancer) it's time to write the final chapter of what has arguably been the most formative 10 years of my life (to date). 

so here goes.

being a heme/onc fellow is HARD: while getting to this point was preceeded by many years of preparation, these last 2 years of fellowship have been tough!  they've changed me, my mind and my heart, in ways i never knew i could grow. the ways in which it has changed me professionally are not necessarily shocking.  steep learning curves of medical knowledge, how to interpret the deluge of studies and tests ordered, forming differential diagnoses, medication management, reading medical literature and applying it to the person sitting in front of you, the list goes on... the ways in which it has shaped me personally are what i will truly grasp onto for a lifetime.  mostly because of the following....

people are INCREDIBLY resilient, including myself.  if i had a nickel for every time i met someone who had every single reason in the book to be angry or just plain sorry for themselves...well lets just say there's no piggy bank big enough. EVERY single day, i am amazed at the strength and positivity people are able to muster in spite of adversity and challenge, big and small.  every single day i thank god that i get to be reminded of how fleeting time can be.  i thank god that i get the chance to spend time with some of these folks because they teach me more in simple random moments than i think i could ever possibly teach or help them.  in a day in age where all we hear is bad news on TV...i want you to know that there is still so much love and good in this world.  i see it in the faces of my patients, their families, the people i work with, my colleagues, my friends.  it's there i'm telling you. 

if i've learned one single thing in this process it is this : life is about human connection.  it's really that simple.  it's not about chemotherapy plans or caring for a bleeding hemophiliac.  my profession calls on me to know how to handle these situations and this is a good thing....a tough job but someone has to do it, right?  what i've learned though, is that life is about simply being present for people....sometimes complete strangers.  particularly in the dark, scary, and uncomfortable moments.  in the moments when life has broken them down or placed them in a scenario that they are too scared to face alone.  life is about being there for those moments.  it's about the honesty to say "i may not know how this is all going to turn out, but you aren't going to have to do this alone."  

and that description doesn't just apply to those of us who are physicians.  i think it's something that anyone can do.  being a doctor, for me, has been a way to practice that unbelievably humbling art every single day but don't for one second believe that it's something only we are capable.  i think that we can all be healers for one another regardless of the letters behind our name.

i've learned more about myself in the past 3 years than any.  i have so many weak and vulnerable spots but i'm stronger than i think i knew when i started out.  i love my fellowship family and there's not much i wouldn't do for the group of people i have been blessed to work with this past 3 years.  our work life is so rewarding but it does weigh on our hearts at times...ok, alot of times.  i've gotten the chance to walk this path with some pretty awesome people, some of whom i now count as my closest and dearest friends and i wouldn't trade that for anything (human connection remember?!).  be thankful for the amazing people in your life, for real you guys.

speaking of amazing family: they still have that magical ability to make any day, no matter how catastrophically awful instantaneously better.  they are everything to me and the reason i get out of bed in the morning.  they make me a better person, a better doctor, a better me.  i truly do not know where or who i would be without them. and i don't intend to ever find out. i love you guys so so much, more than my simple jumbled words could ever say.  thank you, THANK you for always being my anchor.

weekends off still really rock and coffee remains the nectar of the gods.  since first year i've started drinking my coffee black...i don't mess around anymore.  next step : continuous infusion.

last but not least.....i still REALLY really love my job.  i learn at least one new thing every day. i'm never the smartest person in the room. i work with phenomenal people who make me smile and laugh and cry and believe in the good things and see the good even in the bad. i get the chance to help heal broken bodies or on a really good day a broken heart.  sometimes if i'm really lucky, i get to help heal both. what more could i possibly ask for?

so here's to the final leg...what an adventure i know it too will be.

we learn about love here : on becoming a member of the united church of gainesville

Sunday, June 15, 2014 | | 4 comments

When you become a member of our church, the entire congregation comes forward and lays their hands in a beautiful gesture of welcome and support.  I took a brief moment to turn around this morning and look at everyone behind me, supporting me and holding me was a truly special moment.

this post has been writing itself for a long time.  bare with me as i bare my soul a bit.

i grew up in the methodist church.  it was a nice church and i have fond memories of it ~ mostly ones i made as a member of the youth choir.  i remember, in particular, our summer tours and the how wonderfully rebellious it felt to sing songs like "Ants Marching" or "Rocket Man" in our Sunday services.  our youth choir director knew how to speak to and with us and it was the first time i was able to see past my fear of religion.  the do's and don'ts of "religion", the check-list of requirements to be "saved", the literal interpretations meaning that some of my gay and lesbian friends or those who weren't completely "perfect" or were just different weren't up to par.  i knew i was far from perfect and so perhaps i too wasn't good enough??...none of that made any sense to me and so i pushed away, threw my hands up with religion.

my experience wasn't traumatic or damaging...but rather left me feeling sort of empty, disconnected.  i believed in my heart that there was something more but was not finding it in this place or through this way of worship.

fast forward to college and i enrolled in a class entitled, "spirituality and health."  it was like comparative religion meets pre-med and i was officially in heaven. no pun intended.  i was raised in a liberal minded home, by two it came as no surprise to me that there were many different world views and religious thought processes.  this was, however, the first time that i had been immersed in a discussion of how spirituality, an existential kind of entity, could marry with the more physical scientific concepts that were more tangible to me at the time.  it was the discussions in that class that spurred me to ultimately take the courses necessary to apply to medical school and we all know how that turned out.

my formal church life has been nonexistent up until recently.  ryan and i were married by a wonderful minister from his childhood church and the first time i met him and slowly began to attend services there, i knew that i was on to something.  a place where i could be my imperfect and authentic self.  i didn't have to worry about pretending to be someone i'm not.  anyone was welcome no matter how broken or imperfect.  admittedly, we hadn't been as "religious" (pardon the pun) in attending until recently as we had let our hectic life of work and kids and everything else get in the way.  a variety of things have happened over the past few years that have sparked our mutual inner drive and faith and we have now found ourselves there regularly and eagerly looking forward to Sunday morning service.

if you flip to the back of the pamphlet on any given sunday, you'll see the church compact printed there.  it starts with "We join as a spiritual community in this compact To worship God, however known...".  every day i learn more about what and who God is to me.

here's what I've figured out so far.  God is that feeling I get while I watch my children sleep.  My deep and gnawing love for them, the fear that I'll mess it all up, and the courage to just keep going even when I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing.  I see God in my marriage every day ~ the way our 10th grade love has evolved into the most dynamic, challenging, and phenomenal part of my life. God was with us in the mountains, in the morning sun as it ricocheted through the trees as we sat listening to the orchestra created by the flowing creek and the gregarious songbirds.  The peace I felt even in the wildly terrifying moments following my seizure, in a million ways I think that was God.  I feel God's presence with me when I talk with my patients, oftentimes in moments when I have bad news to bear.  That seems silly, I I type it out it makes no sense. but it is in those moments that the overwhelming gratitude floods my heart...not for the news I have but for the opportunity to bear witness to the unfolding of their story.  to sit with them in their broken and less than perfect moments.  it's easy to be grateful for happy news, for a beautiful day....but to find meaning and gratitude in those dark and piercingly painful moments, i have God to thank for that.  God is in those little moments ~ watching Emma and Benjamin talk to one another quietly when they think i'm not watching, the way their eyes sparkle with wonder over simple things like the way the rain falls in fat dollops on the ground.

today, I formally joined the church.  i know it is a spiritual home where I belong. where my family belongs.  where we can roll our sleeves up and get involved in the social justice work and community outreach that is such a huge part of what UCG is all about.  where we can meet people just like us and completely different from us all just exactly where we are on this journey.  with whose support and uplifting we can lead a life like the one Jesus spoke about that is about so much more than Sunday worship.

as I stood in front of the congregation this morning, I shared the following story because I think it sums up exactly why I want to be a part of this group of amazing people.

a few weeks back as we were leaving Sunday service, Benjamin turned to his sister and said, "Why do we go to church?"  i thought it was a pretty awesome question for a 2 1/2 year old and I was really REALLY looking forward to her answer.  she turned to him and said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world, "We learn about love there."

i'm pretty sure God was in that moment, too.

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