23 August 2007

Italian Proverb: It is impossible to love and to part.

How do you prepare to be apart?

I mentioned before that it’s important not to let thinking about time apart ruin the time together. Surgeons aren’t the only ones with a long schedule, but I think it is important that we learn that lesson early. This was especially true during training. The hours were so long, sometimes as much as 120 hours a week at the hospital. Mind you, there are only 168 hours in each week, if you haven’t done that math yourself. Surgeons all have. At least married ones have. It is important not to screw up those precious hours at home. Sleep isn’t as important, but it does intrude involuntarily. I have fallen asleep in the strangest places: in the car, at the dinner table, and, yes, on the toilet! Fortunately, life is better now as an attending surgeon.

I used to ruin my vacations because I would spend the first few days worrying about how the crew covering my patients was sure to screw up what I had done. The last few days I would anticipate and gear myself up mentally for getting back into the fray. That left few days of relaxation and enjoyment with family. Nowadays, if I’m home, I’ve forgotten the hospital. I don’t leave the hospital unless I’m satisfied things are the best I can leave them, and then once out the door, I don’t worry myself until it’s time to drive back in, or they call me with a disaster. (To be honest, I’d like to believe that, but it is too deep in my nature not to obsess about a child who is not yet out of the woods.) The change in attitude has made me a better person.

But now, with a longer separation looming, it isn’t quite possible to completely ignore it. Sure we are preparing. Besides the training that I suspect will not be useful to me (e.g. If numerous people around you are salivating excessively and vomiting, consider the presence of a nerve gas agent) there are some tasks that do feel are necessary. We are putting our financial affairs in order, I’ve made sure that the will is up to date, and my family has several phone numbers to call when it is difficult to get an urgent pediatrician office visit at the base.

We are also looking forward to upcoming events. Yesterday we celebrated G’s birthday. It was a wild affair at the bowling alley with cake, pizza, fake moustaches, and stray bowling balls launched from shoulder height. It was a great time and sweet to see him with his classmates. The funny thing is, it wasn’t his birthday yesterday, and it isn’t even his birth month. Is it better to celebrate his birthday on a day as fake as the moustaches? I think so, because I would rather be here for the party! G thinks so, because that means presents come early! He is trying to convince us that he is already a year older since we have had his party. I suspect it might have something to do with the fact that his allowance is tied to his age. We are toying with the idea of celebrating some other holidays before I take off.

I’ve heard of other families creating a photo stand-up decoy of the deployed member. They take the decoy with them on trips and include it in family photos. I’m all for anything that make it easier for the children. But it seems like a hollow replacement to me (what a conceited statement: How could I ever be replaced!) I was touched by journalist Alison’ Buckholtz’s essay on the topic. She described how the presence of a cardboard cutout facsimile of her husband scraped the painful nerves of her longing for her actual husband. I hope to think that I’m wise enough to accept that different people will respond better to different means of coping. It’s that way in surgery, not everyone responds the same to each operation.

I shouldn’t write when I’m in a foul mood. It comes out too melancholy. At least Doonsbury can still make me laugh at the absurdity of the situation. Friends, enjoy life and have fun with your loved ones around you!

At your service,


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