Monday, March 21, 2016

Behold the Wood of the Cross

This post conforms to the blog rules.It's now time to tell another story I was afraid to tell for a long time.

Although I was loud in college about ethics, I became a coward by the time my second year of medical school was half over. I never explained it on the blog. I let it seem spontaneous. But in reality, it had a clear beginning, during our Reproductive Sciences block.

I was trying to start a pro-life group. I was blogging about ethics. I was going into tidy journalistic fury over the shock (shock!) of being taught to abort. I was standing outside of clinics. I was glad that I had a good upbringing and a sound education. It made me strong in the culture war, and I was loving the fight!

A few months into my second year, I began to discover that the fight wasn't straightforward. One of the pro-life M1s I was hoping to groom for the new head of the pro-life group didn't want to lead because she'd had an abortion. She didn't think the group was going about things "the right way" (whatever that meant). The conversation was awkward--I remember that neither of us stood, and that there was another M1 there (moral support for the M1 I'd asked?) standing as well, silently watching us. I stammered an "all right, I'd love whatever help you can give me." I ended up not seeing her much after that, and I moved on in the semester.

Later that year, I saw on the schedule that we had a lecture on "Abortion: Spontaneous, Missed, Threatened, Therapeutic." I steeled myself that morning and tucked my little plastic fetal model into my pocket. I look back on that morning and see it as a little theatrical, but at the time it was genuine. I felt like I was headed into the mouth of the beast, where impressionable, vaguely liberal college grads were taught that abortion was part of medicine.

Credit: prieststuff
I sat in my usual spot. One of the other Catholic students sat next to me. The lecturer began to talk about elective abortion. I fingered my fetal model and felt powerless. All my classmates were hearing this as if it were just another way to manage just another condition.

On a whim, I pulled out the model and passed it to the Catholic sitting next to me. She looked at it for a long several seconds, then made as if to hand it back to me. "No, pass it that way," I said. She looked as if she didn't know what to do, then reached across the few empty seats between herself and the next person. I signaled to that person to keep passing it.

I didn't get it back at the end of the class. I'd watched it travel around the room for a few minutes, but then I'd gone back to listening about threatened AB.

It was several weeks later (I'd completely forgotten about the entire thing) when I received a concise email from one of the School of Medicine's administrators--the lawyer who gave us a lecture on how we could get kicked out for unprofessional behavior. She asked if I had time to meet with her and the dean that week.

My blood pressure spiked at first, but I reassured myself: I'm a good student, I haven't done anything wrong. Perhaps she wants to ask me about someone else? I gave her a time and showed up to the meeting. It was Holy Thursday.

The instant that I walked into the room and saw her face, I knew that I was the one in trouble. Her expression was stony, her voice was clipped. The dean sat in a chair by her desk, only marginally less terrifying.

I don't remember all the exact words. She asked me whether I passed around a model of a fetus during the lecture. I said yes, I had. She told me that not only was that disruptive in the classroom, but it had upset several of my peers and that one or two had come to her crying about it. I instantly regretted so thoughtlessly picking my pro-life trinket out of my pocket and passing it around during class! I already learned that there were post-abortive women around me! Why hadn't I thought of them? What a painful thing I had done! I'd been warned that I was going about things the wrong way and I hadn't done anything about it!

Credit: timmatkin
From the shame of being in a disciplinary position on top of the distress I felt at what I'd done to my peers, I started to cry. "It hurts me," I stuttered, "to think that I caused someone pain." I offered to apologize in some anonymous way to the girls I'd hurt. I was declined. I spent a miserable rest of the day.

The next day, I attended the Good Friday service. Christ on the cross looked as miserable as I felt. "And as miserable as I made those girls," I muttered. I felt like Pilate, more than I ever had in the dozens of times I've said "His blood be upon us and upon our children" and "Crucify Him" on Palm Sunday.

That day I had a small change of heart. I realized that everything I lacked (poise, foresight, compassion, circumspection, thoughtfulness, and a sense that I was on the right side of things) I truly lacked. I wasn't just feeling a temporary loss of those virtues: I never had them to begin with. So I asked Christ for all his virtues, to replace all my disasters. It was a beautiful Good Friday, one I will never forget. Even now at Mass, when I go to communion, I often think of that Good Friday and ask Christ to give me everything of His soul, including all his virtues.

But this episode had one very unfortunate effect: it made me afraid. It was not until the beginning of my fourth year that I began to uncase myself from that cold fear that I would once again hurt someone or bring on the shame of that terrible disciplinary meeting. I realize now why I was so afraid. I stopped short in accepting something of Christ's cross: His courage.

Now I behold the wood of the cross and recall my misery. I know that I have made lots of scandalous mistakes that have caused a great deal of pain. So I ask Christ to replace my viciousness with His perfections. And even though I'm a liability to His glory, He asks that I fight for him, and gives me His courage.

Now, as a resident that fearlessly but happily refuses to prescribe, I am a warrior. But the strength I fight by is not mine. So behold, the wood of the Cross, on which our Savior poured out all His virtues for us and provided an almost-irrational courage for us, even though we're such disasters.

P.S.: It was recently pointed out to me that if a person is so fragile as to cry at the sight of a fetal model, he or she is in need of some serious healing, and that confronting that person with the truth may have had a good effect. While I agree, it's still not the best way to show someone the truth. And even if the "disruptive" thing wasn't true (because the lecture was teleconferenced from forty miles away), I still think I acted carelessly and hurt someone. May God bring some good out of it! Please pray for the people that I hurt that day, because I'm sure their souls are deeply wounded from whatever in their past made them so upset at the sight of my little plastic fetus.

P.P.S.: By the way, one of the first things I stuck in my new resident coat was a new and improved fetal model. I showed it to probably sixty people in my first month of residency. I did it calmly and gently, after considering whether it was the right way to show the truth or not. And I haven't regretted it yet.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Intern Happenings (and four months in review)

In the past four months, I reupholstered some Craiglisted chairs (previously tiger-print), made some curtains, wrecked a car, bought another car, and survived (almost) to the end of the "dark time." This post starts silly, but concludes with big thoughts on how things are changing through my intern year.

When I visited the house where these tiger-print chairs were, it worked in her scheme. Some people can pull things off that I could never make work. So I reupholstered them with an on-sale green curtain fabric from JoAnn. When I bought the chairs, I knew I was taking on a Project. I thought to myself, "it's okay, I'll bang it out in a weekend and be done with it." This was a big mistake. Now that my time is more precious than it has ever been (I pulled another 90-hour week last week), I think I might have other people do my little projects so that I can focus on bigger things.  I learned that upholstery is like surgery: it's easy to do "well-enough" but much harder to do beautifully. This picture doesn't quite hide the fact that my corners look like badly made bedsheet corners. The original owner had done the tiger-print upholstery herself and it looked perfect.


Don't let this quick succession of pictures fool you. It took at least four months from start to finish. I kept dragging my feet at the last part, which was to screw the reupholstered seats back onto the chair frames. It was so hard and I developed an almost subconscious block to doing it. I'd do everything else on my to do list, and then (oops!) I wouldn't have time to fix the chairs. The item "Screws" hung out on my iphone Tasks list for ages.

Aaaaaaand I wrecked another car. I was changing from nights to days and forgot to set an alarm. I woke up to a text from my second year asking where I was. It was a nightmare come true. In two minutes I was out the door and in the car and rushing to work. I rushed a little too much! The accident wasn't wholly my fault, but if I hadn't been stressed, I bet I could've avoided it. I ran into a tree (swerved to miss the other car, who went off). The tree won.

The story of me buying the other car is funny, because it highlights how my crazy busy schedule only permits the extreme way of doing ordinary adult things like car-buying. My dad (630 miles away) discovered that you can buy cars from rental car companies. This is nice because the car company has a vested interest in the car working and being easy to maintain, so you know you're not getting a total lemon. It's also nice because you can drive the car for a brief period before you buy it.

So they tried to find me a car from a rental car company. We failed several times because the cars they found kept being driven to unplanned locations (like Vegas) by the people who were currently renting them. It was like requesting a hold on a library book, but then you find out that the book was returned to a library in another state.

We finally had a car that showed up where it was supposed to (in the same city as I was!). The only time I could pick it up was between work (6pm leave-time) and flying out for Christmas (10pm flight). So after work I took an Uber to the rental lot, signed my life away in the typical ritual of car-buying, drove off with a new car, then left the car in my apartment lot while I took a taxi to the airport for Christmas. It was a bizarre experience.

The answer to everything.
I have now driven 42 hours in that car and am pleased with it. It's a lot of car for a person trying to live poverty (it's got a back-up camera and a fancy screen that tells you stuff), but I just hope I don't wreck it by the time I get to tell you about the next few months.

A quickie update on some things in my last blast: neither of the illustrators were interested in my children's books, but that's okay. Again, I'm constantly learning to triage my projects. One of the patent proposals didn't work, but the other is in provisional status.

I'm also flying a lot this year: a friend's wedding, home for Christmas, to Chicago to film a video for NFP-only applicants to residency, to a conference in Toronto, and to another friend's shower (and again for her wedding). Attempting to plan a bridal shower (sorry, Mom) while also planning a video and submitting a poster to two things was a lot.

In addition, I got the "dark schedule," the intern schedule with four consecutive months of L&D, then nights, then MFM, then L&D. It's aptly named, as these four hard months coincide with January and February, the peak months for burnout. I'm now on vacation and feeling a little more human. I know the second year and the third year who got this schedule, and they changed. Fatigue changes you; you get snarkier, and sometimes speak badly about patients. You complain more. You talk about other people behind their backs. You search for any comfort--in food, in entertainment....

I don't want to change, but I see myself doing it. Is my wrecked car a symbol of something destroyed in me? Is my lovely dining room a symbol of something superficially nice in me? More on this to come. For now, I'll stick with frivolous updates on chairs and cars. Yay upholstery!