10 Tips for Dating A Resident

Dating is pretty daunting. Dating someone in a surgical residency program (or really, ANY residency) is something of a myth. So rare is the meeting/dating/marrying during residency formula that when Surgeon made his graduation speech, the loudest applause was when he mentioned meeting/dating/marrying yours truly.

Surgeon and I met during his 2nd year of residency. I seriously had no idea what I was getting into back then. I am still learning things, but just in case you’re texting that really awesome, sexy doctor online (yes, gentlemen, I am talking to YOU too), there are some things worth knowing.

Inspired by the wonderful and talented Single With Scalpel‘s guest post on the equally savvy and fabulous Sassy‘s blog, here’s a handy list to keep around.

Tip #1: Be Flexible – Dates can and SHOULD happen anywhere. After my first formal date with Surgeon, it got not-so-formal. We’ve had dates in supermarkets (yes, we grocery shopped together and then went home). More dinner dates happened at the hospital than anywhere else. In the end, your where-to-have-a-date question should be: where can I spend the most time with this person? And then, DO IT, no matter how weird it seems.

Tip #2: Appreciate Time Constraints –  Residents don’t have a lot of free time. Surgeon worked 100+ hours for many weeks, and with 4 days off a month, it wasn’t easy getting a “weekend away.” Realize this and really appreciate that they want to spend that little time off with you, instead of, you know, SLEEPING.

Tip #3: Be Ready to Put in MORE Time – They say all is fair and equal in true love. HAHAHA. Ahem. I mean, yes, it is. But when you’re dating a resident, fair and equal doesn’t apply for many things, especially time-wise. It’s one thing being flexible, but you should also count on spending a lot of time prepping on your own for that date. By the first month, I knew a dinner date meant me cooking, packing and cleaning up afterwards only to spend 30 minutes eating with Surgeon. I was willing to give it that time. Did that mean Surgeon NEVER cooked for me or NEVER did dishes? Of course not! But I never held it against him when he couldn’t.

Tip #4: Be the NON-Work Person – I found out early on that I LOVED listening to Surgeon talk about his work. It became a habit for me to ask, “So, what procedure did you do today?” Surgeon was a good sport, but I realized it wasn’t as enjoyable for him as it was for me… he needed someone to take him OUT of the medical world, quite understandably after spending 17 hours of a day there. So we learned to talk about OTHER things. Do I still get stories and reports about the OR? Absolutely. But not because I asked 🙂

Tip #5: Be Honest About what YOU Want – Also on Single with Scalpel’s list, yet it’s important on both sides. Residency is hard, but don’t let it become an excuse. Be flexible, but also let your super awesome doctor know when you want something! I was always hesitant in bringing up issues, or suggesting things that I knew would be difficult for Surgeon to do. But you matter. They want to be with you. They just don’t have time for the wheedling about, so TELL THEM the truth, always. You’ll be (most likely) pleasantly surprised. I certainly was when I found myself on a hike with my favorite person on a post-call day…

Tip #6: Befriend Co-residents – and spend time with them, even if it means being the only non-doctor in the room. Some of my best allies in getting Surgeon to be somewhere on time were his co-residents. Better yet, you haven’t heard from your person all day? Text a co-resident and they’ll fill you in. Pay them back in homemade cookies. Or pies. Really, food. Any food. They are your best friends forever. Truly.

Tip #7: Know That You’ll Sometimes Come Second – but never by choice. That’s the most important thing to understand. It is NEVER by choice. There have been many disappointing moments in our almost 4 years together directly tied to Surgeon being caught up in some dilemma at the hospital. Delays upon delays. No-shows with delayed responses as to WHY the no-show. Cancellations. Once, he had to leave me mid-ordering a meal during my birthday dinner. It sucked. But it sucked for BOTH of us, not just my poor little self sitting alone at a table. Surgeon didn’t get to eat again for a whole night and day.

Tip #8: 99% of Bad Moods/Days are NOT About You – This was really a hard one to learn for me… I tend to take a person’s mood around me as a reflection of what they feel about me. This is not a bad way to judge whoever you’re interacting with, but when you’re dating a resident, it might come to the point where all you see is bad days, row after row. It took me a while to realize that Surgeon probably deals with a LOT of frustration that he CAN’T show at work, so he comes home and deals with it there. It’s not about me. We learned together how to deal with the stress and the emotional burden of it… but that’s a whole other post in and of itself!

Tip #9: Learn How to PROUDLY make Excuses for their Absence – All my friends knew I had been dating, but no one believed me until I finally posted up our wedding photos on FB. Even then, there were people asking me if I hired someone to mess with them, heh. Truth is, residency means NO TIME. I went to all my friends’ weddings during Surgeon’s residency without him. Hell, I still go places without Surgeon! But I tell everyone proudly: my boyfriend/fiance/husband is working hard… he would love to be here, but he can’t be. He really is sorry to miss this! Don’t ever belittle your other-half’s work through their absence. They aren’t there because the work they are learning to do might someday save the very person you’re explaining their absence to.

Tip #10: Know that You’ll Never TRULY Understand the struggle of residency, but you’ll know better than most. You can’t walk in a resident’s shoes unless you’re a resident, too! There are things I still don’t get, frustrations that I am still grasping to make sense of, hospital bureaucracy that I am still wondering angrily about. I cannot compare anything I do to what he does (and really, no one should ever compare in ANY relationship, resident or otherwise), but I can listen. And by listening, I can’t say I have worn his shoes, but I can say that I do love the shoes he wears and will always stand next to them in my own. Residency is tough, but love is stronger.

And on that clichéd but very true note, I’ll leave you. If you have anything to add to the list, let me know below! I’d love to amend/discuss 🙂

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Omar’s $500 Bill

About a year into our relationship, we decided it was time to make sure we could take care of something and keep it alive together. No, not plants… although we’d had our share of failed plants by then: a lipstick plant (yes, there is such a thing) we named Alice (yes, we DO name our plants) had slowly lost all her beautiful curled leaves, no matter how hard we tried to keep her happy, and over a trip I took during the summer to the west coast, Surgeon had managed to OVER-water a cactus named Carlos —

“I thought you had to water him every week!” he protested.

“It’s A CACTUS.” The poor thing had fallen apart on my kitchen counter.

All things considered though, it made sense to try this “next step.” Neither of us had had a pet growing up. My mother was adamant to keep her house fur free, “and besides,” she’d point out, nonchalantly eyeing my siblings and I lined up with faces creased in hope and pleading, “I already have three pets to take care of.” Surgeon’s case was a little different: he is allergic to fur, so dogs, cats, and all things furry were never an option.

“How about a hedgehog?” Surgeon prompted.

A hedgehog. I’d heard of them, but I also HADN’T heard of them. The only representation I had of them was Sonic the hedgehog. But when Surgeon pulled up pictures of REAL hedgehogs online, I knew we’d get one… how could anyone resist the cuteness?

So the search began, and about 2 months later, I brought home (well, to Surgeon’s home back then) a very terrified, balled up, spiky bundle of a baby hedgehog.

We had just finished watching The Wire, and after playing a bit with our new pet, we decided that Omar, after Omar Little in the show, suited the little creature perfectly: tough on the outside, but soft-hearted on the inside.

Omar grew and we found his temperament to be more like the extreme introvert rather than the quirky, excited explorer I’d hoped him to be. His needs are: feed me, clean me, and leave me alone. Nevertheless, he was the one “family” member we had at our wedding, and his presence is always calming, especially when I am stuck at home for hours with no one else really around.

He has also managed to teach me a couple of things about animal medical care… it can get pretty expensive. A yearly check up with a vet who specializes in exotics (apparently Omar is an exotic) can cost up to 200 dollars, especially if they have to put him under for examination. But what’s 200 bucks a year, right? I shrugged it off.

But when it comes to real problems, it really isn’t something to shrug off. A few weeks back, Surgeon pulled Omar out of his cage and we found, much to our dismay, an abscess on his little butt. Surgeon, being who he is, gently poked at it and said,

“Let me get a knife and drain it.”

My heart just about flew out of my chest. “NO. He’s not gonna be CUT without being under!”

“Well, it doesn’t seem to bother him when I touch it. Let’s try.”

“WAIT. Let me look this up,” I reasoned. Surgeon knows me well and was gracious enough to let me pull out my laptop and do some research while he continued to examine and poke at my poor creature’s abscess.

Online, I found that it was done exactly as Surgeon had suggested. Cut, drain, keep it clean. But it was ALWAYS cut while the animal was under.

It also cost upward of $500 to get it done at the vet’s office.

“Come on. Let me try. If he goes berserk, I’ll stop.”

Reluctantly, I brought him gloves, towels and a blade. Yes, a surgical blade… he keeps them around.

Surgeon picked Omar up, flipped him into his hand on his back, and tried to hold him still. Omar is a fidgety animal, but for some reason, it seemed as if he knew what was happening. As soon as Surgeon brought the blade near, Omar went completely calm. Surgeon deftly made a clean cut, squeezed out all the puss, and cleaned it all up in less than a minute.

And Omar? He just stared at my worried face and Surgeon’s concentrating one, back and forth, as if nothing important was happening.

“See? It’s handy having a surgeon around!” Surgeon smirked, “I just saved us $500 and then some.”

I scowled at him and then smiled down at the little face looking up at me from the bath in the sink.

I guess it is kinda handy.

The Drop Off Dilemma

I haven’t written here for some time, mainly because I needed to feel comfortable about being public about my life with Surgeon who, I’ve certainly learned, is extremely private. If he had his way, he wouldn’t exist in the world of the internet. As boldly as I may have asserted my willingness to write, I realized that I really had very little to write ABOUT if I didn’t include him in the picture. Getting a grasp of what is acceptable and unacceptable by his standards has been a little taxing. Posting past chats? Nope. Hence the halt of the Snippet Series. Telling the world about the best travel baggage for interviews? A non-issue. Basically, the rule of thumb is getting clearer, and I am ready again to write on.

So, allow me to re-begin with a peeve that has bothered me from the moment I started making homemade meals for Surgeon a couple of years ago: The Drop Off Dilemma.

As a surgical resident, you really have no clue what or whether you’re going to eat on a given day. I’ve heard of days filled with healthy, full plated meals Surgeon manages to grab from the cafeteria to an entire 35 hour run sustained on animal crackers and juice boxes stolen from the ER in between surgeries. As a surgical resident’s partner, you’re left wondering how the heck you can make meals easier for someone who cannot be there for dinner, but needs one badly.

The best option is to make fresh meals and deliver them to the hospital doors. Sounds simple, right? How hard can it be to bring a steaming lasagna with a fresh salad and hand them over with a smile and kiss?

It’s hard. Trust me. It’s UNBELIEVABLY hard.

First, I have to text Surgeon hours in advance, asking if he thinks he’ll have time to actually come to door to get the food. YES, THIS IS A REAL ISSUE. The answer varies from a certain “maybe” to a downright, stressed “probably not, but you can try around ___ o’clock.”

So you take your time constraints and work around them. I’ve had meals prepared and ready to go anywhere between 3 PM and 11 PM, depending largely on his schedule and sometimes on mine. Once it’s all packed to go, I need to text him again, asking “Okay, should I leave now?”

If I am lucky, the answer is immediate and positive. At that point, I basically drive over there as fast as I can and he’s already waiting at the doors. I pass the food, get my kiss, and am free.

If I am NOT lucky, the answer doesn’t come for a while (longest wait so far has been 2 hours), and when I get to the door, there is another text apologetically stating, “I’m so sorry, this is going to take a couple of minutes” (longest wait in the car so far has been an hour and fifteen minutes).

Meanwhile, the food is cooling, cooling, cooling… and finally no better than the temperature of leftovers I could’ve packed the night before.

It’s disheartening on so many levels:

  1. What kind of system is this where meals are skipped regularly by those who make it their life’s work to help people become and stay healthy?
  2. What kind of environment must Surgeon be in if he literally CAN’T get five minutes (when he’s NOT operating) to come get some food?
  3. Why in the WORLD hasn’t any HR department at ANY hospital given some thought to the prospect of partners/spouses dropping off meals for their busy other-half?

Seriously, how HARD can it possibly be to have a Drop Off space inside a hospital? It wouldn’t even need to be elaborate. A counter would suffice! Would a hotbox and a refrigerator be nice? Yes, but we’re not picky. We just want a channel INTO the hospital system that can let us pass the food on…

It would have saved me so many hours. And for Surgeon?

It would mean having a meal waiting for him when he CAN go get it. It would mean he doesn’t have to rush through patient care just to not keep me waiting. It would mean he’d never have to stand at the doors waiting for me in a full, about-to-scrub-in outfit (beard net and all), and then RUN like his life was about to end back to the OR.

It would mean he’d never have to go 35 hours again without a decent meal.

Who would’ve thought a plain old COUNTER has the potential do so much good?

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The Blogger’s Dilemma

Reader, when I first started this blog, I did not want to tell Surgeon.

We’re private people, with limited social media involvement, and don’t really care to share our lives outside of close friends and relatives.

Surgeon goes farther than that and doesn’t even talk about his work in general, best friends or no. I tend to pry it out of him myself from time to time. I admire his lack of needing to share things, but it has now become a source of a conflict that is ultimately denying me the joys of writing.

Like I said, I did not want to tell Surgeon about this blog, but there is nothing worse in a marriage than secrets; relationships thrive on openness, honesty and breaking barriers together. And so I confessed.

His reaction wasn’t pretty. Why are you putting my life online? I would never do that to you. Is being anonymous really anonymous? You’re just sharing things we wouldn’t even tell our friends to a world of strangers instead. How is that fair?

Legit questions and concerns. I felt terrible… was I really writing because I wanted to take his life and make it a hobby? Was I really invading his privacy? For about a day after this bitter conversation, I was ashamed. But as I sulked and wiped tears away on and off, I kept asking myself, what was I doing, exactly?

Was I really sharing his life? No… I was sharing mine. He happens to be big part of my life. Did I really want to expose him in any way? Absolutely not. If anything, my husband is the light of my life… I have nothing bad to say about him and would never aim to, either. Is this fair to him? I am not sure yet, reader. If I mean no harm and do no harm, is it fair to write on?

I opened the discussion again with him and it has come down to this: he does not want to know about this blog, or the readers, or the thoughts I share on it. As long as I keep it to myself, I can keep writing.

In some strange way, this is worse… it makes me lonelier, farther away from him, and punished for doing something I truly love doing. It feels like NOT being loved.

Yet, maybe it’s just the shock of being written about… Maybe one day Surgeon will chance upon this blog and realize my love for writing. Then again, maybe he never will and I’ll be left forever hoping.

But if there is one thing I cannot do, reader, it would be quitting. Nothing good ever happened by doing nothing. And so, I’ll write. I’ll write because I don’t know anything I do better. I’ll write because it brings me the same joy Surgeon gets when he saves a person’s life. I’ll write because I can.

Nothing deserves to stop me.

The Interviews

Surgeon is about start PGY5. On top of being chief and the surgery scheduler (I am sure there is an official title for this, but so far, I’ve not caught on), he is now interviewing for fellowships.

Let me tell you something about these interviews: THEY ARE SO EXPENSIVE.

Numbers wise, an applicant to a Critical Care Surgery Program is expected to apply to at least 15 programs. This makes logical sense as most programs only have at most five openings. Some only add one a year. Surgeon applied to 20. Of these 20 programs, he has been offered interviews to 10 so far (if I am counting right).

This sounds good, right? The more interviews, the higher the chance of being accepted! Just go and interview and cross your fingers!

Oh gawd, if only it were that simple.

To schedule and prepare for one interview, it takes me about three hours total (if I don’t count the days in between of coordinating times and prices with Surgeon), and $500 on average.

Let’s take the interview he’s at today.

He got the interview two weeks ago. They offered him three dates and today seemed to be the best one for him. He signed up, they confirmed and I started searching every possible sale at every possible airline at every possible time. See, it’s not only a matter of finding a ticket at the best price… it’s also about making sure Surgeon has TIME to slip out of the hospital early enough to catch the flight. For him, a Friday afternoon may consist of an emergency case that he cannot slip out of. Technically, this too makes logical sense: would you rather make sure a patient doesn’t bleed out after a car accident or make the flight to your interview?  But it makes the entire preparation process a tangled web of what-if’s.

Adding to the struggle, hotels, I’m coming to learn, are straight-up money gobblers for situations like interviews. People who actually NEED shelter for a night and a place to keep their things for the day are where hotels make their profit. The hotel Surgeon stayed at last night, for instance, had no complimentary WiFi, no late check-outs, and cost us $198. Trust me, I looked around for cheaper options, but they would’ve required a rented car (another 95 bucks on top of the 100 bucks I’d be paying for the room).

Perhaps I am a little too conservative about money, but 500 bucks for 10 or more interviews… well, do the math!

But to top all of it off, it just kills me that the program Surgeon is in does not count interview days as work days. This means all interview and interview traveling days will be on his four days off during the month. This past week, Surgeon worked non-stop for two days straight (he left home at 5 AM on Wednesday and didn’t get home till 7 PM on Thursday) just to compromise  with having both Friday and Saturday off to accommodate his interview. And yes, he does have work tomorrow, regardless of the fact that he lands home late tonight. For the hospital, he has been “off” for two days after all.

This is how it’s going to be all summer long. Surgeon is going to be so exhausted and I fear for him. Being over-worked only makes YOUR surgeon worse…any healthcare system will admit this, but there are so very few changes being made to address the issue, especially in Surgeon’s generation of healthcare professionals.

It also means I won’t be seeing much of my husband. But thank god we are at this stage today and not twenty years ago. Texting, video chats, and other instant communication platforms have made this lifestyle a little easier to bear. For that, I am eternally grateful.