Married to Medicine

Married to Medicine

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

"This is it."

 Ever since I realized I'd one day be "an adult," I've spent a lot of time wondering and dreaming about that day.  I was never that into being a teenager - didn't like parties or cliques - and I wasn't exactly living up my twenties in law school, legal internships, and 3 1/2 years of practicing law.  Instead, I've sort of spent my life putting one foot in front of the other, doing all the things I "should" do... the things I "should" do to get back to my own childhood, this time as the adult.

I had a really great childhood.  I'm not at all trying to brag, just to explain what I experienced and what I want to give my children.  My parents had and still have a fantastic marriage.  My mom used to say that she never fit in with the other neighborhood moms in part because they were always complaining about their husbands and she had nothing to complain about.  "Your father is a good man," she'd say.  My mom's loud, Chicago-Italian laugh used to mortify me but my dad said it made his heart twinkle.  My mom was a fantastic mom - a little unconventional as a staunch feminist, but her work at a battered women's shelter and her demanding of respect from me, my brother, and everyone else she ever met lent her an enormous amount of credibility in my young eyes and gave me the backbone I'm proud (and glad) to have today.
A young couple
Helping Daddy clean the car.

Could Daddy have an ear infection?
My mom mandated family sit-down dinners - every night, unless you were eating over at a friend's house.  Everybody had to come to the table, and if you tarried after she called "time to eat!!" ... well, you didn't tarry.  She did the cooking but everyone else did the dishes and cleaning.  Television was generally off, as a rule, though I think we made a few exceptions for Roseanne.

Family vacations were annual.  We mainly continued my dad's family's three-generation tradition of going "Up North" every summer and renting a cabin in Minocqua, Wisconsin.  We did Disney twice, went skiing in Colorado once, and went to Cancun once too.  Nothing crazy, but my brother and I knew we were lucky to get to see these places.  Now I know I'm lucky to have the memories.

"Up North"

Cute baby brother
Dad took us sledding and built many snow forts... and taught us how to ride bikes and play chess... helped us with our math homework all the time... did karate with us for 6+ years... took me all over the state to weekend tournaments... took me to Minnesota a few times to visit colleges... and still takes me out to lunch when he can.
So throughout adolescence and early adulthood I've been trying to "get back to" that.  Maybe you have too.  I want to be the mom in a good marriage, with family meals every night, making summertime and the Christmas season times of happiness and wonder for my children.  Most of the time, it feels impossibly far off.  We live in a 2-bedroom apartment and will probably be here until we're 36... as a family of 4 or 5.  We have one car and we owe my parents a ton of money for it.  My husband is rarely home in time to have a family dinner (or any dinner), and he often goes weeks only seeing our son awake a few times, and only for about 20 minutes.

So I don't feel like an adult yet... I feel like a grad student, 27 years old max, with a baby.  The traditional markers of "adulthood" - or at least the ones I saw in my parents - haven't yet been attained.  But this morning, as I sat on the porch drinking iced coffee with my beautiful baby boy playing at my feet, it occurred to me:  This is it.  I'm the mom, finally, I'm the adult.  And I'm doing everything in my power to give my son the same great childhood I had with my family.  Earlier that morning we had read books, gone on a long walk on the bike trail, and stopped at the park to swing and crawl.  Yesterday I roasted a bunch of broccoli for him and he and I had a "Mommy-Son Date" with Kelly and Henry, ice cream in Davis Square.  We then went back to their place and splashed around in their plastic pool, and had a burrito dinner with Luke and little Miriam.  We had a great time.  We're having a great time, and a great life.

Not all the pieces are in place yet... but I believe they one day will be.  And until then I need to start realizing:  "This is it."  And... it's good.  My son is happy and loving life... even if it's sad to watch him look around for his Daddy and so often realize Daddy isn't home.  Daddy will be home more... someday.  And as Daddy says, "The ironic thing is that by the time this is all over, we'll be looking back at these years and wishing we were back here, young again, with our lives in front of us."  Yes, we will be.  So this IS it... and it isn't bad.  Time to enjoy it more... summer's here.

P.S.  Credit Kelly with the iced coffee.  Very easy to make:  Simply brew up some high-quality coffee extra strong, add and dissolve sugar while it's hot (and a few drops of vanilla or almond extract, if you feel like it) and chill.  Serve with ice and add cream... top with whipped cream, if you're me.  Enjoy on a hot summer's day.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Once a lawyer, always a lawyer. At least if you're a mom.

As a lawyer, you either innately possess or you quickly develop the following qualities:

  • The ability to develop and maintain a strong sense of loyalty to your client;
  • The love of a good fight or debate; and
  • The ability to say anything that needs to be said without caring what anyone else thinks.
These all came naturally to me (a little too naturally...).  But another quality did not.  As a lawyer (really, as a litigator) you basically need to be a very suspicious person, and generally assume the worst of others at all times.  This goes for the opposing counsel on a case - who may have been a colleague in law school, and even - or especially - for your your own client.  Anything else will only land you in a pot of hot water.

Natural or learned, these qualities have stuck with me into motherhood.  My love for and loyalty to my son is absolutely beyond comprehension, I would lay down my life for him without question (true of all good parents, of course).  I certainly loved him "at first sight" in the hospital, and I believe I loved him with my whole heart even then.  Thus I can only conclude that my heart periodically expands as I experience the deeper and more intense attachment that comes with watching his sweet personality unfold before my eyes, and creating memory after memory with him.

So as a loyal, former-litigator, suspicious-of-everyone mom, I have major bone to pick with the system that just cost my son 3 full days and 2 evenings of his father's very limited and very precious time with him - and may well cost him next weekend too, after which we won't have weekends for awhile (update:  it did.  UGH.).  What sort of a system, you might ask, is that?  It's called the "hit list" and it's what most hospitals do when a resident is out sick or on a family emergency.  Basically, everyone has a few weeks "on the list" while they are otherwise working good, 9-5, no-weekend rotations.  Then, if someone on a bad rotation has an "emergency," the person from the good rotation has to step in and cover their crazy hospital shift, most often working overnight for them.

Seems sort of fair right?  "What goes around comes around"?  Well, in theory.  Except that there are no rules establishing what is and is not a valid reason to use the list, or how many days you get for certain types of emergencies.  This, according to my father and other medical family members, worked fine until more recently.  But as the culture of medicine changes, these lists are used more and more frequently for lesser reasons... by some residents, not all.  The results is an asymmetrical redistribution of work - and nobody is paid a dime for the extra hours they pick up.

But even if everyone could still be trusted, there's plenty of reason to get rid of such an inhumane system.  Back when I was pregnant and worried I would deliver early (Ha...ha), my husband was not comfortable with the idea of having to use the list for my delivery, thereby slamming some other colleague with even more work and less sleep than that person already had that year.  I knew that he'd at most take 3 days off... probably even if I had delivered by cesarean section.  There is simply no way my husband would ever have any colleague cover a week's worth of bad rotations for him, for any reason.

It's too bad, isn't it, that they don't make the system more humane for everybody?  Perhaps residents who are "hit" could recoup their extra hours by getting days off of their next easy rotation, since their presence on those rotations is not truly necessary.  Really, when your family time is already at a major premium, each resident should finish the year at least having had the limited time they're owed. 

I've long since been annoyed with this system and its vulnerability to abuse.  But as the loyal, protective, suspicious mother that I am, I just spent this long holiday weekend absolutely stewing over it.  Why?  Because a week ago today my husband was hit for FIVE DAYS, including this long holiday weekend he should have had with Matthew - and two evenings.

Yes, OVER a week ago we found out that someone in his program declared she was using the list for EIGHT DAYS.  I won't include the details in a public posting, and I don't need to.  My husband wouldn't have used the list for eight days unless I was delivering our child and whether I'd live through the delivery was unclear for all eight days.  While such a situation may be medically possible (or may not...) even if it is, how did this person know a week ago TODAY that she'd still need to be using the hit list... today?  Sorry, people.  Not believable.

If this were the first time this had happened to us, I might be less infuriated (well, probably not).  But each time my husband has been hit (three so far, in the year and a half I've lived out here) it's always been a sort of questionable story.  One girl called my husband in to work her overnight shift when she found out her grandpa died - not for the funeral, mind you, just for finding out that he died - she must have hit somebody else to cover the funeral.  Most professions, like teaching, don't allow you to suddenly leave work in the middle of the day for the death of a non-immediate family member.

The key word here is "profession."  As the "culture of medicine" changes, physicians are increasingly seen as employees and they increasingly see their own work as "shift work" instead of defining it through their patients.  That's another blog post though.  The other time he was hit was for a Sunday evening overnight shift, Superbowl Sunday - a day in advance.  What kind of a family emergency is scheduled in advance for a Sunday evening, during the Superbowl?  We still have no idea.... because that person never even bothered to email my husband and thank him and explain.  EVER.  Two out of the three hits never even contacted him personally.  If you think I'm going to give these people whom I've never met the benefit of ALL reasonable doubt after THAT, sorry to say, think again.

What a stupid system.  I can think of at least five ways to change it and make it better, off the top of my head -

(1) Follow the neurosurgery program's example, and have the person using the hit list repay the time to the hit person.  [Can you believe this isn't done automatically??]  That way, people would only use the list for situations they *themselves* were willing to put in extra time for later - instead of having a colleague put in the extra time.  And they wouldn't have to feel guilty, like my husband would, for using it. 

(2) Most simply and painlessly:  As I mentioned above, give the hit person as many days off of a later easy rotation as they were hit for. 

(3) For each hit shift, put the person using the hit list on the list for additional weeks.  Example:  A hits B.  A covers B's next weeks on the hit list. 

(4) Pay the hit resident as a moonlighter, since that's what their extra time is worth anyway.  My husband just worked an additional 55 hours over 5 days and is not getting paid a dime more.  He may work another 30 this coming weekend.  Ridiculous!  Still, I'd rather the time back than money; I'd prefer solution (1) or (2). 

In any case, I'm not afraid to say:  As a mom, I'm pissed.  This system is a truly awful one.  It was one thing last year when I was the one paying the price... I kept my mouth shut.  Now that it's my son, and I have to watch him look around for daddy in the mornings and sometimes at bed time, and then give up looking.... you can bet I'll be opening my mouth to anyone who will listen.  Sadly, pretty much nobody.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Obsession Recipe: Banana Chocolate Chip (or blueberry) Muffins.

Five weeks ago I found a recipe that I have since made at least eight times.  Credit Erica Carlson (my husband's cousin's wife) and her super-cute, always uplifting blog for my new found euphoria. Or credit her mama, Mrs. Print.

The recipe is so simple, I have it memorized, and I can whip it up in a matter of minutes.  It calls for white flour but I've found that you can use half whole wheat flour and it still tastes great.  I've also found that Smart Balance sticks work better than butter - the sticks are a blend of oil and butter that make all my bready baked goods more moist and heart-healthier.  Here's the recipe:

4 regular sized or 3 very large overripe bananas, mashed
1 stick of Smart Balance
1 cup sugar (I use about half brown sugar, half white sugar)
2 cups flour (I use one cup white, one cup whole wheat flour)
1 tsp baking soda
1.5 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup chocolate chips (I prefer Ghiradelli mini Semi-Sweet baking chips)
About 18 muffin cups

Just mash the bananas with a fork until smooth, or put them in the mixer first.  Add the Smart Balance (or butter), softened.  Add remaining ingredients.  Fill muffin cups about 3/4 full, bake at 340 degrees 17-20 minutes until the top resists slightly to pressure.

Here they are, ready to bake:

Before baking.

The close-up.

Yup.  I've been living on these for over a month now.

Really, try these!!  So simple and SO amazing, the perfect easy thing to whip up on a weekend morning and serve with eggs or sausage (and coffee, of course).  Every so often you find a recipe that you just know will be a staple in your home forevermore - I promise you, this is one of them.

And get this:  As if this find wasn't enough joy to last a year, it yields one final bonus.  After our eighth or ninth batch, my husband declared he needed a break (gasp!) and wanted something healthier.  Well... turns out this very recipe does the trick!  I set out today to tweak it into a recipe using half whole wheat flour, 1/3 less sugar, and "superfood" blueberries instead of my darling dark chocolate chips.  The result?  Still TDF.  Just ask the baby; at 8 months old he devoured an entire muffin this morning.  Here's the visual, and the recipe:

The Healthy Version.
Baby loves these.

3/4 stick Smart Balance (or butter)
1/4 cup white, 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 large or 3 small overripe bananas

1/4-1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda

1 1/2 cups flour (I did half whole wheat)
2 tsp cinnamon (optional)
3/4 cup blueberries

Mash bananas with fork until smooth.  Combine bananas, sugars, and butter in mixer.  Add cinnamon if desired.  Add salt, baking powder, and baking soda.  Add flour(s).  Add blueberries gently, unless they are very firm blueberries.  Bake at 340 for 17-20 minutes until done.  Muffins are done when the very edges are just starting to turn golden brown and the top resists slightly to touch.  Do not overcook.


Monday, May 23, 2011

Oatmeal, Berries, & Heart-Healthy Love

Everyone knows that you're "supposed to" eat oatmeal to lower your cholesterol, but not everybody knows why.  Many believe, as I once did, that anything with fiber is great for heart health.  Well... sort of.  Obviously fiber has many health benefits.  But only soluble fiber has actually been shown to reduce cholesterol.

Sadly, soluble fiber is not easy to come by.  Only two cereals on the market are allowed to claim it on their nutrition info:  Oatmeal and Kashi.  As for veggies, you'll be stuck with okra, zucchini, and egg plant.  It's that "gooey"ness in all of these foods that does the trick.  Luckily, most beans are great sources... so if you're serious about heart health, bring on the chili, hummus, and delicious black bean burritos (I add a can of tomatoes and top with salsa and low-fat sour cream, and I use 2 chipotle chilis in adobo sauce instead of jalapeno).

But back to breakfast.  I've heard so many people say oatmeal is boring.  No!!!  It doesn't have to be!  Whether you do oatmeal or oat bran, or a mixture of the two (my personal fave), it's all about the toppings. 

Saturday night, our friend Kelly tipped us off that berrries were on sale.  So we did strawberry, blackberry, and blueberries.  So good, and packed with antioxidants.  Thus, the recipe generally is:

- Make oatmeal, oat bran, or Irish steel cut oatmeal as directed but add *milk* instead of water.  Do NOT use instant oatmeal (use "old fashioned" or Steel Cut).  You won't get the heart benefits.
- Add a tiny sliver of butter (or Smart Balance if you're us) and a sprinkling of sea salt in each bowl
- Top with fruit.  If you're only going to try this recipe once, please wait until August and use fresh ripe peaches.  The combination of peach and cardamom simply cannot be beat.
- Sprinkle with dark brown sugar, cinnamon, and cardamom.  The cardamom is very important!  Cardamom is a spice (so found in the spice aisle by the baking section).  It's used in a lot of Swedish baked goods... I discovered it by marrying a half-Swede.  It's great in coffee, just sprinkle some on... it's also used in Indian food; try it with yogurt, mango, and honey for a "mango lassi."  Add it to ANY smoothie for a greatly enhanced experience.

Mommy and baby sized oatmeal - baby sized in the front.  He ate half of that!
So, "oatmeal" is a pretty simple recipe but a great way to have a "special breakfast" that's still healthy.  Bonus:  You can dice up the fruit nice and small for a baby.  Ours was IN LOVE with this breakfast, dancing a little as he ate it and grunting intensely as he reached out for more.  And now he's had whole grains, fresh fruit, and cardamom in a meal shared with Mommy and Daddy.  What a great morning!