Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Very Welcome Visitor

I am now officially a second year resident, hallelujah! No more 3am calls for Tylenol. I’m on the Breast Surgery service right now, supposedly the best rotation of the year. It’s a great service. Dr. B is the attending surgeon- he’s a large man with a strong, masculine presence, yet oddly effeminate. He’ll rant and rave histrionically about patients who are late to their appointments or to the OR staff when his cases are behind schedule (which they always are). He fumes that he will NOT see the patient or will NOT do the surgery. He professes that he’s leaving “this godforsaken institution.” But he always does every case. He always sees every patient, no matter how late. In clinic, I go into the room first and see the patient, get the history and do a physical exam. The patients are usually skeptical at first when they see me because they have no idea who I am but they usually warm quickly.

BUT THEN, Dr. B saunters into the room and says in his deep commanding voice, “ Hello! Hello!” And, their faces instantly light up. “Oh Dr. B!” they gush. To most of these people, he’s a savior- they had a cancer that could have killed them and he took it out, saved their lives. He has an air, really of almost disinterest with the patients, but somehow it works beautifully to put the most panicky patient instantly at ease.

One thing I’ve realized on this rotation is that because our training is almost exclusively confined to the inpatient setting, we hardly ever get to see the results of our work. I did have one interaction recently- I was walking back from our weekly conference and I heard a “Doc! Doc!” I kept walking, not even registering it was me at whom this man was yelling. Someone tapped me on the shoulder and said, “I think someone is calling for you.” I turn around and there was Mr. CD- a patient of mine for the entire month I was on the thoracic surgery service. We must have put at least 5 chest tubes in him over the course of his hospitalization.

“Doc!” He says with a big, toothless grin, “I just wanted to thank you for all you done. You all were so good to me.” And he gives me a big bear hug in the middle of the hallway. A little flustered but flattered, I said, “Oh, well thank you Mr. D. You look great!!” And he did. He was walking, talking, still smoking (of course, but less he assured me). Here was someone we thought might never leave the hospital, back to his normal routine. It was incredible to see how much he had improved. It’s been nice getting to see that side on this rotation by going to the outpatient clinics. Those interactions are what give me the fuel I need to keep going, to make me think that maybe I really am making a difference somewhere, somehow.

It is great being in the OR with Dr. B, too, he’ll let you do the entire case, just you and the fellow. He’ll sit off to the side in a chair, dozing off, then periodically wake up and shout, “Young doctor!! What’s taking so long? Let’s hurry! Martini hour is fast approaching!” You don’t want to make Dr. B late for his evening martini. Or if he needs something, “Nursey!!” he will yell, walking down the hall. Instantly, at least one of his harem of devoted nurses will be at his side. He’s trying to recruit me to breast surgery, and I must say, it’s rising on the list.

Victoria came to visit this past week/weekend. We had a great time- went to a fun concert, ate at some fantastic restaurants, went to a true Texas BBQ (oh how I have missed you) with my Texas friends living in Baltimore, the works. It wasn’t until she was here that I realized just how much I missed my family. I, of course, had to work an ungodly amount of hours while she was here. She didn’t mind, after flying all that way, only spending an hour or two with me after work each day before I had to go to bed. While I was working, she cleaned my entire apartment (an old Victorian home broken up by floor into apartments), spotless (NOT an easy task), did my laundry, and decorated, finally unpacking those last boxes. For the first time since moving to DC, I am finally beginning to feel like I have a place that feels like a home to me. The cabinet doors may still fall off their hinges every now and then and there may be a few minor roof leaks here and there, but that’s character...Right?? I was so grateful, but I think what I was the most grateful for was having someone there I love, waiting for me, when I came home at night. She was willing to wait for me till 9 o’clock at night when I got out of the OR to finally have dinner. A friend called me once after getting out of the OR late at night, wanting dinner. I was out in Maryland with friends, but I dropped what I was doing and came back to DC to eat with him, because I get it. You get out of the OR at 9 o’clock Friday night. You haven’t had contact with anyone for the last several hours, you’re exhausted so you don’t want to hit the town, but you also don’t want to just go home alone. You just want someone to go to dinner with or have a few drinks with, so you can feel like you have at least somewhat of a normal existence like everyone else. It was nice to have someone do that for me.

It was really hard for me when Victoria left. After I dropped her off, she texted me and said that she had started crying in the middle of the terminal. That made me start crying, in the middle of the frozen pizza section in the grocery store.
“How embarrassing I started crying,” she said.
“You think that’s embarrassing, you made me start crying in front of the frozen pizza section.”
“Is it because I ate your CPK BBQ chicken pizza?” She asked.
“Victoria, you ate and drank everything in my fridge.” [She did.]

I started thinking that maybe I should transfer to Atlanta. Maybe this will be a little easier to get through near my family, so I’ll have a little more support. Or, maybe this isn’t for me at all. My sister comes for a week and we spend a grand total of a few hours together, is this what I want the next five years of my life to be like? To have a few hours a week with the people I love? It’s been lonely since she left. But, I’ve had a lot of support. My mom listened to be boohoo on the phone…again… A good friend at work sat with me for an hour in the cafeteria, even though she had consults building up and her pager was going off nonstop, just to listen to the same old story. All she said was, “it’s going to be ok.” And that’s all I needed to hear. My good friends far away answered their phones and just hearing their voices made me feel less lonely. A friend of mine from DC recently got back from Africa; he dropped everything and met up with me last night for a dirty martini and some cheese grits. I told him how I felt, that maybe I needed to go back to Atlanta, maybe DC wasn’t for me. “How do you even know?” he said, you haven’t even experienced this city. He was right. Even though I have tried to be as social as I can, I’ve barely touched the surface of this city. I haven’t had the time or the opportunities, really. It’s tough to make new friends at this age. As a DC native, he assured me there was far more to the city than the few circles with which I have been acquainted. I told him he has a year, prove it.

It’s been tough the last few days but sometimes you need the moments of feeling down to realize how much support you really have out there and how many people you have, willing to listen. Sometimes, you just gotta let it out.

The next two weekends I have off. Maybe I’ll go to Dewey beach, true DC Republican style, or go eat crabs by the water in Annapolis (one of my all-time favorite things I’ve done since moving here) or take my friend up on his offer of exploring the city. I’m going to take advantage of my precious time of normalcy these next two weekends to refuel, to get ready for the next wave of 30hr calls and 16 hour work days, to temporarily be a normal person again. Thank you for everything, Fenstermaker. It’s going to be ok.


  1. Wow! Alex, what a post! I am sure you have summed it up for so many here, but knowing you and Victoria made this real for me! She cleaned?? I am proud of her! And reading about your tears in the pizza aisle got to me too! You can do it! It sounds like you have some amazing friends and a couple good weekends on the horizon! Make the most of them! I am proud of you, too, and can't wait to hear more of what this adventure has in store for you! Jan :)

  2. Its normal to feel that way, don't go anywhere...we love you in DC

  3. I love you! You gotta keep doing the choles & appys to get to the good stuff. At least you have a sister who cleans- mine just eats things & leaves the crumbs.

  4. Happy to be done with a year. Cant believe it has been over a year since sarah and I went up to DC with you. Sarah and I would love to see you sometime soon. Love your blog!