March 31, 2014

A Perfect Match

The morning of the Match, I woke up from a dream where my envelope was drawn first and I matched to a program in Philadelphia.  Five hours later and I knew that at least half of that dream - where I matched - was real!

The deans from Academic Affairs had placed the envelopes with our Match results in a giant brass cage that spun with a handle.  One by one, they drew an envelope, read out someone's name, and collected a dollar in return for the results (the last person called then got to collect the money as a reward for having to wait that long!).  They didn't draw my name first, or second, or even at the beginning - I was somewhere in the middle. All of us were seated around tables in the Alumni Center, waiting anxiously for our chance to find out where we were headed.  One by one, my friends at my table opened their envelopes.  We crowded around them each in turn, peering over shoulders to exclaim with excitement when the location was revealed.

When my name was called, I took my envelope back to my seat.  My hands were shaking and my heart was beating so hard, I almost couldn't tear it open.  When I pulled the paper out, I smoothed it flat against the table and scanned it, unseeing, looking for the line that said where I was headed for residency.  I think I even had to ask my friends what it said, and then I saw it: OB/Gyn residency at Albert Einstein Medical Center! PHILADELPHIA, HERE I COME!

Now, I have to confess something.  Einstein wasn't my first choice, it was my third choice.  But after I submitted my rank list, even though I really liked my first and second choices a lot, I kept thinking about what living in Philly would be like.  I actually had two different dreams where I matched there, and I when I thought about my interview days, I definitely had the most fun at my Einstein interview.  And Einstein was the program that I felt had really wanted me the most - when I sent them an email to let them know I had them as one of my top 3 choices, I got an email back from the department Chair and the program director. So when I read that I was going to be one of their 5 new interns, I was actually thrilled. My eyes teared up (but I didn't quite completely cry) and I was really, really happy with where the Match had sent me.

What they don't tell you about medical school could fill volumes, and even when you've been trucking along, you always sort of think that Match Day is going to be the best, happiest day of your life.  Sure, I was happy with where I was going - but not everyone was.  Later that evening (taking a break from our pub crawl before heading out again to go dancing), several of my friends and I were chatting about what the summer would bring.  The emotional reality of Match Day is not a pure and simple happiness, even if you get your top choice.  I had this realization that my friends would all be moving far away - some of my very good friends would be on the complete opposite side of the country, in Arizona.  While I was lucky that a lot of my friends from other schools were coalescing in Philadelphia (and one of my best friends would even be living in the same neighborhood/region as me!), some of my friends were leaving for parts unknown with only one or two classmates to join them.

As I've started looking for apartments and calculating moving costs, it's been difficult to wrap my mind around leaving Milwaukee.  This past weekend in particular, I've been in a nostalgic and sad funk, with a lot of fears picking away at my excitement.  I'm moving not only to a new city, but a whole different part of the country. There's a whole bunch of new cultural nuances I'll have to relearn, the way I had to readjust when I moved to Wisconsin. There's the scary thought of being completely alone in another new, larger city that I'll have to figure out on my own.  And running through it all has been a bit of melancholy for my romantic life.  Just when I've opened myself up to possibilities here, the time has come to move on and move forward.

Who knows what the summer will bring? I know I'll have almost a whole month to explore my new city before residency starts.  I know I'll have to pack up everything I own and haul it across the country.  And I know that it's going to be scary and exciting and new and terrifying and probably a little lonely at times.  

But I also know that it's going to be worth it.

March 19, 2014

It's Real, Now

Monday, March 17th was the day. Not Match Day - not the day we find out where we're headed for the next three or four or five years of our lives - but the (unofficially-titled) SOAP day. As 11am ticked closer on clock, the five of us in Health Policy sat around the conference table after class and counted the minutes until we would get The Email.

At noon Eastern time, the NRMP released emails and the results on their website: a simple title ("Did I Match?") and a first line in the email that said, for most of us, "Congratulations! You have matched!"  Those who didn't match were notified that they were eligible to begin the SOAP process, an alternate way of finding a position for unmatched senior medical students.

Needless to say, we were all on tenterhooks.  Silence would fall around the conference table and then we would burst out again with the same comments: "AHHH!" and "THIS IS THE LONGEST MINUTE OF MY LIFE!" and other frantically hyperbolic statements. At the stroke of 11, we all logged in (or attempted to!) to find out our results.  I actually got locked out by the website experiencing thousands of medical students trying to discover their fate at once, but luckily my email arrived right on time with those three sweet words: You. Have. Matched.

The immediate flurry of text messages and Facebook posts then began and after confirming that all five of us in the room had matched, we giggled sporadically and set about telling everyone that it's official: we're going to be doctors of the kind that we chose!  For the rest of the day, I kept having moments where I thought, "It's real! It's really happening! I'm going to be an OB/Gyn!"

I knew exactly how I wanted to celebrate.  Last fall, I applied for an award called the Warrior Healer award through Med Students for Choice.  They pick two graduating medical students who are choosing to dedicate their lives to OB/Gyn and, in particular, to providing abortions as part of their eventual practice.  I was selected as a semi-finalist, but the award went to two other (absolutely deserving) women I would be honored to call my future colleagues.

However, applying for the award - and thinking about what its title meant - got me to thinking.  There couldn't be a better way to sum up how I feel about my future career: I aspire to be a great Healer, and I refuse to back away from the fight it's going to take for my patients to have access to birth control, abortion, and basic human dignity and autonomy.  I have already pledged myself to fight for them, and my residency will be just the first step along that path.

After I passed my first Licensing exam, I got a tattoo as a sort of pledge to myself: medicine will always be a part of who I am and what I do.  I picked a symbol that would always be relevant, because as much as I think art tattoos are awesome, I can't see myself committing to a piece of artwork for my lifetime.  I can commit to a symbol, however.

I did a lot of searching for a symbol that would encompass everything I stand for and what I am pledging to spend my life doing.  The symbol for the goddess Ishtar (and her other incarnations, Astarte or Inanna) stood out as simple and beautiful: an eight-pointed star inside a circle.  Ishtar was the Assyrian and Babylonian goddess of love, sex, fertility...and war.  

The design: an eight-pointed star, symbol of
the goddess Ishtar (aka Inanna or Astarte).  Ishtar is
the goddess of love, sex, fertility, and war.
I knew this would be the design for me.  I decided to put it on my back: it could be easily hidden and easily shown.  I wanted it centered in my upper back, like the badge of honor I felt it would be.  My friend Grace went with me for moral support and helped me get the design sized and situated in just the right spot.

We got the initial placement right with the help of a little tape.
Greg, the artist who did my first tattoo, drew up the design, then had it printed on transfer paper (like a temporary tattoo).  This let him place the tattoo design exactly where I wanted it to go.

Next step: using cool transfer paper to put the design
on my back!  I double-checked in their mirror to make sure
the size and height was how I liked it.
Once I had it at the right height (right between my shoulder blades), Greg had me sit in one of the chairs and lean forward so he could work.

Not gonna lie, it does hurt a little.  Most of the time it's a sort of
stinging feeling, a little bit electric/zappy.  But over some parts of my
back it was a lot more sensitive...I focused on just breathing.
For some reason, the upper right quadrant of the tattoo seemed to be more painful...but then he would switch and do more work on the left side, and the fresh skin was pretty tender there, too! Overall, though, it was more painful than my first tattoo but not that bad - pretty tolerable except for a few minutes here or there.

The pain was good, though...I kept thinking: this is for Texas, this is for Missouri, this is for Ohio, this is for South Carolina, this is for Kansas; this is for Dr. Tiller, this is for my mentors, this is for Dr. Phelps, this is for Dr. Carhart, this is for Dr. Torres, this is for all the doctors I have met or know of who do this openly or quietly and hope to retire one day; this is for every broken condom, for every missed pill, for every teenager who didn't know any better, for every mother who can't have another child, for every rape survivor who finds herself pregnant, for every woman who wanted a baby and whose wanted child will never survive outside the womb...I will take this pain for a few minutes to show that I will always be there for them.

That is the power of a tattoo for me: it is transformative; it is identity manifest as art; it is pain transmuted into power.

Most of the way done! (Thanks, Grace!)
After about half an hour to forty minutes of actual tattooing time, he was done!  He had me look in the mirror to see what I thought - and it was perfect!  We had initially talked about maybe adding some shading to the star points to make them a little more three-dimensional, but I love the way the lines are clean cut and simple.

There it is! All done.  It's hard to see the details in this picture, though.
Now I just have to get through the next week or so with some careful showering maneuvers (I'm supposed to avoid having the water stream directly onto the tattoo) and I should be good to go!  My skin feels a little bit tight, the way a 2-3 day old sunburn might feel, but otherwise I don't feel a thing.

This is the best view I could get...lots of mirrors
and positioning my phone juuuuust right.
Now there's just a day and a half between finding out where I'm headed for the next four years - to find out where I will learn to be the Warrior Healer I am pledging to be.  I'm so excited! and I can't believe it's really happening! But somehow, it is...all the work of the past four - no, eight - years has been for this.