Oy. It has been some time, hasn’t it? In the past almost six months, as is to be expected in the life of a family, things happened. We did stuff and kept quite busy. Let’s see… Zoe had a birthday, complete with swimming party (indoors), and I didn’t post a birthday tribute at the time, but I’m totally going to fake one (don’t tell anyone). So she’s six now, and amazing. Shortly after that I submitted my rank order list for the match, indicating where I would like to attend residency. It was a very tough process, during which our family evaluated what was most important to us, and in the end we got exactly what we wanted. I am happy to announce here (in case anyone reads this who wasn’t constantly flooded with texts, tweets or facebook posts from me with the happy information) that I will spend the next three years training in family medicine at the Memorial Family Medicine Residency Program out of Sugar Land. We get to stay in Houston! So yay. It’s not that I was super busy with school after March 15 (MATCH DAY!), but super busy with life, which as it turns out is even more busy than school ever kept me. Seriously. I took that time to get our home a little more organized, volunteer at Zoe’s school, and exercise my ever-expanding body. In April I worked my last month as a medical student on an emergency psychiatry rotation. I absolutely loved it. I have been off work since May and despite feeling constantly busy, it has all amounted to very little. Oh except for graduating from medical school. Blake Motley Watts, M.D. is official. It has been a LONG ROAD since that day in mid-2005 that I, finally emerging from the cloud of cancer and all it entailed, felt moved to pursue medicine, and Joel, not knowing any better, encouraged me. I laugh when I think of freshman-in-college Blake in 2000, quitting biology because it didn’t suit me, and derailing my med school plans because I thought there was no way to become a doctor and have a family (and be good at both). I had real and practical concerns, mature thoughts for 19, actually, and perhaps it was naiveté at 24, or the new-found YOLO attitude post-cancer, but WHAT A FOOL to think it would be easier AFTER having a family. But we made it. And I’m proud of that for all of us, and grateful for ALL OF THE HELP. We have so much support. And we will need it going forward, because
my life is over residency is starting soon.
We just returned from Sea World and Aquatica in San Antonio, which was a great time for all. Zoe’s last kindergarten unit was on oceans, and she is in love with all things dolphin, so naturally feeding and touching dolphins was on the agenda. She did her own report on dolphins after learning a pink bottlenose dolphin exists (rare albino version of a pigmented dolphin), and has made it one of her life goals to inform the world’s population of this fact. I’m soaking up time with her now, because in under a week, I will begin residency orientation, followed by my SISTER GETTING MARRIED!!!!, followed by three months of inpatient rotations. So I make no promises about my updates here, but I really like the idea of keeping track of myself. Pictorial proof of life and our activities can be found on Flickr.
Our Saturday was, and really the whole month has been, very busy. As a rare Sunday with no scheduled activities, naturally I have a ton of things on my todo list. Tomorrow is my test in emergency medicine, followed by a short presentation on the topic of my choosing. Yesterday I borrowed a book as preparation for today’s whole day devoted to studying and creating a powerpoint for an as-yet-undetermined topic. I’ll be productive and studious, I tell myself, all while accomplishing the usual necessary tasks of the weekend to prepare for the usual hellacious week.
I am awakened by the dog at 0600. I am mad. But I take her out, accompanied by Zoe. It is the nicest five minutes we have had in awhile, commenting on a lovely fullish moon and some things I’ve now forgotten. Determined to get just one morning of sleep, I return to bed, only to be plagued by my hamster wheel of todo list items and one I had forgotten – a quick email remedies this – but unleashes another set of tasks. Eventually, I drift off again for much too long, finally getting out of bed around 1100.
You know how when you sleep longer than you planned, you’re grateful but feel really behind for the day? So I set about checking off the todo list, putting away dishes, getting people & animals brunch, starting laundry, cooking a chicken, contemplating the correct spot for the half-eaten princess shoe that has been sitting on the counter, fielding a constant barrage of requests for play dates despite the answer being, repeatedly, NO – the usual. I sit down with my coffee and read several pages. I am proud. Off to a good start, I say. Feeling very studious, I suggest that Zoe begin her homework. We read one page.
There is a fight.
I am the insanely frustrated and fuming person with bedhead, in her pajamas and Danskos, carrying an open book, stomping around the apartment complex trying to calm down. It begins to drizzle. I return home, dress, and pack my things for a day of studying outside the house. Meanwhile Joel has coaxed Zoe into apologizing and encourages me to talk with her. We make up, and I decide to stay home. I’m not sure what brings it on, but there is a decision to move the fish tank from her room into the living room. Cleaning – of the fish tank itself, and the place it will go, and the place all that stuff was in before will go – ensues. The fish are relocated and happy, but Zoe’s room needs attention. We clean her room. And then her closet. And then the bathroom, and the hallway, and the living room. It’s time to eat again, and we do. It’s 1800. I realize for the first time in hours that I haven’t worked on anything for tomorrow. I text friends for topic ideas. I open my computer, reply to emails, adjust the YouTube video of Zoe’s Rockets game performance, attempt to archive some school emails and lose them, tweet about it, and remember I have to make a presentation for tomorrow. Oh and study for a test.
I choose the topic of seizures and dig in. So far I’ve made way too many slides, but I’m happy with my progress. It’s time for bed. I take the sheets from the laundry and am successful in enlisting help making the bed. Leaning over to tuck in the corner, I am plowed in the side of the head by a charging dog. I do not pass out. Joel administers aid. I sit in the floor of the bathroom imagining the possible injuries to my brain and what it means for my future while holding a Hello Kitty ice pack to my head. I’m unconcerned about the idiot dog whose head is evidently harder than mine.
Next it’s bath time. I’ve used all the hot water with the laundry and dishwasher, so I use the electric kettle to warm Zoe’s bath. I blog. And I’ve miles to go before I sleep.
Zoe has generously agreed to pass down her car seat for 5 – 40 pounds to our friend who will have a little girl in April. But not before taking it for one last spin. While preparing lunch, I heard a bumbling commotion, and I saw her attempting to climb into her lofted dining chair with the car seat strapped to her like a turtle.
So 2012 was a roller coaster of a year. I’ll not pretend I have it bad; I’m grateful for everything our life is and realize my worst day is better than most. But I did have some trouble going with the flow this year, because the flow took us in some unpleasant directions.
Some was small stuff, like Zoe’s birthday party getting rained out. We had this cool, creative campfire thing planned, and it poured and flooded. There wasn’t a good time to reschedule it, and the rest of the year I felt badly about it, especially when people would ask if we had rescheduled. We had great fun with family in town, though. I had a great month of derm, delivered babies and made the most enormous cake ever in the spring. In June, Chief was diagnosed with cancer (sobbing). Later that same day, Amanda & Chris got engaged (happy tears)! In July, Joel started a new job (which he loves), and we got in a wreck on the way to his first day; Ali & Matthew got married so beautifully in Wyoming, and Zoe was hospitalized for mesenteric adenitis. In August, Chief died, then Zoe started kindergarten and rapidly lost her first two teeth. We adopted Ellie at the shelter in September, followed by a near-constant stream of illness that at one point was deemed distemper; eventually it was changed to kennel cough and she is now doing much better after much treatment and a change in food. (We adore her.) September also marked eight years cancer-free, but at my check-up, my CA-125 was elevated, so I had to get my eleventh CT, which really irked me. Radiation CAUSES cancer. Ugh. Anyway no real cause for alarm, but it is trending up, and it’s on my mind until that number goes down. My ICU & radiology rotations were great (apartment flooded in November), interviews have gone well, and the vacation month, while not AT ALL relaxing, has allowed me to be more involved in Zoe’s school activities. That may be why I was extra shaken up about Sandy Hook, though if you’re paying attention, the normal reaction is gut-wrenching pain and sorrow. (I appreciate the “look for the helpers” comments, as this is truly sanity-saving.) In contrast, my baby is alive (despite our car wreck the following week; it was totaled) and with me and we had a wonderful holiday with family all around. So I can’t say any of my worries are big in comparison. Other friends and family and patient concerns stay on the hamster wheel, but remain there alone for privacy. I keep hoping for peace.
Anyway. That was our year. We grumbled plenty and have yelled into the abyss to make it stop on more than one occasion, always aware that we are blessed beyond belief.
Soon I’d like to post some notable dates in 2013 and considerations as this residency process continues. But first…
Keeping the tradition alive…
In 2012, I gained weight, a brother-in-law, some CA-125 points, a dog, and some confidence.
I lost my Chiefy, some inhibitions, and a couple years off my life from stress. Kidding on the square there.
I stopped writing as much. And exercising. I don’t recommend stopping those.
I started thinking more about the future as though I might actually become a doctor.
I was hugely satisfied by delivering babies, passing both portions of the Step 2 exam, receiving invitations to interview for residency, and watching Zoe excel academically.
And frustrated by balancing my responsibilities (I doubt this will ever change).
I am so embarrassed that I’ve not made an effort to be fit.
Once again, I resolved to stop biting my nails. And I did, for interviews, at first.
Once again, I bit my nails.
The biggest physical difference between me last December and this December is my hair is longer, and my waist will eat you.
The biggest psychological difference between me last December and this December is more hamster wheel. I had hoped it would be less, but residency application will do this to a person. Come March 15, 2013, the hamster will get some rest.
I loved being with Zoe & family, September’s ob/gyn clinic, learning to love another dog, and taking steps toward residency.
Why did I spend even two minutes worrying about the small stuff? (Repeat, but a good reminder: don’t sweat the small stuff!)
I should have spent more time being 100% present with whatever I’m doing. (Also a repeat.) And exercising. And writing. And reading quality stuff.
I regret being distracted and consumed with stress too often. And not leaving work to spend time with Chief on his last day.
I will never regret quality time spent with Zoe.
I worried, stressed, and nagged way too much.
I didn’t exercise, play, and relax nearly enough.
Deciding on a specialty nearly drove me crazy.
The most relaxing place I went was poolside.
Why did I stress so much?
The best thing I did for someone else was listen.
The best thing I did for myself was let go.
The best thing someone did for me was encourage me to power through.
The one thing I’d like to do again, but do it better, is parent.
Happy New Year!
(Fill-in-the-blank template from Mary Schmich at The Chicago Tribune)
Part of our nightly routine is grinding the coffee for the morning. It smells amazing and gives me something good to anticipate; if I must wake, especially if early, coffee makes it worthwhile until I’m coherent enough to appreciate the rest of it. After Joel hit the button I scurried to the grinder and inhaled. “Nommmm. I love coffee so much.”
Zoe piped up, “Me, too, man.”
I love her.
It’s hard to believe he has been gone three months.
In late April Chiefy slowed down. We had gone on a long family walk, longer than usual. We got about 2 miles out, and he was done. Getting back was rough, and he acted like the oldest man for about a week to recover. He could still walk, but his limp was pronounced. We rested him and hoped it would get better. I’m angry at myself because I was so busy. I kept putting off taking him to the vet and thinking he would just heal. In early June when he hadn’t, we scheduled a vet appoinment. Joel and Zoe took him because I couldn’t make it on time, and when I walked into the room a little late, the x-ray was up; seeing it, I cried. It was cancer: osteosarcoma of his left front leg. Treatment for that is amputation and chemotherapy, since usually by the time it is causing pain, it has already metastasized, with an iffy prognosis even then. Our vet did not recommend putting him through that. We agreed. He said he would have a few months at best, with an increasing need for pain medication. We went home with a regimen, which Chiefy happily took wrapped in smoked turkey.
I was hopeful after the first month. He was doing well and really didn’t seem sick. Some days he didn’t limp at all. I kept refilling the pain meds and even got a new giant bag of food. I hugged him extra every day. I hoped we would know when to take him in and we promised him and ourselves that we would not let him be in pain.
In early August, over a weekend he got slower and less able to get around; it happened really in a matter of two days. He kind of told us Friday evening. I felt like he was asking me to make it better. There was much sobbing and cuddling. By Monday it was time. I love our vet for helping us all through this. We were able to be right there holding Chief when he died, swiftly and with dignity, on August 6, 2012.
I went to the SPCA to donate the remainder of Chiefy’s sensitive tummies dog food. As I watched people leave with their new dogs, I happy cried. They have no idea what’s ahead of them – I didn’t know when I got Chief. I had spent the summer in Spain. While I was there, I kept seeing these ADORABLE chocolate cocker spaniels, and I decided when I got back, I would find one and make it mine. I visited the shelter more often than is advisable for a young girl whose boyfriend/future husband has just left for the Army.
On my fourth or fifth visit, I found this dachshund with a cold and was visiting with her, when my sister called me over a few rows to see this giant but skinny yellow puppy with the sweetest face I had ever seen. He cowered in the corner, tail tucked between his legs, shaking. As a stray, he had three days to wait to see if anyone claimed him before he could be adopted. We brought him to the play area and threw a ball for him. Nothing. He was too scared. We put him back in his cage and decided to return the next day. He responded to us a little more and even entertained a bit of play. The next day he was full-on fetching the ball, his paws were floppy, his nose was wet, he gave fantastic oafy kisses, and I loved his huge self. I don’t know his birthday; we usually celebrated sometime in early February, since he was about 6 months old when he came home with me on July 18, 2002. I don’t know what he was called before, but he became Chieftan Licky. He’ll be about 60 pounds, they told me. About a year later, he tipped the scales at 106.
That dog got me through some of the loneliest times of my life. Some days I got out of bed solely for him, usually grumpily and cursing that he had to pee so much, but I know the routine he provided me helped me finish school, survive the long days in California as Joel studied so hard, complete chemo while staying as strong as possible, and take daily walks while I was pregnant. I trusted him completely, even with my new baby, and I know he introduced Zoe to the beauty of living with animals because she loved him almost as much as I did. (There is a terribly awesome car commercial that airs right now – makes me cry every time.) He was there, even when I wasn’t, just waiting for whatever time I had to spend with him, grateful when it was more, and not the least bit reproachful when it was less.
Occasionally I catch up on my blog reading, and Momastery is always a favorite. Right around the time I was hurting extra, Glennon posted this, and she puts things I have felt into words so eloquently:
“Oh my God – I love having a dog. I love my dog.
I work really hard on love. I study it and dissect it and try to understand all its complexity and beauty and pain. Love, however it’s done, is serious business. It’s hard work and can be completely confounding because people are involved. And people are beautiful and mysterious and broken and unpredictable and demanding. But Theo is simple. And so loving him is simple.
I have so much love to give, but sometimes it’s hard to love my husband, because he’s a person and has needs and expectations. And often it’s hard to love on my kids because they, especially right now, are kind of rough. The girls are fighting constantly, nasty to each other, really, and Chase is starting to duck my affection. All is unfolding as it does and should, I know, but it’s sure as heck not a snuggle-fest over here these days.
But Theo. I can always love him. He is there waiting to receive my love and accept it and appreciate it. He doesn’t want anything complicated from me. I do not need to figure him out. I don’t have to be great or funny or particularly patient or even smile. Someone who loves you even if you won’t smile is a keeper. At night in bed, I curl up on my side and he makes his body into a perfect circle in the crook of my leg, right behind my knee. So there’s just this little bit of pressure on the back of my legs that is his presence. That pressure in the night and my morning coffee are two of my most sacred daily joys.
If I have to go out into the big, brutiful world, I’m taking a dog.”
We all miss him so much. He was the best dog to me, there for me in a way that only dogs have the capacity to be. No one can replace Chief; he will be in my heart, fetching balls and swimming and cuddling, and probably in my belongings, forever. I find his furry reminders every day.
Sunday I loaded the washer improperly, and our apartment flooded. We were all so tuned in to our devices that it wasn’t until I heard the dog splashing that we realized the rising water. The maintenance people were, as usual, fantastic; within 2 hours our apartment was dry, and we totally reorganized the place. Long story short, it was a surprise great day, a refreshing change from the recent string of grumpy ones. I’d like to blame it on the weather, but I think it might be the culmination of hectic schedules and/or the bad parenting catching up to us. Mine, not Joel’s, to be clear.
Because of the generalized craziness above, and the fact that I ended up with 15 residency interviews, November’s radiology elective has been quite a boon. My hours are ridiculously awesome right now. Good news, because kindergarten is no joke. Her school is probably about as good as they come, but I feel panicky every time I enter the place. Utter chaos. I want to be more involved, but this may require tranquilizers. Having her officially enrolled in school and looking at the next 12 years of it kind of feels like… prison? Is that too dramatic? If so, I may have caught it from Zoe. Drama ERRWHERE. I had no idea kids this age are already lying, conniving, stealing, snitching, boundary-less scoundrels. We had it so easy. I can honestly say I never had that feeling of wanting to put her in a bubble until now. She’s so sweet and sharing – they don’t let her eat her food at lunch! We ate with her last week, and it’s like the hands come out of nowhere to swipe food directly from her lunch box. She’s also totally overwhelmed with requests to play at recess and honestly seems miserable sometimes. I’m hoping we can help her develop some healthy boundaries and feel terrible that we didn’t prepare her well. There are definitely sweet kids in the class; I’m just blown away by the depravity so far, the likes of which I hadn’t expected for at least 5 more years. It’s not like she has been at home this whole time, either. Apparently the med center is more of a bubble than I realized.
So there’s that. I also think she’s bored. It may sound like bragging, and maybe it is, but she’s reading at a third grade level among some kids who are still solidifying the alphabet, and I’m sure every stage in between. Which is fine, but with an overfull class I think she ends up with a lot of idle time. The testing begins in a couple of weeks for the gifted/talented program, so maybe next semester will be different. In hindsight I might have pursued the advanced programs prior to kindergarten had I realized how this all goes. “But Blake,” you’re saying, “some kids are starving or terminally ill or forever mentally 5 months old. Why is your kid being smart a problem?” I know. But my baby isn’t happy and I want to fix it for her.
This is what I’m talking about when I talk about America.
I’ve been enjoying this month’s rotation in the ICU at MD Anderson. While that may not sound fun on the surface, there is excellent teaching, and I’m pleasantly surprised by how much I like critical care. An added bonus is: I have weekends. My days are early and long during the week, and the puppy has a nasty habit of waking me about an hour before my alarm sounds. So I’ve been grumpy. With life traveling at the speed of sound, I really need these weekends.
For this one, I made a list so we could have a prayer of getting things done. Friday and Saturday morning, we baked some BOOnana donuts, Spoooky Chocolate Chip Coookies, and Ginger SNAP!s for the Spooky Spaghetti carnival at Zoe’s school. After dropping those off, we took Ellie to the dog park, where she was a little more comfortable than last time. After a nap, we were off to school; the carnival was much more fun than I imagined it would be. Despite planning to stay up later than Zoe and watch Dexter, we all fell asleep early, and for the first time in what felt like months, I got decent rest.
Today felt like a dream. No arguing. General pleasantness. After a family breakfast, we had a combo cleaning/dance party to a playlist of Beatles, Beach Boys, and Rolling Stones. We took Ellie to her first dog training class – she was great, and super cute, and Zoe got to hold a kitty. Zoe and I got our hairs cut at the mall. The stylist worked magic, and Zoe was well-behaved. Then she helped me try on every pair of shoes at DSW to find the perfect look for my interview outfit. (I’ve been invited to nine residency programs.) In return, we found her some sequin boots and twinkle toe shoes at another store. We jammed in the car on the way home – she sang at the top of her lungs. My brain kept checking in to see if this was real life. When we got home, we learned that Joel had taken Ellie on a run and made dinner. Tonight homework was complete in record time with no tears shed. Pinch me.
We adopted Ellie September 29, 2012 at about four months old. She’s a very cute chocolate lab/pointer mix from BARC. She had a terrible case of kennel cough, but after about a million trips to the vet, she is healthy and very energetic. We’re happy to have a canine member of the family again!
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We had been on the porch, taking turns on the exercise trampoline, and it was time to come in. Out of the blue, she says, “Mom, you know what I don’t understand? Life. Like, what’s the point?”
I just kinda stood there staring at her. I felt like I’d been hit in the face with a big bouncy ball, not by her question, but because she’s five and asking the question.
When I came to and realized this opportunity, I started by asking her what she thinks the point is*, hoping she’d give me the answer in her five-year-old wisdom. She’ll do that quite often, with such clarity and confidence that I can’t believe I’m the adult. She insisted she didn’t know, and that’s why she asked me. I felt a huge responsibility to say something profound or have AN answer, at the very least. The truth is I don’t know, and I have a philosophy degree so that statement is really just too much on its own. But we have to live our lives, and I have some ideas. So I asked her if she thinks it’s about people being happy or being together or being good people to everyone or something else. She nodded and offered her opinion that the point is to play and have fun. But then she clarified that she’s confused about that: how do they make the rules, and why do we play?
I think we have another philosopher on our hands.
*There’s a word for this. Not Socratic or reflective or metacognitive. Help?