Friends, it's official. 6 months of residency is complete. (Well, technically I am a few weeks late on this celebration) I can hear the clapping from behind my computer (or the long sighs...not sure?!)
We had fireworks, toasted champagne and ate a lavish meal in order to celebrate the milestone. Okay, none of that is true...it was more of a quick conversation, "wow, we've been at this for six months!"
Sometimes (most of the time) it can almost feel reprehensible to talk about the challenges that this profession brings, especially when we are not the ones physically in the hospital. It can feel selfish and irrelevant to consider how it affects us when the SO is about to fall asleep at the wheel every evening. However, I think one of the challenges of this profession is that it ripples through many people's lives, not just the person in the white coat.
Since you hear from me all the time, I thought it would be valuable to gather input from other spouses/SO's in a similar boat. I put together 6 of the most commonly asked questions (in honor of 6 months!), then had them answer the questions honestly. All of the answers are from 10 different SO's, who I purposely didn't name. I didn't want someone to feel as if they needed to hold back because their name would be attached to a response. I should also preface, please please spare the pity party or 'doctor wife' comments. (No one wants a pity party, but hugs or cookies are always welcome :)
Residency is a beast of many faces and it can be difficult to be transparent about the challenges that you encounter because of it. I hope this helps those who have a residency in their future, helps others understand the strains and celebrations, and continues to encourage those of us whose spouses and significant others are pursing their 'doctor dreams.'
All that being said, let's hear about they've learned over the past six months:
Honestly, I expected it to be miserable. Any time I met a doctor or doctor's SO - they told me to prepare myself for the worst. I prepared myself to grin and bear it and tried to look forward to the fact that I would be able to watch all the British period pieces I wanted because he wouldn't be around to change the channel to ESPN. I'm glad I expected the worst because it truly has made me appreciate all the time we have had together (even when he does change the channel!)
I assumed he would work a TON, but that it'd be similar to the last two years of medical school.
Long hours and no weekends off.
I expected it to be very difficult, as I had heard from others (though I really didn't have a clue as medical school seemed like a breeze)
I completely expected residency, and especially intern year, to be bad - that I'd never see him, he'd never be free on a weekend or a holiday, he'd be studying A LOT. While it would be terrible advice to say, "expect the worst!," it actually helped that it hasn't turned out quite as bad as I feared.
Constantly having to be understanding and patient.
Balancing my normal schedule (work M-F, off on weekends) with his completely abnormal schedule (no consistency, ever).
I think that the biggest challenge relates to time. You want to spend as much time as possible with your husband/SO but you are fighting a losing battle with the residency scheduling gods. It's hard to not be selfish and think "why can't he just leave the hospital and come home! He's MY fiance/husband/SO!"
The only consistency is that of inconsistency.
The amount of nights he has had to work, a totally ridiculous number of nights and it's difficult to continually be adjusting.
Honestly, I think the hardest part for me is trying to find a way to balance our family. I feel like my husband forgets that I am busy too. While I don't work odd and long hours, I do have a full time job, take care of our baby, and things around the house. I think that my husband gets so absorbed in what he is doing and struggling with that he forgets that there is a life outside of residency (at least for the rest of us). This has led to many communication breakdowns. I will also say that having a young baby during the first year of residency is not easy. I guess I always imagined that the responsibilities of parenthood would be shared. Unfortunately I am not sure this is possible during residency. This is certainly not to say that my husband wouldn't want to do more, but he just isn't around to do it. I know that this effects my husband as much as it does me, but in different ways.
Because his days are so long, it's really hard to have only an hour or two (depending on the rotation) daily to spend together while he's awake.
That I would now have to be the one in charge, solely.
It's difficult to take care of 100% of our lives by myself. It can be overwhelming and frustrating to not have someone to share the responsibilities with, especially when I work too! It's hard to fight off the feelings of being taken advantage of, even though that isn't the intention.
Get connected in church, small group, yoga classes, the gym, anything that will keep you busy.
Make sure that you are communicating. It's easy to live parallel lives and not involve one another in your decisions.
Build a support system outside of just your spouse/SO so that when he's unavailable physically or emotionally you are able to cope.
You will have days when you are frustrated, annoyed and sad knowing that he/she sees the hospital walls more than they see you. Remember to take a step back, realize that few people are that determined, talented and selfless to be caring for patients and making a difference in the world.
Finding a balance is a must! Having good friends is much needed for your sanity. Having friends you can relate with, share stories and remind you that are you are not alone. By finding that balance, you'll have a more positive perspective on your SO's career choice.
A homecooked meal goes a long way after a long day ;)
I'm not really sure how to support him most of the time. I guess I just listen and try my best to remember that he is going through a stressful transition. I also am there to bring him back to reality when he starts to become to enveloped in the "world of residency."
I find myself constantly thinking that the residency program "abuses" them with their time. I have a very hard time believing that anyone is making clear and smart decisions with working a 90+ work week. I feel frustrated as we, the spouses, are just silently screaming, and wondering, "how is this OK"?
When people tell you "It will all pay off eventually" !!!UGH!!!!
My stresses and work problems seem so minuscule to what they deal with every single day, so I find myself holding back when I feel the need to vent about something that is stressing me out.
The feeling that he thinks my life is soooo much easier than his. I have this theory that doctors get together in the lounge or on-call room and spend all their down time discussing how they have it harder than anyone else. I can never say I'm tired because I inevitably get an eye roll and a "Oh really. And what time did you wake up this morning? Because I woke up at [insert some ungodly time]." Sometimes I want to scream, "Yes, I know that you work 80+ hours a week but news flash I work too and then I have to come home and clean, cook, wash laundry, shop for groceries, pay the bills . . .!!!!!!!!" The general feeling of not being appreciated is toxic and you have to calmly explain this to your SO and hope that he/she only rarely mentions how many hours they worked that week.
Every conversation is about the hospital, patients, health care, nurses, blah blah blah. It gets redundant and I generally have no idea what he is really talking about.
Hands down, your time is not your own. (Are you noticing a central theme??) You never know what the schedule is going to be like and half the time you don't find out until the last minute. I am envious of couples who work regular 40 (heck, I'd settle for even 50!) hour weeks and get entire weekends to themselves. For example, I wish we would be able to take our honeymoon right after our wedding. Unfortunately, that's just not our reality right now. It is a constant source of frustration. At a certain point you just have to realize it is what it is and just be sure to make the most of the time you do get. It helps me to remember that residency isn't forever. Yes, there is fellowship after this, but ONE DAY (!!!) he will be an attending and maybe the hours will get a tiny bit better (maybe?) It at least makes me FEEL better to think about that.
Seeing them sleep so little, world so long, fall sleep any chance they get...you wonder why they are making these poor interns work so long!!
The dirty scrubs, shoes and white coats in the house! (Promise, I did not write that!)
* I should also make mention that not ever commentor is from the UM system, so this has no connection with UM being a crazy program...it's a universal problem ;) *