Link

Any one who follows this blog on the nuanced lives and careers of two surgeon moms should watch this. In its entirety. 

http://academicsurgicalcongress.org/aas-2017-president-address-caprice-greenberg-md-mph/

It is the Presidential address delivered recently by Dr Caprice Greenberg to end her term as President of the Association of Academic Surgery. She speaks with clarity and conviction on a topic of importance to both men and women across generations of surgeons. She provides data, vivid examples, and eye opening analyses about how and why women are professionally held back, not just in surgery but across specialties and other professional roles. 

An Ode to the Minivan – “Gin and Juice” Version

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I blame my husband.

We had a lovely still “cool” looking Yukon Denali to which I just had to say “goodbye”.  Why is it my husband’s fault you ask?  He’s 6’6″.  And, well, because we found out last week that a car seat will not absolutely, positively, in any way, shape, or form, fit in a seat behind my husband while he is driving.  This would then relegate my three year old to the third row meaning someone (me) would be required to gracefully (insert eye rolling emoticon here) climb back to the third row every. single. time. to buckle him in and out of said car seat.  Oh and yeah, say goodbye to any cargo space for anything other than an umbrella stroller.

Fast forward to two days ago, when my husband walks into the minivan dealership and loudly proclaims,”This must be what a dog feels like on his way in to get fixed.  You guys got accessories?  I mean, if we are going down, we are going to go down fighting!  Chrome wheels?  No?  How about 22’s?”.

For real, peeps.  This happened.  So, we are now the semi-proud owners of a new Honda minivan.  But in keeping with the chrome 22’s theme, I have set the Ode to my Odyssey to the tune of that ever classic, ever catchy tune, Snoop Dog’s “Gin and Juice”.

Enjoy.

 

Rolling down the street hauling 6 kids sipping on their boxed juice

Laid back

With my mind on my ‘mini and my ‘mini on my mind

 

With so much drama in the S-U-V

It’s kinda hard being a mom to at least 3

But I somehow, some way

Keep climbing into the 3rd row like every single day

May I, find a better something for the kids

And, make it easier for me to breeze through

Grocery shopping and car seat swapping cause my hubby ain’t home

I got too many kids just piling junk on

And they just keep bringing more of it home

So, what you wanna do, sheeit

I got a car full of strollers and my homegirls do too

So get me a van with sliding doors

But (but what) they don’t look cool and so?

So we gonna trade my Yukon for this

Mommy up, get excited, let’s all bounce to this

 

Rolling down the street hauling 6 kids sipping on their boxed juice

Laid back

With my mind on my ‘mini and my ‘mini on my mind

1 (usually growing) reason why every single man in America should care about maternity leave

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You all have prostates.

Seriously.  But let me explain further to those people who simply can not fathom as to how a woman could dare ask for maternity leave and expect her other team members to “pick up her slack, because she chose to get pregnant”.  (yep, check the comments section on my last post here, pretty entertaining, in fact!)

Life happens to everyone.

If my profession as a trauma surgeon has taught me nothing else, it has taught me this.

“Life happens to everyone,” and unfortunately, a lot of “life” isn’t pleasant.  Car accidents, strokes, heart attacks, broken legs, and ill family members are just a few examples of life situations that happen to everyone, whether or not you have a uterus.  And guess what they all have in common?  A need for time off of work.

Now, the distinct disadvantage here is that women usually need a set block of time off for maternity leave that seems relatively long (to some, at least) and at an age where they are usually young and healthy, but let me tell you gentlemen, people are going to be covering for YOU when your prostates need to come out and your coronary artery needs a stent.  No, you may not need 12 weeks all at once, but, between doctor’s appointments, procedures, recovery, and complications, or at some other point in time in your life, you are going to need significant time off of work, with your partners/coworkers/etc. chipping in and helping out.  And, oftentimes without the 6 month’s notice that your pregnant colleague is able to give.  And guess what else?  That is OKAY.  That is what life is about – building relationships and working in teams to get the job done, even if someone is having a bad day, a stroke, or a baby.

Oh, and just as an FYI, let’s just say you break your leg while skiing and you need at least 6 weeks off of work… I don’t think people will judge you and say that went skiing and break your leg – accidents happen.  So being judgmental and saying that every woman chooses to get pregnant is pretty inane.  You chose to go skiing, she chose to have sex. Get over it.

Maternity leave = family leave. (Or, hopefully will equal family leave at some point soon in the future.)

I have to admit, I was blown away by the responses I received on our blog, through FaceBook, Twitter, and even my own personal email from my last post.  Women from all walks of life shared their stories, and overall, as Americans, and as humans, we should both be encouraged and appalled.  Some female physicians wrote how supportive their partners were, but as a group, would have to sneak around HR to get her time off.  Some women went back to work in less than one week to preserve their family’s income and sometimes their job.  Office administrators refusing to allow 15 minutes breaks for new moms to pump breastmilk.  A new mom, forced to use a surrogate, being allowed zero time off because she wasn’t actually birthing the baby herself.  The stories unfortunately go on and on.

Yet, the stories of finding support from male coworkers was encouraging.  And, I do think most men and women without children also, absolutely see the value in family leave – whether it is paternity, maternity, sick leave for themselves or to care for an ailing family member.  Bottom line, every single one of us is going to need time off of work, expected or unexpected, and we are all are going to have to rely on each other, and a system to help us out.  Unfortunately, for most of us, that system does not yet exist… and at the end of the day, we can do this better – for ourselves, and each other.

“I am definitely the arm candy, but she isn’t my sugar mama!” Confessions of a doctor’s husband.

This post is written by a anonymous member of the Brotherhood of the Doctoring Wives aka someone who is awesome enough and crazy enough to married to a fellow female physician.  Hope you all enjoy!

A few weeks ago, my wife and I received an invitation to THE premier charity event in our city.  The invitation made it quite clear to wear your most formal attire, guys wear tuxes with tails and women wear cocktail dresses.  When we looked closer at the invitation, the envelope was addressed to “Doctor and Mrs. ___”.  My wife quickly pointed out in her raised voice, “YOU ARE NOT THE DOCTOR!”  I rebutted even quicker, “Well, I’m sure as HELL NOT the MRS. EITHER!”  All too often, assumptions are made when there is a doctor in the family that the title belongs to the husband.  These minor assumptions, while we are able to joke and laugh about them, can be very irritating and offensive to both the husband and wife.  While I’m happily married to a physician, many do not realize the heavy burdens physicians and their spouses take on personally as a result of their profession, regardless of gender. As my wife would say it, “The struggle is real.”

My wife and I started dating as undergraduate students, so I’ve been there with her through every step – studying for the MCAT, medical school, internship, residency, and now private practice. Looking back, the last fifteen years have seemed to fly by, but at the time, the struggles of balancing marriage with medicine made some days feel like a lifetime.

On the outside looking in, a person might assume this couple has it all.  We are both highly motivated, goal-oriented people with successful careers. I earned my bachelor’s degree in Economics and earned my MBA while working full time in the banking industry. I even was recently named a Top Forty Under 40 by the local Business Journal. However, it can be difficult to balance my own career aspirations with the time and geographical restraints of my wife’s occupation. Each milestone in her profession seemed to produce a new set of challenges, both personally and professionally, for us as well as for my own life’s ambitions.

Although medical school presented a social scene where medical talk and jokes predominated (Um, no, I DON’T Want to hear about all those foreign objects you have retrieved from a variety of orifices, thanks) which make me lightheaded by the way, I thought things would even out once she was a resident. However, that process presented its own challenges. Match Day occurs in late March, and this is when medical students find out where they will be spending the next 3 – 7 years of their lives in residency. No, they don’t really get to choose – they make a ranking list, the programs make a list of the students they want, it gets plugged into a computer, and voila, “Here’s your future!” Well, because of no knowing where we would be living until 3 months ahead of time was stressful to say the least. The year leading up to Match Day essentially meant I had to put my career on hold. I was going to have to find a new job, and I had no idea where it was going to be! To whom and where was I going to send my resume if I couldn’t even tell them if I was actually going to be moving there or not?  Oh, and let’s get married right in the middle of this…Find a job in 3 months or not be able to support my new wife? Yeah, no biggie. Luckily, I had job contacts in the city where she matched, and my job transition was as seamless as I could have ever hoped.

Sweet! Match Day – check, Wedding – check, new job – check, new house – check – all downhill from here… or so I thought… until July 1 came. Then I realized I was the most wrong I believe I have ever been.

July 1… a day of infamy in academic medicine. When medical students become doctors… the beginning of residency. As a man, one of the hardest things is to have a crying wife. 1. Probably because it’s my fault and 2. Because if it isn’t my fault, I can’t fix it. After my wife’s first 24 hour shift as an intern…. Well, let’s just say it ended with a migraine and sitting in the bathtub sobbing. Alright, I tell myself, here I go, I’m now a husband, not just a boyfriend, “I got this”.  I take a deep breath, channel my inner Lou Holtz, and give her a rousing pep talk worthy of a Super Bowl Halftime. Yeah, well, needless to say, that $hit didn’t work. And, I’m pretty sure I might have made it worse. That night, after she went to sleep, I remember distinctly sitting on the couch and mistakenly (again) thinking, “Okay, although my Lou Holtz impersonation might need some work, first shift is done, it’s gonna get better now.” Yep, you guessed it… wrong again.

One of worst fights of our marriage happened soon after.  We had just moved into our new house. I was setting up the stereo system in our new home and realized there was no way for me to hide the wires to my massive speakers.  Yes, remember those old speakers – the bigger the better.  My wife didn’t want our home to look tacky with exposed wires.  Well guess what, I didn’t care.  I rarely got to see my wife, and when I did, I swear she had been replaced by a human version of Grumpy Cat. Although I am well aware of the old saying, “Choose your battles carefully”, I just didn’t care. The frustrations of a resident’s spouse had taken on a life of its own. The pressures of getting married, moving to a new state, purchasing our first house, starting a new job, my wife starting her job as a resident and all of its resultant stresses just led to my breaking point. I huffed and puffed and cussed and pouted. Yeah I know, over some speakers. Anyways, that was one of those moments l should have just stepped away from and realized how stupid the whole situation was.  However, that’s what residency does to a young married couple.  It puts pressure upon pressure upon pressure until one day, someone breaks.  In this case it was me.

The strains medicine has on a relationship are not for the faint of heart. Company parties missed, birthdays “rescheduled”, and holidays spent alone. Our very first Christmas together was spent with me sitting on the couch all day watching movies… by myself… while she worked non-stop. It was one lonely Christmas. I knew I had to build a network of reinforcements. So not long after this, we adopted the smartest and coolest pound puppy ever and I quickly became friends with the other resident’s husbands. Thankfully my wife belongs to a specialty with a lot of other physicians with male spouses, I know that is not always the case – I feel for you Surgeon Spouses! Anyways, we became the brotherhood of lonely spouses and started going out for beers once a week to share best practices on how to deal with our tired, over-worked, stress-out wives.

Oh, remember those medical school jokes that I never got?  Well, it got worse in residency. I actually tried to inject my own humor in these social settings.  Each year, the director of the program would throw four social gatherings a year for prospective residency students.  The decision for a top candidate to come to the program is not only for the soon-to-be physician, but also the spouse; therefore, the spouses got the invite as well.  The program is extremely competitive so all interviewees are on their top notch behavior.  However, we, the brotherhood, we realized pretty quickly (after a few mishaps involving the bashing of other people’s football teams) we were such a minor part of the social gathering that we had t-shirts made up for these events which read – “Insignificant Others” on the front with a caduceus and on the back “Not A Resident”.  We wanted all prospective residents to know not to waste their time talking to the people that had no bearing on whether they got into the program or not.  It worked so well, that all the attending spouses wanted a shirt as well.  We all wore them to the rest of the social gatherings. If you would like one as well, just let me know… I’ll hook you up.

Although residency was four years of working crazy hours, not seeing each other for weeks at a time, and a general cloud of stress hanging over our heads at all times, we pushed through and now were ready to get started on our real life together.  By this time, I was smart enough to realize how bad this was potentially going to suck.  We were going to have to move… again…right in the heart of the worst recession since the Great Depression. And let’s not forget, I’m a banker.  Jobs in the financial services industry were almost non-existent.  I had worked my entire career to get to this point and now I was possibly looking at being a stay-at-home dad to a dog.  This would be the worst possible outcome for someone who loves the thrill of working towards a goal and reaching new milestones in life.  Fortunately, I had great mentors and found a great job. But again, I was starting over… again. And starting over in your career is tough enough the first time… This was now going to be my 3rd job in 5 years. You continuously have to prove yourself and build relationships from scratch.

Today, my wife and I are quite settled in at our jobs, our home, and normal routines. She still works odd hours, but I sleep quite comfortably through her pager going off in the middle of the night or when she has to leave at 2am to deliver a baby. I frequently get a shocked reaction that I didn’t even know she had left in the middle of the night and come back. Many people are astonished about her crazy schedule or how we balance our lives and calendars together, but it’s normal to us now. Compared to the craziness of the first ten years of our relationship, this is a piece of cake.

I have found there are many benefits to being married to a doctor, but I guarantee you the benefits are vastly different from what an outsider might think.  In fact, the financial implications that are routinely made aka I have a “Sugar Momma”, I find to be insulting and degrading. Although I know I am piece of insanely sweet arm candy, I hold my own, peeps. I make my own money, have my own successful career, and my own identity. This is one of those implications that is just as irritating as getting a piece of mail addressed to “Doctor and Mrs. -”.

I am a better man for being married to a physician.  I have a wife that pushes herself each and every day which makes me want to do the same.  When you have a partner at home that pushes you emotionally, spiritually, and physically (yes, she does crossfit and has run a marathon), then you become automatically better yourself.

I wouldn’t trade the years with my wife for anything in the world, and I am a better man for being married to a physician.  She is my best friend and I love her dearly. The stresses medicine place on a relationship are real… both for the doctor and the spouse.  I am proud of her accomplishments and to be called a physician’s husband.  I hope the next time you see your doctor, you have a better understanding of what it took for them AND their families to wear that long white coat and the sacrifices they make for your better health.  And for any budding members of the brotherhood, a few pieces of advice:

  1. Buy some stock in Ben & Jerrys or become a part owner in a winery. In other words, unless your wife’s tear ducts have been surgically removed, tears are likely going to be involved, and at the very least, stress is going to be involved… And YOU need to have a strategy that probably doesn’t involve channeling a college football coach. Figure out how to best to reassure, soothe, and encourage your wife.
  2. Prepare your dog house… because you will probably be spending some time in it. While you are trying to achieve #1, you will mess up, and you both need to return to your corners and give each other some space. So, you might as well deck out your space with some nice speakers, for example. Which leads me to #3…
  3. Channel your inner boxing champion. You don’t see prize fighters going at it without sleep, adequate food, or preparation. Not fighting is not reality, and just leads to a lot of baggage later. Learn how and when to fight – and right after she is finishing up working 30 hours in a row is not going to lead to a good performance by anyone.
  4. Brotherhood, Unite!  Fighting off loneliness is the key to success, and building a good support system is a huge part of this. And this is sometimes easier said than done, it is still commonplace for the majority of physician spouses to be female… we are in the minority, and finding similarly situated guys can be difficult. But with a little effort, you will find us. We are out there, and we are growing in numbers.
  5. The backseat is the best place to makeout, in my opinion. In other words, your career, hobbies, and sometimes your life will be taking a back seat to medicine at times. But as stated above, the backseat isn’t always a bad place to be. And, you need to understand that being in the backseat does not mean you are unimportant or that your wife doesn’t value you, your career, hobbies, etc.
  6. Join AA. Okay you don’t really have to do this, but the point is to take step 1. Admit the problem. Not that having a spouse in residency is a “problem” per se, but recognizing that you both are going to be stressed, unhappy, and lonely sometimes (or a lot) helps you prepare and recognize when you, or your spouse, have reached the breaking point.

My Kids Have Hijacked My Weekends

There is a high level alert going on in our household these days. What’s terrorizing me, you ask?

My kids’ activities.

I recall the time BK (before kids) when my time off of work was my time. Time to plan and to do (or to not). Sometimes I just spent all day in my pjs if I was lucky enough to have a weekend off. No agenda. Just a day away from the frenetic pace that  was the hallmark of my day job (and my night job and my weekend job!).

IMG_4007Then came the kids. Okay, it was work when they were infants. They had to be fed and diapered and generally kept alive. But their needs were simple and if I didn’t need to be in to be at work on a Sunday, I could sip a cup of coffee and read the Times while the baby (and later the toddler and the baby) were in my proximity. I kept them from sticking a fork in an outlet but essentially got IMG_4006to do my own, grown-up thing that made me happy. And when everyone was old enough, I was even lucky enough to sleep past 8am–a true luxury for a surgeon.

No longer true. Every weekend is now consumed by my kids activities.

Whether it’s 8am baseball practice or a 9am Field Hockey tournament over an hour away, forget sleeping in even though no one is awaiting a soggy overnight diaper change. Then mid-day rolls around and there is likely a dance show, a classmate’s birthday party, and another practice that vie for my kids’ time. And they don’t drive yet.

IMG_3530

IMG_3656We are forced to divide and conquer (thus separating me from my awesome husband who I actually like to spend time with when I am off). We are forced to eat in the car on the run when there just isn’t enough time between activities to sit down to a meal. We guzzle gallons upon gallons of gas going to and fro from event to event, some of which are on opposite sides of the state.

I can’t remember the last time I had an unscheduled weekend for myself. I struggle trying find time to get together with friends who are experiencing the same level of terror in their homes. I literally have gone years without seeing friends who live in the same very small state because with our kids we just don’t have time to be with anyone else on the weekends. In fact, I was so pleased with myself heading into this weekend. I managed to arrange both a work outing on Friday and a Sunday BBQ with my Ragnar van mates. I planned this as soon as the call schedule came out. And wouldn’t you know, out comes the email that the make-up baseball game starts a half hour before the work event and the playoff coincides exactly with Ragnar reunion.

Aaaaaaaaaargh!

My kids have hijacked my weekends and it’s infuriating. I want to support their interests (trust me I’m no Tiger mom; other than encouraging physical activity and retaining some cultural interests these kids a choosing to over-extend themselves with extra-curriculars and parties and playdates) but I can’t say I would shed a tear if they up and quit dance or ball or hockey.

Well maybe I would. If my kids end up too unidimensional to get into college then they’ll have nowhere to go after high school and I really need to get my weekends back.

First Comes Baby, Then Comes Bling–Custom Bling!

About 12 years ago, shortly after the first of our friends to have a child had said child, I noticed a beautiful new ring on the new mom’s right hand. I had never heard of the concept of “push present” before but apparently, this absolutely gorgeous ring had been presented to the new mom from the new dad as a, well, maybe a thank you, maybe a reward, for having done the brunt of the work in bringing the new child into the world.

I didn’t give it a thought until about two and half years after my first child was born. It was totally unplanned. I wandered into a jewelry store just browsing for nothing in particular and came across a ring that I just could not take my eyes off of. It was just so beautiful. Of course, this was my push present, not a gift as much as a daily reminder of my love for my first born. Indeed it felt like the perfect companion to the engagement ring/wedding band gracing the ring finger of my opposite hand.

My son was born about a year later and in the chaos of two young kids, trauma fellowship, and a cross-country move the thought of ring to commemorate his entry into the world never even occurred to me or my husband. He is in fewer pictures. He never got a year 1 calendar. His arrival into my life was never commemorated with a piece of jewelry.

IMG_3176Meanwhile, some five years after he was born, I decided that I finally needed to get a handle on the “baby weight” I had been lugging around for too long. One day my first born ring went flying across the room as I was making the bed. It was too big. I had lost that much weight. Being a practical person I just moved it over a finger.

I felt a sudden, immediate ache to dress the now naked finger with the token of my love for my second born. Thus began the quest to find a ring that spoke to me as firmly and decisively as the first ring had when I first laid eyes on it. After years of occasional browsing I finally found it. Totally unexpectedly I stumbled across a Bony Levy trunk show in the Chicago Nordstrom during a recent race weekend.

IMG_3175

After trying on multiple styles I decided on the design. But it wasn’t quite right. There were diamond set in white gold (shown), diamonds set in yellow gold, rubies set in yellow gold, and sapphires set in white gold. But I always wear yellow gold and I wanted a blue stone since my son’s name translates to blue. So, after consultation with the designer himself we ordered a custom ring for me. He assured me that “cooler” sapphires with “warmer” yellow gold would still work though he does not make them that way routinely. I trusted him.

IMG_2698

 

 

 

Who wouldn’t trust a face like that?

 

 

 

About 4 weeks later it arrived. I was everything that I hoped for. I was immediately reminded about my love for my second born. My right hand now feels as complete as my
left hand has since the day I married. My family fully represented. 
IMG_3174

 

 

Let them eat frozen pizza

As I have noted in the past, I am not accustomed to taking care of my own basic needs for food and shelter or those of my progeny.

Last time my husband left town for work (which was truly one of the first times I had ever needed to be alone with my children and responsible for feeding and watering them), I almost set the house on fire with my attempt to heat up a frozen pizza.

So when he recently left town again for back to back business meetings I was on a quest to not make frozen pizza (or set the house on fire). Here were my challenges:

1) My husband drives by our local grocery store on his way home from work every day and picks up what he will need whip up a quick meal. What he is going to cook is based on a scheme we devised a couple of years ago (because a lack of a scheme meant that even he was too often defaulting to frozen pizza or other pre-made processed foods for dinner) that involves “meatless Monday,” “taco Tuesday,” “wildlife Wednesday,” etc. As a result, we rarely have a meal we haven’t had before and we never have ingredients on hand to do a meal on the fly but he is always able to concoct a reasonably home cooked meal on a nightly basis. And, if I am not on call, I get to prance in whenever my 12 or 14 or 16 hour day is over to a warm meal.  I am ravenous after these long days at work. Stopping at a grocery store in such a state would be an utter disaster. Plus, my days are long enough (even when I modify them because my husband won’t be home by 6pm every evening) I don’t really have the time to get into the store and home in time to relieve the sitter. So lack of ingredients was clearly barrier #1.

2) While you might think I don’t cook because my husband is so good at it, the truth is I don’t really know how to cook. My immigrant parents were so into me and my sister being studious that our mother never imparted her amazing cooking skills onto us. (We are honestly both total domestic failures beyond even cooking!) I do think I might enjoy cooking in concept and have tried on occasion to help out with meals say for a party or a holiday event. But,  I have a hard time following recipes and, on the rare occasions that when I do attempt to cook, I simply toss things in and see what happens. With the advent of the internet, my go to method for meal prep is googling a meal I am craving and picking and choosing which parts of a series of recipes seem good to me. Sometimes the result is edible. Sometimes not. This failure of a single component of a meal or a spread might be acceptable for a dinner where my mom or my husband or my mother-in-law, or an event where the guests with “an appetizer or dessert of your choice,” make up the difference; but it won’t work if my kids are counting on this meal to fill their gnawing bellies. Absence of even rudimentary culinary skills was a high second. 

Here’s what I did:

First, I snuck out of work once to pick up a couple of things at the store that might help me through meal prep. Next, I spent far to much time during the work day contemplating what I might do for dinner. When I got home each night I rummaged through the fridge and pantry to see which of my ambitious dinner plots I could pull off. Finally, when it came to meal time, I made it clear to my kids that they would eat whatever I managed to make without complaining no matter how much it sucked. They were sufficiently frightened by my frenzied state that they dutifully complied.

IMG_2980.JPGDay 1: I cube some marinaded chicken, open a bottle of marinara sauce, toss in a shredded vegetable mix that was about to expire in the veggie drawer and cook it all up in a single pot. I find some “vegetable” farfalle that clearly predates our conversion to a low carbohydrate lifestyle and cooked it up as described on the box. I make my older kid shred the block of parmesan (my husband would never have a cheese drawer without a block of high end parm) while I cook hoping she doesn’t shred her phalanges into the mix. She does remarkably well. The result is a pretty edible pasta dish with added protein.

Day 2: We have some eggs in the fridge and some potatoes in the pot drawer (Why, I wonder does my husband keep potatoes there? Why do we even have potatoes in the house. We haven’t had potatoes in over 2 years for any meal? Oh wait, thanksgiving was a week ago and we did have mashed potatoes and lots of other carbs for that occasion.) Okay now that I have gotten beyond the existence of potatoes in my home I move on to “breakfast for dinner.” I look up a few recipes for “breakfast potatoes” online and decide to cube them, IMG_2983.JPGtoss on a bit of canola oil, sprinkle on a “French blend” I picked up a Penzy’s a while back for no apparent reason and speed cook them in the Advantium oven. I make 3 incredibly variable omelets with 2% American cheese slices as the main dish. I end up tossing in my mom’s left over apple sabzi from Thanksgiving for an added touch (I didn’t make it but it was yummy and I would feel awful if I let it go bad.) The result is a pretty okay but not so pretty breakfast for dinner.

IMG_2997.JPGDay 3: This is one of my grocery shopping days. I had picked up McCormick’s stir fry sauce and packaged stir-fry veggies from the produce section. I had grilled chicken left over from my husband’s last taco tuesday and I figured the kids wouldn’t notice any lingering lime marinade. And though I am sure there is a giant vat of basmati somewhere in the house because, well, my mom has been there, I am not sure where it is since rice has been banished along with most grains and pastas. Plus,  I am intimidated by raw ingredients that come out of burlap bags that are later turned into purses at Anthropologie so I also bought box of Jasmine rice from the store. So though not quite from scratch I did have to put some work in. I saute up the veggies in the wok with a bit of oil while I cook the rice in a pot (not the crazy two-tier rice cooker/vegetable steamer we registered for 15 years ago and have used 3 times but just a basic Farberware pot).  I follow the sauce instructions and mix it and the chicken together with the veggies and boom a dinner is born. This was perhaps the most edible of the meals reviewed here in since I didn’t challenge myself very much. It was more veggies than my kids usually eat to boot. Total win for the chicken teriyaki stir-fry over jasmine rice and I recycle the rice box (though not as a pocketbook!).

Day 4: During my previous trip to the store I had picked up some tricolor tortellini. The kids love ravioli and I thought the shape of the tortellini would tickle them. I know, yet another moment of weakness for my otherwise low-carb life (we literally stopped eating pasta at home in 2011 and haven’t looked back) but I’d been on a carb bender all week so what was there to lose? Turns out that I had used the last jar of pasta sauce on Day #1. What?!? What the hell kind of yuppie American household doesn’t have multiple jars of Newman’s Own Marinara in reserve in the pantry! Argh. I am already ravenous. My mind is set on the tortellini. I have no time to leave home and go back to store lest I buy its entire contents due to IMG_3004.JPGmy hungry state. So I find a can of tomato paste and some milk and some cream that have yet to expire (if my husband were he home these would have otherwise been in his coffee). I dump them together in a pot while the older child puts her shredding skills to work yet again. I look in the spice drawer and toss in some dried oregano and garlic and later I mix in the cheese in an attempt to make some sort of a tomato cream sauce. I slice the remaining taco tuesday chicken and serve them a really, truly, awful chicken with a side of tortellini in a tomato cream sauce. Luckily, my kids are so pumped by the overdose of carbs that they ignore the hideous taste of the sauce.

Day 5: A weaker woman might have lost steam after day 4 but not me. I am determined. So I bounce back intent to use the ready made pie crusts that are still in the fridge from Thanksgiving. We caved at the last minute and bought an apple pie so the crusts remained. According to the packaging these unopened crusts should have already been frozen but like expiration dates on meds I don’t take this too seriously. And, for some reason (probably because I hate broccoli more than any other vegetable in the world) my husband has left 2 giant bags of broccoli florets in the vegetable drawer. There is also a half cut white onion.  There are still a couple of eggs left and the open carton of egg whites only expired 48 hours previously. No biggie. And of course we have parmesan. I spend all day contemplating a quiche. I google a few recipes. There a many options but essentially eggs, cheese, dairy, flour, +/- crust, heat and voila a quiche is born. But should a crustless quiche be cooked for as long as one with a crust? Will a glass or metal pie pan make a difference? I quickly sort through this. I settle on 25 minutes in the Advantium in the Pyrex pie plate. I let my little guy whip together the two eggs with the egg whites and the place is not a total mess. The older one is on parmesan duty again. I reach into the kitchen for the gallon of milk that I swear was half full when I left that morning and it’s gone. I send the other kid to the garage fridge, no back up milk. What!? No dairy for my quiche. Dammit but I really want quiche! Luckily there is also a soon to expire half empty carton of non-fat plain Greek yogurt. I just toss caution to the culinary wind and go for it. I mix the eggs with diced onions and broccoli that I sauteed with a touIMG_3005.JPGch of olive oil in the wok that is my new best friend and add in the yogurt, a cup of shredded parm, and two tablespoons of quick mixing/gravy thickening floor. I am not sure if this is or isn’t the same as the all-purpose flour noted on multiple recipes I consulted but I don’t bother finding out. I am too flustered by the dairy debacle. My kids no never to drink the last of the skim milk ever again.  25 minutes later there is a sort of watery mess in the center of my pie plate but after cooling for a bit it hardens up. My older one’s only complaint is that the onion pieces were too big. My little one says he hates cheese and refuses to eat it. He went to be hungry that night. I proceeded to have quiche for lunch for 3 additional days. I really loved it. I think it was the yogurt.

Day 6: I am craving Indian food. This is the one thing my husband hasn’t tried to tackle but my ego is getting the best of me after 5 days of being super mom. All the dishes were done and the kitchen was spotless after each of these previous meals. Each was consumed with the three of us at the table (often I take my meals on the chaise where I eat in a half crumpled, totally exhausted state while the kids have typically already eaten or are still finishing up at the table) actually interacting. I am reminded of my youth and the family meals of my mother and I am set on Indian food. I have freeze dried chana masala and I have canned chick peas. I opt for the latter because, you know, I am feeling like a total badass by now. How to make the sauce I wonder? I don’t bother to look it up. I have no sauce ingredients and my kids won’t like anything spicy. I find another half onion in a different part of the fridge. There are also these miniature bell peppers strewn about the bottom of the vegetable drawer. I chop them all up. I once again pull out my trusty wok and saute it all up with a bit of olive oil and several pinches of spices that smell Indian when I open the jars then I toss in the chick peas and a can of Campbell’s Plain tomato soup. While I am doing this I mix up from whole wheat flour, oil, and warm water as suggested by a googled recipe to make dough for rotis. I apparently add in too much water and it becomes a gross tacky mess. There is no more whole wheat flour and my hands are covered. I ask my little guy to help get some all-purpose flour (of course, now I find it!) mixed into my sticky mess of dough. He proceeds create a snow scape on our kitchen island but we finally get to the point where texture of the dough sort of reminds me of when I used to beg my mom to help roll out rotis as a kid. Now my own child is begging to help me do that same but I think she must have failed geometry because clearly she does not know what a circle is. So I take out the flat pan that my mom clearly put in my pot drawer for roti making and proceed to make a series of rorschaIMG_3006.JPGch test rotis for accompany the bizzaro tomato soup chana. I also made some jasmine rice again which was a piece of cake compared to everything else. The kitchen looks like a storm came through and this whole process takes me a full 90 minutes. The result is reasonably tasty rotis, a decent mild chick pea something that is decidedly not chana masala and, well, thank god for that box of rice.

Day 7: And on the 7th day I was brimming with pride but exhausted. So I sat on my chaise nursing a sea salt dark chocolate caramel and let my 11yo set the house on fire with the frozen pizza.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Does my husband rant about me?

It’s 2014. Men and women are sharing, though perhaps not equally, more of the household and parenting responsibilities than ever before. So I was aghast when I recently read on a doctor mom site I have been following recently a “husband rant” from an exasperated woman who literally does everything in terms of home upkeep (cooking, cleaning, organizing, bill paying) and childcare (feeding, bedtimes, school drop offs) while her husband apparently enjoys his recliner and a beer. Whoa!

Are there modern men who really do not help around the house or with the kids? At all?

I am struggling to wrap my head around this unbalanced relationship because I have honestly not witnessed this in my generation of women friends across many different career paths. Even among my friends who have chosen to be housewives (if you want to know why I didn’t use the term “stay-at-home mom” read here) their husbands go out of their way when they get home from work or a business trip or just a day on the golf course to help with the kids or do some chores around the house–and not just the traditional male household tasks like lawn mowing and snow shoveling. Among my surgeon mom friends, even among some who are married to other surgeons, the balance of homemaking and child rearing falls on their husbands though there is often a village or a metropolis involved in making it all work.

sea-salt-dark-chocolate-caramelsAs I was reflecting upon this husband rant, I was obvious to me that I am that person in my relationship. “Does my husband rant about me?” I wondered. I don’t have a recliner and I don’t drink beer but if you replace the former with a chaise on the sectional and a dark chocolate salted caramel…..yup, that’s me.

He was travelling for work last week and I was a fish out of water keeping the house and the kids afloat. I had to fend for myself for a variety of daily tasks (making my morning cup of coffee, making my lunch, taking out the trash, charging my phone, setting my alarm, going to the grocery store, putting gas in the car, walking the dog, getting the kids do their homework or take a shower or go to bed or do anything that involved not annoying me, getting the kids to school, making an evening meal that doesn’t involve a frozen pizza, cleaning up after said meal, paying the nanny and the house cleaner, doing my delicates [yes he does my delicates, I am that lucky!]) that I too often take for granted because he gets them done without me ever asking. It’s as if he always has and I honestly don’t know another way of life.

Sure this way of our life started because I was always working a lot more than him. Early on, there were so many days where I was just too tired to even brush my teeth or walk the 10 steps from the couch to my bed that chipping in with housework did not even occur to me. At first, I tried to use my one weekend off to help with household chores but it quickly became apparent that such precious moments away from work were best spent enjoying each others’ company and building memories that didn’t involve Lysol or writing checks (recall, this was the pre-online banking era).

Since my husband’s mom had raised him well, he was able to take over most all of the housework even though both he and I were raised by a generation where fathers were not particularly involved in household responsibilities unless there was a power tool involved. In our life he does everything that his mom and my mom traditionally did around the home and everything that our dads did too. Luckily, as we have grown older and more financially stable, we have been able to outsource some of the more onerous household tasks.

When we had kids, I couldn’t be the one who stayed at home. It’s just not something that exists in the career path that I chose. So, he did. He was a great stay-at-home dad and I was not that person who came home after 37 straight hours at work and offered to take the kids off his hand so he could have a break. I suppose in retrospect it wasn’t fair for me to do nothing (though I did supply 26 months of breast milk that I hoped  offset the fact that I changed <1% of my two kids’ diapers) but I was in survival mode during those years. And he’s done 99% of the school drop offs, doctors appointments, etc. since these kids were born, even when he was back in the work force full time because his 40-50 hour work weeks were always more forgiving and flexible than my 60-120 hour work weeks.

So, as hard as this life must have been for him, we fell into survival mode together. He and I fell into a routine together where he was the rock of our domestic life. It continues to this day. As an attending surgeon with a research focus I have some more flexibility to attend to homemaking and childrearing but still a lot less than him. And, he’s just a natural at it after all this years while I am, well, a fish out of water.

I find it heartbreaking that this woman is in a position where she feels so unsupported in her home life and in her work as a parent from the person she is hoping to share the rest of her life with; but I am grateful to her for making me take a moment to really appreciate how lucky I am to have found a partner who makes it so very easy for me to do the many, many other things that I do when I am away from our home and our family. Is it perfect? No. Do we ever fight about chores or kids? Hell yes. Do I say thank you often enough? Nope, definitely not.

I am fortunate that I don’t really have much to rant about when it comes to our home and our family. So, really, does he ever rant about me?

He should. But only after he brings me my dark chocolate sea salt caramels as I lounge sleep on my chaise.

asleep on couch

Reflections on ‘The Great Work Life Debates’

Last week I, along with nearly 10,000 other surgeons of various specialties, attended our profession’s premier annual meeting, the American College of Surgeons Clinical Congress. Of these, some 50 attended a panel session I chaired called the “Great Work Life Debates.” 

Quite honestly, I was so relieved by the turnout.

Every conference needs to have a last day and the desire of attendees to duck out before that day (especially given work life issues such as not spending another night away from your nursing infant or not missing another OR day) is totally understandable. Nevertheless, some sessions will be assigned the dreaded last session of the last day.

So yes, leading up it, I was filled with dread that the co-moderator, six speakers, and I would be the only people in attendance. I was delighted to be wrong.

Why did these hearty surgeons stick around for this session? Why were there so many men (also much to my delight) in the audience? Were they there searching for the right answers to the Great Work Life Debates? Did the panelists even have any answers to provide?

The committee sponsoring the session was the American College of Surgeons Women in Surgery Committee (WiSC). I would posit, however, that in the modern era issues of balancing the demands of work and the demands of life at home (or as I like to think of it, the joys of my profession with the joys of my personal life) are not limited to women surgeons. WiSC just happens to have taken the lead in bringing such issues to a format that I imagine years ago was limited to the best technique for such and such procedure or what’s new with such and such surgical disease.

Just because male surgeons of a particular generation may have propagated a particular stereotype about how they valued or prioritized their work relative to their life outside of work does not mean that the male surgeons of today fit into that stereotype. Just because women are increasingly represented in surgical careers does not mean that socio-cultural norms for women surgeons’ roles outside of work have dissipated. An so, I believe that both men and women sought out this session because more circumscribed professional meetings are less likely to address non-biomedical topics even though concerns for wellness both in and out of work—wholeness as a person inclusive of professional and personal needs—transcend surgical specialties, and yes even gender.

Surgeons, irrespective of specialty, gender, or sexual orientation, who haven’t found a life partner, may be prone to wonder whether they should marry another surgeon or seek a non-surgeon with whom to spend the rest of their days outside of the hospital. Those who do have partners, may wonder how to make it work for the long term irrespective of their lifemate’s profession. Surgeons of both genders who do not have children may be experiencing deep inner desire to start a family or may be frustrated by the perception that choosing not to have a family is somehow not acceptable. And, those with children surely have days when inevitable stress of modern day parenting leave them wondering why they did it just as they surely have days when every worry, whether it is about work or home or world peace, is dissipated by boundless giggles of a toddler or the unexpected talkativeness of an otherwise moody teen.  Surgeons whose careers or family situations throw childrearing into chaos must consider the pros and cons of care rendered by nannies in the home or childcare in the diverse, highly regulated environment provided by out-of-home daycare. And, no matter what option or combination of options they choose there will be less than perfect days when both work and child(ren) will be needing you at the exact same moment.

Surgeons—not male surgeons, not female surgeons—but just surgeons sharing similar work life concerns came together to listen to these Great Work Life Debates. These points (and barring time limitations we could have point/counterpointed countless other work life dilemmas) were argued by women with different life experiences, different perspectives, and different debate tactics but both the pros and the cons resonated with the women and the men in the audience who it seems, based of their feedback thus far, simply desired a venue that acknowledged that we surgeons are in fact humans—we have lives outside of work, lives that are made ever more complex by long hours, possible lives at risk while we are working, and myriad other professional demands (which include, by the way, attending such meetings for so many hours/year for continuing medical education credits).

acs

So what was the bottom line for the men and women who stayed for one of the last sessions on the last day of our conference? Not surprisingly there wasn’t one.

Thus, while marriage is challenging no matter what your day job is (if it wasn’t they would just call it dating forever!) you can’t always control who you fall in love with; a loving, supportive spouse will make your work more manageable whether he/she understands to a tee what you go through every day work or has a vague understanding of why you sometimes come home tired or distracted or not at all. But you too have to be loving and supportive in return and that rendering of love and support may take different shapes.

While children come with the stress and anxiety of raising them along with the costs (~250-500k per child up to 18 years before including the costs of college according to one debator) raising them also brings the joy of nurturing, chubby cheeks, Disney World vacations, etc. but choosing to be childfree also brings many joys (e.g. unfettered travel that need not involve animatronics, increased focus on nurturing your relationship with your partner, increased time to pursue personal wellness) that parents often forego or delay.

Finally, both a nanny and daycare can provide a loving, caring environment replete with both educational and emotional growth while you are working but relying on a single individual may limit diversity and back-up options while relying on daycare increases the day to day burden of prepping the child(ren).  Either way, your children will know you are their parent and they will love you back even on the days when things don’t go smoothly.

My hope is that listening to a spirited debate on these issues related to the dilemmas of partnering, parenting, and childcare will have enabled the audience thoughtfully consider what matters to them and various strategies to help alleviate the strain between the joys of work and the joys of personal life. While there are no perfect solutions (and to strive for a vision of perfection is to set yourself up for disillusionment in your choice of life partner, your decision to (or not to) have children, or your childcare preferences), it’s about crafting a reasonable approach to your own great work life debate based on self-reflection and practical needs.

It Takes a Village, Or Something Bigger–A Lot Bigger

I got home from a work related dinner at 9:30 on Tuesday. I left for work again at 5:30 the next morning. Last night a got home after a professional event at 10pm only to be back in by 6:30 the next morning. On the bright side it was within the realm of reality that I might be done by 6pm today.

This is a snapshot of my week. I have no patient care assignments this week, no overnight call. So in general this would be an easy 60-hour work week for me. It’s the life of an academic surgeon with multiple administrative responsibilities. It’s the life that I have chosen to persist in despite the scheduling woes. So I wouldn’t even be writing about it really, except this week is truly unusual for me for another reason.

After a decade and a half of sacrificing any career ambition in favor of his wife’s career and the care and nurturing of his family, my husband has finally accepted a job that he loves. I couldn’t be more proud of how hard he has worked for the last 14 months embarking on this career opportunity despite the many years essentially out of the workforce. All the while, he has continued to be the stalwart of our household. If I have to be at work at 5:45, he ensures that there is a cup of coffee in my hand. He proactively fills out my passport application for me and the reminds me to get photographed along with a handy map of where I can get it done. He does the majority of the parenting, all the cooking, and nearly all the day to day home upkeep. He provides the steady state to my occasional manic episodes when I take on a task like overhauling the garage, cleaning the fridge, helping with a school assignment, or weeding the flower beds with an imperturbable zeal (and occasionally a label maker or a glue gun or some surgical suture).

Which brings me to the reason why this is an unusual week for me. You see, my amazing, superdad, uber-husband is away for business. And my family needs someone to maintain the steady state. Now is not the time to show the pantry who is master, I simply must keep the wheels of our household turning until he returns. This is the second time he has had to travel since he started the job. The last time I was so busy trying not to burn the house down with an attempt at “cooking” frozen pizza that I could not put down the words of how overwhelmed I felt. In fact, jobs with frequent travel were just off the table for my husband when he was looking because he provides the vast majority of effort to keep the delicate balance of household wheels turning while I am vacillating between my usual 60-120 work weeks and nearly one work/related trip per month. It’s just a way of life that we have part knowingly negotiated, and part unwittingly fallen into, in the decade and a half since I chose to become a surgeon.  This time, though, he is away for nearly a week and I can’t just get by with keeping the house from going up in flames. So here’s how I am managing.

First, it takes a village and this village is everywhere around you.

When the first iteration of the call schedule came out, it was obvious that this was going to be one of my 110-120 hour patient care weeks. Luckily I have partners who are willing to be flexible when they can so with some planning, I was able to find and craft an easier week for me with my work village.

Despite this relatively easy work week, I am missing most bedtimes and drop offs–things that my husband routinely manages within the confines of his full time job. So my parents are staying with me this week. It is a luxury (a deliberate one I would say since proximity played a large role in my job choice a few years ago) to have parents who are nearby, available, and healthy enough to participate in raising my family. So when I missed bedtime last night, someone who loves my kids as much as I do was able to make sure they were fed, showered, and safely tucked away. When I couldn’t do the suggested math review with my son, my dad grabbed his reading glasses and went into full on teacher mode. When the temperature fell and our general disorganization meant that my rapidly growing son had no long pants to wear to school, my mom was able to make a daytime Target run to get the job done. In essence, my blood related (could be adoptive but you know what I mean) village means that  my kids kind of have 3 parents this week. One absentee and two totally engaged.

I am also so grateful to actually live in village of friends. When looking for our home in close proximity to this job that I at once brings me great joy and great guilt about everything else that the job pulls me away from, we were drawn to a neighborhood with lots of families and lots of kids in our age group. I am not home often and the idea of being surrounded by people who I could naturally fall into friendships with was very appealing. We have grown to get much joy from these friendships over the years. We may not be the best of friends who spend every moment together but we all get along and we know we can all count on one another. If any mom or dad are in a bind there are literally a gaggle of friends who will step up to help out.  And so, though I have my folks this week, I am comforted that if I need a hand someone will lend it.

And finally, another key villager who is integral to maintaining our family’s steady state is our part-time nanny. We have been extremely lucky to finding such loving, wonderful people to help care for our children who with each passing year require more and more effort in the after school hours before either of us gets home to ensure homework gets done, lunches are made, and extracurricular activities flow smoothly. Our most recent hire is living up to the task and then some in my husband’s absence. She stayed late today so that I could get in a workout and I came home to a couple loads of laundry done and the trash already out on the curb.

Come to think of it, it’s not really a village that helps this traumamama keep her $#!? together. It’s more like a metropolis. I am taking advantage of the many neighborhoods of my city to prop me up while my better half is away.