Monday, July 3, 2017

Residency: Chapter One

I get asked a lot about how residency is going. And often I just try to be witty and throw out a casual answer like "It's going" and change the topic. Mostly because a) it's easier than trying to explain and b) I don't really know how it is going because truthfully it is just different than I thought.

This year has been both harder.. and easier than we expected.

Intern year hit off with more than a bang.. it was kind of a catastrophe actually. Within 2 months we moved, bought a home, fixed it up, had a baby, and during all that Brian was thrown into his first rotation in the ICU where he was working 100+ hours a week at times. 

To say we were overwhelmed is an understatement. 

I remember flopping in bed at midnight after just ripping out the flooring in our new home and crying because I hadn't seen my husband in 3 days because he was working 12+ hour nights and our last communication had been to snap at each other from our exhaustion and stress and whip out a few awkward hugs that meant "I'll see you when I see you and maybe we can work this out then" and wondering how in the world I was going to survive THREE whole years of this.

I felt guilty for being upset with him when he was the most stressed, tired, exhausted physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally I had ever seen him. I wanted to support him but I too was exhausted, feeling overwhelmed, and about to have a baby.

And at that moment I thought to myself that this was way harder than I had ever imagined.

But then flash forward only a month later where we sat chilling at a park eating Little Caesar's pizza while watching Lydia chase some rolly-polly bugs and we were casually talking about how nice this new geriatrics rotation was and how we were able to see Brian so much more.

It felt like a dream and that the last hellish rotation of ICU was just a really really bad nightmare.

And at that moment I thought to myself that this was easier than I had imagined.

And the year continued like that.. 2 weeks of stress, 6 weeks of not, 4 weeks of exhaustion, 1 week of not, and so forth.

Honestly this post has been a really hard one for me to write. I have probably written 5 different versions of what I want to say and none of them felt right to me.

I sat on the phone, talking to my friend back in Chicago whose husband is just ending his 3rd year of medical school and tried to put into words what this year has been like, and I even struggled spitting the words out to her.

It's not that this year has been that awful or anything, it has just been so different than I ever imagined. Had you asked me how it was going every 3 of the last 12 months, I would have told you different answers at each stage.

I worried about writing this because I didn't want the whole "woe is me" or "pity my hard life" or anything like that. I know a lot of what I experienced this year is normal for many people and not just the wife of a new resident.

Often I find that to explain our experience I talk a lot about the negative aspects which make it sound like I'm complaining and I really really don't want to sound like that or that my life is really negative when it isn't.

I just want to be real for those who experience similar situations.

I wrote a post "To the First Years" and gave advice on what I wish I would have known or heard starting medical school. And this post is kind of similar but aimed at residents and what I would tell myself a year ago if I could.

You see, it is so much easier to look back on a trial or a life experience and see what you should have done or wished you had known at that time. And in a lot of cases, though it was a difficult time, in the end many of us wouldn't give it up because we learned so much about ourselves or our loved ones or we just grew stronger in ways that can only happen once beaten down.

So here is what I learned or how I would prepare myself for the year that was a head of us.

1- Take a Big Breath. Breathe in and breathe out.

I can't tell you how many times we have to verbally say this out loud to each other. But in that breath your senses awaken a bit more. You feel your lungs fill with air, you hear the exhaling air through your nose and you will see and think a bit more clearly.

Most of the time Brian holds me as I cry or worry. He's always been my protector and comforter.

But the night before he started his first day of residency as an intern, I had the chance to reverse those roles. I held him.

He was feeling completely overwhelmed. Besides everything that we had going on in our lives, he felt he was drowning in expectations given by others... his family, his school, me, but most importantly his expectations for himself.

He had waited for this moment his whole life and yet here he was and he didn't feel as smart or strong or ready as he had always thought he would be.

In that moment I found myself telling him to breathe. Just breathe.

When the tough times of pure exhaustion came. We learned to take a breath.

And when the moments of pure joy came. We learned to take a breath. A different breath though, one where we savored it a little bit more and enjoyed the feeling of joy.

When our second daughter was born we took a deep breath in and held it there a little bit longer.

When Brian came home from work one night with tears in his eyes from being beaten down by a resident's harsh (and cruel) words. We took a breath.

When I felt lonely and friendless I learned to breathe.

When Brian surprised the girls and I by coming home hours earlier because it was a slower day, we took a breathe of happiness.

In and out. In and out. Just breathe and live.

2-We are in this together.This is our squad.

One time I was waiting for Brian to come home because I had to run to an eye appointment and he had told me he would be home in time. So I waited and waited and started fretting and worrying that I wouldn't make it on time.

I watched his car drive into the garage and I let the anger start to boil a bit as I waited for him to come inside. It was a good 5 minutes before he came inside and I was frustrated. I even thought to myself I deserved to be frustrated. He knew he was late. He knew I was waiting and yet he stayed in his car for 5 minutes extra instead of running inside and allowing me to run to the appointment.

When he walked inside I let him know I was mad as I left the house.

As I was driving to the the eye exam thinking about all the 'good' things I should have said, I had the thought come to my mind "You are in this together." But I pushed it away because I was just too frustrated.

I started thinking thoughts like, "I am home with the kids all day holding down the fort. I clean all day. Do your laundry. Make you lunches and dinners. Do your shopping so there is soap when you want it and toothpaste always in the drawer. I am lonely and don't have friends or a social life because I don't speak to anyone above a 2 year-old all day. I never do anything for myself and all I asked of you was to be home at this time so I could get my eyes checked."

And the thought came more powerfully that time, "You are in this together."

It wasn't until a few nights later that Brian came home from a long day and the kitchen was not clean when he walked in and I didn't have dinner and the kids were ornery from shorter naps and had gone to bed early. He walked in and did a big sigh and then started angrily doing the dishes. When I came in to welcome him home he said, "I don't have time for this. I go to work for 12 hour plus days and come home to a messy house that I have to clean and I still have to finish my notes and read about tomorrow's patients but I am just so tired. I just can't do it all. I want to be with you and the kids and now they are in bed for the second night in a row and I haven't even seen them in days."

And this time while he was speaking the thought came again that had come so strongly the week before, "You are in this together." And this time I listened and I understood.

It is so easy for Brian and I to point fingers or say that one situation is harder than the others. But that isn't the solution. What we have had to learn is that we are in this together. We shouldn't be against each other but supporting each other, listening and holding each other through it.

I once had a friend tell me that what she and her husband do sometimes before they go to bed is to ask each other what the other is currently struggling with. They talk about it and then the opposite spouse prays with them but for them and their struggle. They are truly willing to bear one another's burdens and get through it together. Since hearing this, Brian and I have tried this as well and it has helped us to stay more connected and on the same team.

When we got married and we said yes for "time and all eternity" we didn't place exceptions on that. We didn't' say "except when you leave the kitchen dirty and drink all the orange juice in the fridge" or "except when you are late coming home and don't put gas in the car." We are together through eternity and that includes everything each person goes through and experiences.

We are learning it is important to stay connected in other ways too. We need date nights, monthly temple trips, talks away from the kids and talks with the kids. Planned and unplanned family night outs and just the candid moments in between.

There is no one else I'd rather be in this with. This little family is my ultimate #squadgoal and I can't let myself miss that.

3- Support, Support, SUPPORT

This can go a few different ways. I'm talking about supporting him. He's tired and working hard and so are you, but this won't last forever. Cheer him on, tell him you are proud and grateful for all he is doing. Uplift him and love him.

But I'm also talking about supporting yourself and kids. You need someone cheering you on too. Having family nearby was our biggest reason we chose to come back to Utah. For us, nothing beats family.

But we also grew used to amazing friend and ward support systems while living as students both at USU and in Chicago. We had expected to find that here but it didn't come as quickly. It has and still is taking more time and effort than it had before, and time is just something that doesn't come smoothly with Brian's schedules.

Regardless, keep searching until you find it and hold on if it is already there. Surround yourself with people who build you up and keep you floating when it would be so easy to sink.

4- Learn to be independent. I had to learn this in medical school and then relearn it here.

With family nearby this usually means that there are more family gatherings to go to-baby blessings, baptisms, monthly family dinners, the usual holidays, and the spontaneous game night, etc. Brian can't go to most of these events and so I often go alone. Thankfully they are family so it really isn't that hard to do.

For me the harder stuff to do is going to activities or neighborhood bonfires or BBQs with just me and the girls. These are things I would want Brian to come with me to and before this medical stuff I wouldn't have gone by myself.. but now I do.

I know too many people who wait. They are the ones who wait for their circumstances to change.

I was this person at one point. I waited for Brian's days off for us to go do things. And I waited some more. And finally time was just slipping through my fingers and I realized that while waiting I was not living.

We still have to live the life around us. I can't stay shut in to my house waiting for Brian's day off so we can do something. Nope. You learn to get out with you and the kids without him.

Being independent also means wearing the pants on the "adulting" things that Brian usually does. For me, it meant I do the bills or mow the lawn or get projects done around the house and don't wait for him to have the time. I make the phone calls to schedule plumbers or the internet (which I hate doing). I call the insurance company to go over benefits, etc. I'm not saying I do these things all the time. I'm saying that I don't depend on him to do it if it needs to be done.

5- God is good

Brian's Sundays in medical school were very free. He never had school on Sundays and rarely if ever had rotation or clinic needs that took over. We made a family decision that he would never study on Sundays and that they would be days for family, church, and God.

We have not been able to keep that decision alive in residency. Brian works most Sundays and so we have had to readjust. We make time for our priorities. When someone says that they "didn't have time" to do something, most of the time what they are saying is that they "didn't make it a priority". Of course there are exceptions, but most of the time that is exactly what it is.

Prioritizing family time is important, prioritizing God is even more. While he may not be able to physically go to church all the time, there are still many other ways he can make time for God. You need to do what personally works for you and your situation but you need to make sure it is something you make happen.

Some of the things that works for Brian are these:
-Daily Scripture study as a couple, a separate one with the kids, and family prayer
-Listening to scriptures and conference talks to and from work
-Reading the Ensign on downtime at work
-Family home evening on his days off
-Monthly temple trip (or in our case it was every 5 weeks)

It was October, General Conference weekend.. and Brian had worked the night shift and came crashing down the stairs on Saturday morning where the girls and I were watching conference. He sat down just as Elder J. Devn Cornish spoke on "Am I Good Enough? Will I make it?" and it was NOT a coincidence that Brian came in at that time.

Brian was feeling beat due to a tough rotation and a resident who was very negative. He needed someone to believe in him when he didn't quite believe in himself just as Elder Cornish had experienced. For Brian to come in at that moment and hear a man speaking of similar experiences of residency, spoke to Brian and told him that God was aware of him and his situation.

We need never do hard things alone because we have the best cheerleader and coach one could ever have. Make God a priority. God is good and he is on our team.

6- Don't forget to Live.

Brian has truly handled residency like a champ. But he is human and so I did see a side of him that at first had me wondering who the heck he was and where my husband had gone.

But he'll come back. And he has.

This isn't Groundhog Day where you are stuck in the same day forever. Meaning that you won't be this poor, this lonely, this busy, this crazy or a new intern family forever.

It also means that you won't have a 2 year old and 9 month old or living in a fixer upper or driving that blue Honda CRV forever either. When residency is over you will have an almost 5 and 3 year old, possibly a new car and less to fix on the house and who knows what else will change...

Don't think of life as "some day it will get easier and better and we can finally live" because it is not true. These are some of the best years of our lives. Don't forget to live.

Fnd the joy in the stage and focus on it so that you can look back with fond memories and be grateful you overcame the challenges and trials that will make you stronger if you allow them to. You have the choice. Choose to live and love it.

So there you have it. At least my view of this last Intern year. We're doing it just like you, and your grocer, and the Coldstone ice cream scooper, and everyone else.

And now time to reminisce about the awesome time we had last week in a beach house in California celebrating the end of Intern year... while Brian is currently finishing up his his first 30 hour shift in the ICU as a second year resident.
Bring on PGY-2. We are ready for you!


  1. Anna! You are full of such wisdom, and I LOVED reading this!! Thanks for always sharing your beautiful thoughts, you put them into words so perfectly!! You are an amazing person!!! ❤️

    1. Thanks Ellen.. that means so much truly! I always hesitate posting this stuff but I know that I love to read when other people are open and honest about life.. and so I hope the things I learn and share will be a way of spreading the love. Xo lady! Miss you!

  2. I Think people could stand to hear this even if they are not going through residency, myself included. As I read this I did not see negativity ( as many people would be tempted to give into) but instead I see in you strength, Wisdom, a love of God and family, faith, optimism, and a determination to continue moving forward even when it's hard. There are a lot of scriptures that speak of how we are in this life to be tested... And in being tested and tried, we can become more like God ourselves, if we trust him. I see this in you, because you trust God you have come through better in your trials. my life has felt like a dream the last few years, it has felt easy compared to what I know other people are going through. And I love it, but I'm also waiting for my trial which I know will come. Reading through your post gives me assurance that when my Trials come I too can learn and grow from them. It also helps me receive foresight into maybe some things I could work on now. I can't tell you how much I appreciate this post, And how happy I am to have you as a friend, so I can learn from your experiences as well as my own.

  3. You're amazing, Anna! Thanks for sharing. We love you guys!


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