A few weeks ago I was up late taking a practice test for Step 2, my last major exam of medical school. I didn’t feel prepared and was dreading the exam, but when I finished the practice test, I was pleasantly surprised to score higher than I had expected. I ran up the stairs to wake up Yohannes (yes, it was the middle of the night) and share my good news, but stopped by Lily’s room to drop off a stray pair of socks. When I went in, I found Lily awake, with tears in her eyes.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, and I leaned over to kiss her head. It was hot with fever. My elated flight up the stairs turned into searching the house for the ever-missing thermometer and trying to find children’s ibuprofen in a flavor that Lily would agree to take.
I get asked all the time what it’s like to be in medical school with children. I usually try to give a short answer: “It’s hard, but also has its perks.” It’s difficult to accurately characterize the complexities of my situation in a casual conversation. I think there’s the obvious fact that parenting is hard, and medical school is hard, and doing two hard things at once is…hard.
But I always try to remind myself of the positives as well. When I’ve been overwhelmed, or gotten a grade that disappointed me, I’ve always been able to come home to the reminder that I am loved, and I am needed, no matter how things are going at school. While classmates are holed up in their apartments studying alone for weeks on end, I am forced to take breaks and interact with my family, and I think that has added a healthy sense of balance to my life.
Nevertheless, there are times when a hard thing is just a hard thing. Spending time with my kids means that I don’t always get to study as much as I should, and studying and being at rotations means I’m not home as much as I’d like. This year, I do some of my rotations at other institutions, which means I sometimes go weeks without seeing the kids. It’s just not the same to face-time your crying child when they need you as it is to hold them.
Today is Nati and Lily’s first day of school, and I can’t be there. Instead of studying, I spent the weekend before my current rotation shopping for school supplies and organizing their clothes and backpacks so that they would be ready. I put a card in each of their backpacks so they’ll know that I’m thinking of them and cheering them on from here, but I wish I could be there in person.
I can’t wait for this season of separation to be over.