Thursday, July 21, 2016

Surviving Residency

T.J. is a done with his second year of orthopedic surgery residency (years for us being July-July). So we're a month into third year now and we're getting through it! I don't like to blog too much about residency because it's not my job, it's T.J.'s, and so it's not really my story to share. I can really only talk about what it looks like at home. How the long overnight shifts, the weekend call schedules, the away rotations, the exhausted husband, impacts our marriage and our life outside the hospital. It's nothing new really, we're not the first ones to go through this, but I want to share how we're surviving, right now, while we're knee deep in it.
 (I thought this photo was hilarious- the magazines I get in the mail vs. the magazines T.J. gets.) 

First a little snapshot of what second year looked like. Second year was definitely worse than first year, and I'm starting to suspect that third year might be worse than second year. Though he is no longer the "intern" (what they call all first year residents) doing grunt work all the live long day, he is still considered a junior resident which means he still has long hours, plus far more responsibilities, higher expectations. He needs to be overly prepared for each and every surgery and patient on their service and to know all the obscure hypotheticals that could occur. This means even when he's "off" he has reading and studying to do.  There is an unspoken expectation that he should (want to) stay and scrub in on cases even if it's the end of the day and technically he could leave. This means that on a day when he might expect to be home by dinner time, he ends up operating until well after midnight and just sleeping in an on-call bed. And speaking of call...he is expected to take call at least two weekends a month plus one or two days a week.

Third year is supposed to be a slightly more manageable schedule with slightly less call nights but the catch is he has a TON of away rotations at other hospitals, most of which are too far for him to commute back and forth to so during those months I will only see him on weekends when he's off.

So what do I do with this mess? How do I make sure I'm not adding to my husbands burdens? How do I encourage him and support him, and at the same time make sure that I don't wallow in bitterness, or resentment towards his job, or worse, towards my sweet hard working husband?

Look for the silver lining.
I am always on the lookout for it. It would be so very easy to feel sorry for myself because T.J. isn't home every night for dinner, or even at all some nights. It would be so easy to look at other couples, not in this situation, and feel jealous. And I've seen other spouses fall into that trap. They focus only on the bad parts of this life and can't see the good. And there is a lot of good here.  T.J. is helping people and he truly enjoys what he does. He is able to provide for our family and we don't have to worry about the future. When he's on call I get to watch the Bachelorette uninterrupted and shame-free and have popcorn for dinner. We have no student loan debt (thank you to the Army). We get to live in new places and meet people we might never have if it weren't for this job. And probably the biggest silver lining is this is just a season and not forever. That's the big one there. If nothing else, I know this is not forever. His schedule won't always be like this. He won't always be this tired. We won't always be beholden to the call pager. I can do anything for a season. And I don't want to look back on this time and only remember how hard it was. I want to be able to look back and see that we squeezed as much joy and love and happiness out of these hard years.

Always have something on the calendar. 
And to bolster your silver lining, it helps to have something to look forward to. The weekends off may be few and far between but having something fun planned for those little breaks seems to make the long days pass more quickly. It's not just for my sanity though. T.J. needs a break, he needs to sleep in, he needs Vitamin D, he needs to turn off the pager, he needs handed a cold beer by the water and we need that alone time together. So I may or may not have a countdown on my phone letting me know the days until we're on a plane out of here.

Keep your expectations really low.
When we were still in first year, the older residents and their spouses warned me about second year. Seriously they scared the crap out of me with their horror stories of what was to come. Basically they told me I was never going to see my husband and when I did he wouldn't really be available to me because he'd be so tired and stressed. Because of this, going in to second year my expectations we're so so low. But it turns out that I do get to see my husband, and he is still my husband and not just a shell of his former happier self. Every night that we do get to have dinner together, every weekend that he isn't on call, every night that he sleeps next to me and not at the hospital, is a treat, a joy, a bonus! Keeping my expectations low means that instead of being disappointed all the time, I'm constantly, happily surprised.
Be flexible.
When T.J.calls to see if I can meet him for breakfast, right now, after he's finished a crazy overnight shift you can bet I am going to make that work. When he can't leave the hospital but he has a bit of down time, I pack up (or pick up) dinner and bring it to him. When he does have a free weekend and he let's me know the day before, I'm gonna try my hardest to plan something fun for us to do together. Being flexible allows room for last minute surprises (both good and bad). I also don't let his schedule stop me from making my own plans. I just keep in mind that he might not make it home in time or feel like going out.
Pick your battles. 
The minute T.J. walks in the door after work is not the time to tell him about the rain gutter we need to get replaced, or the cost of getting our roof cleaned. It's not the time to add to his to stress. Yes I have my own burdens, my own things that I want my husband's support and encouragement on. I have hard days too.  But I know that if I immediately unload on T.J. the second he gets home, I wont get the reaction, or the response that I'm looking for from him. So I store up things to tell him and pick my moments when he's more rested, when he's had a proper meal, when he's done telling me about the week he's had. And sometimes I just have to put on my big girl panties and deal with it myself, make some big decisions without him.

Go to bed at the same time.
Some days the only time I get with my husband is the sweet time we spend catching up while brushing our teeth before he falls into bed. While he may need/want to go to bed earlier than I do, I always go up to bed at the same time as him. I'll read in bed or play on my phone while he falls asleep (usually in .5 seconds of laying down) on my shoulder. Just being near each other, even in sleep, is better than nothing. To me, it's reflective of the commitment we made to each other to be one.
Surround yourself with support.
Rather than letting myself play the victim, I have to remember that we are not in this battle alone. The orthopedic residency department is like a little insular family. We are surrounded on both sides by other residents and their families who've chosen the same stressful and demanding life. It's helpful to be able to look to the older residents and see what's in store for the coming years, to ask questions about how it all works so I can mentally prepare.  It's also reassuring to look at the Attendings and remember that they once were just residents themselves. Once a month we have an "ortho wives" get together, usually at a restaurant or someone's home. No kids, no husbands, just time out with friends walking the same path. It's also great having these fellow spouses to call up last minute for dinner because both our husbands are on call and we don't want to eat alone. When we get together, there is a temptation to compare who's got it worse this week but it needs to not be about that. It needs to be a night out to unwind, to refresh, to do something fun for yourself so you don't always feel like you're waiting for your resident to get home.

Get a dog.
This one is kind of a joke but also kind of serious. Thank goodness for sweet crazy needy Hunley or our house would be so quiet most days. I also really don't like sleeping in the house alone (I'm certain every noise and creek is someone breaking in to murder me) so having him there when T.J. is not is such a comfort. Plus, Hunley is a decent substitute for cuddling.

Remember why he's doing this.
T.J. didn't decide to become a doctor because he wanted long hours and a tricky lifestyle. He chose this path because he's passionate about it, because he's so smart, because he wants to help people, because he wants to provide for our family. He's not doing this to our family, he's doing it for our family. Gratitude changes your whole perspective. I am grateful for how hard he works. I am thankful for his job, even when I don't like it.

Pray.
This really should be the first thing on this list.  As a Christ follower, as someone who wants Jesus at the center of my marriage, my life, I want to love my husband like Jesus does. This means putting myself second to our marriage. I pray for the posture of my heart to be patient, selfless, and joyful during the long months. I pray for T.J. to have strength to get through long days. That he will feel peace about the path he's on and trust that he is doing what he was called to do. I pray that the Lord will bless whatever amount of time we get to spend together. That He will draw us closer to one another and to Him.

I know there are some people who might think I should demand more from my husband, that I should be mad at him when he tells me he'll be home for dinner and then he's not. But having an "if he does this, I'll do that" attitude about marriage is destructive and it's conditional love. This verse was read at our wedding (and pretty much every wedding ever) but it is TRUTH that carries us through this season and the next. 

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentfulit does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.Love never ends.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-13

Any more experienced spouses who've come out on the other side of residency with advice to share, I'd love to hear it!