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 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.