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(Photo courtesy of Kevin Newton)
This week we have: The Physician Philosopher (TPP)!
TPP is a blogger that I’ve been getting to know more and more over the past month. He’s an anesthesiologist, husband, father, and all around intelligent guy that has a ton of wisdom to share. That’s why I was stoked when he agreed to carve out some time to write for this series! So without further adieu, take it away TPP:
Two Wins, Two Losses
Hey MikedUp readers! My blog is anonymous, but you can call me TPP, which is short for the title of my blog, The Physician Philosopher. I am a husband, father to three little philosophers, author, inventor, and a craft beer lover. I also happen to be a physician practicing anesthesiology.
Over at my blog, I write about how to obtain a life well lived with a focus on obtaining financial independence.
Being the ultimate pragmatist, I realize that many people start a post and then start skimming. So, I am going to start with the one I really want you to read (a loss), because it’s on a topic near and dear to my heart.
I’ll alternate with wins and losses from there.
Loss #1: The Call You Never Want Nor Expect
My wife and I were super excited to bring our new six week old baby boy down for him to meet some of our family members for the first time, including my grandfather and the people we were going to stay with, my aunt and my uncle. It was three days before Christmas.
Right before I went to bed that Sunday night, my mom called me and said that we didn’t know where my aunt was. The one we would be staying with in just four days. She had been missing for about six hours and no one knew her whereabouts.
Going to bed, I thought that maybe she had been kidnapped or had been hurt and admitted to a hospital? Maybe she couldn’t call.
I didn’t realize that I’d get a call well after midnight that night telling me it was much worse than I feared.
Her car had been found at work. The thing is that the preoperative area where she worked at the hospital was closed on Sundays. She shouldn’t have been there. Why was she there?
She was there to end her life. My aunt, a preoperative nurse, started an IV and injected herself with a general anesthetic. She used the very drugs that I wield every day to save lives to end her own life. The irony is not lost on me.
She collapsed to the floor after injecting the medications (one for amnesia and one to cause paralysis, including the muscles you use to breath). That’s where my uncle found her along with the police officers that let him in.
The only word I can use to describe this situation appropriately is devastation.
If you had the distinct pleasure of knowing my aunt, she was the happiest person you’ve ever met. She loved slap-stick comedy and she lived to make others laugh. This is something that often confuses people when suicide is discussed.
There was also a dark-side to my aunt’s story that very few knew about. The inner demons that she struggled with were not public knowledge. When these demons came to consume her, no one knew that she needed help.
Some of her inner demons had to do with an excessive amount of debt. She thought she would soon be losing her job and the debt she carried with my uncle seemed insurmountable. Particularly, around the holidays where money is expected to be spent on others.
While there are many takeaways with her story, the month of September – when I wrote this – is suicide awareness month. So, if you or anyone you know is struggling, please get help. You are not weak. And you are loved.
There are people who certainly want to help you. Please, ask for help.
Win #1: The Golden Apple
Okay, that first loss was pretty heavy. But it’s a topic that cannot be ignored. Let’s talk about something a little happier…
I chose to go into academic medicine (as opposed to private practice) because I love teaching residents, enjoy research (enough), and enjoy clinical medicine. In academics, I get to do all three. Actually, if you are good at all three, you are called a “triple threat.” That’s always been my goal!
During training, I often thought that I would pursue becoming a residency program director or assistant program director, because of my love for teaching and advocating for residents. That didn’t work out recently for a variety of reasons (namely that I was only one year out from training – “too young” they told me).
At one point recently, there were three brand new assistant program director (APD) positions that opened up, and I got none of ’em. I was pretty disappointed, to be honest. I didn’t just miss out on one spot, I missed out on three.
One of the reasons why I was disappointed was that I had felt the residents really wanted me as an ADP, too. In speaking with many of them, it seemed that they knew I would advocate for them when others wouldn’t. That I truly cared.
Mostly, I thought that they “got” that I took great pride in not just trying to make them better doctors, but better people.
After I wasn’t chosen to be an APD, the thought crossed my mind that maybe I was just terrible at self-assessment and introspection. Maybe I wasn’t as good for the residents as I thought? Maybe the senior leadership making the ADP decision thought I was lacking when I thought I was doing pretty good.
A big surprise!
At the end of the year, there is a dinner for the Graduation Ceremony held for all of our graduating residents and fellow physicians. Awards are granted to residents with high academic achievements. The two chief residents and program director are each recognized for their service.
At the very end of this ceremony, which I had attended during training, they announce the winner of The Golden Apple. It’s the highlight of the night as this award goes to the best educator in the department as voted on by the residents.
As a chief resident, I had the opportunity to hand this award out. It always went to one of the very best faculty members. Without exception.
As I sat there eating my dessert, I thought through the 10 faculty members who were deserving of this award. As I thought, I realized there might be more than 10. We have a great department. As the chief residents began the announcement, they usually give clues to who it might be before announcing it officially.
As they began, I started whittling that list of the 10 faculty I thought it might be. Until eventually I realized that the faculty member they were announcing was me.
No way. This is not happening. Winning The Golden Apple was something that I wanted to accomplish at some point in my career, but in my first year as a faculty member? That had never happened in our department before me.
Don’t ever give up or let up on your dreams. And when you are putting the hard work in, and the people you are trying to help are appreciative of your work – that makes all the difference.
After winning The Golden Apple, all of my vindictive animosity about the APD position I wasn’t chosen for was completely forgotten. In the end, this award meant I was helping the residents right now without the official title of an APD.
In fact, it meant I was doing it better than everyone else in the eyes of those that I teach. That’s more encouraging than any official title could ever be.
Loss #2: Bankruptcy as a Kid
When I was a kid, my dad was a nuclear engineer. He made good money. Well, until he didn’t. Long story short, he got black-listed from the industry after reporting a safety concern that got his supervisor in trouble – after the supervisor didn’t do anything about it when my dad pointed the issue out.
They let my dad go and said it was because of his disabilities that he sustained during a hunting accident years earlier – like 15 years earlier. The real reason was for being a “whistleblower.”
While my dad sued (and won) the company for what they did, we went through rough times a result of everything. My family experienced what it was like to be in an upper-middle-class family one year and then experiencing the depth and depravity of bankruptcy the next.
As a kid, I didn’t understand. I just knew that I went from getting most of the things that I wanted to getting in trouble for asking for things that I didn’t have.
While this time in my childhood was tough, it also taught me a lot about contentment and debt. I have an absolute hatred for debt now because of that experience, though it took some years for that to manifest.
I also learned that a used bike, a baseball glove, and some friends made for some pretty happy memories. It doesn’t take a lot in this life to be happy, until things get complicated.
Learning to be content with little is a skill that will benefit me for the rest of my life. Even if this skill came through a pretty tough challenge as a kid.
Win #2: Becoming a Doctor
I didn’t receive the best advice when applying to medical school. I should have applied to a lot more schools than I did – the total number being six. That said, I followed the advice I was given.
Because of that, early on I did not receive a lot of acceptances to medical school. There were a couple of rejections and a couple of wait lists, though.
In the meantime, I had proposed to my fiance (now wife) a few months prior to graduation. We couldn’t set a date for the wedding because I had no idea where I was going to be the following year. I’d called the programs where I was wait-listed a few times and received very little that was encouraging.
One week prior to our college graduation with no alternate plans in place, I finally received a call that went straight to voicemail while I was working out with one of my best friends. It ended up being one of the medical schools – in fact, the one that I wanted to go to the most.
When I called back, they said, “We are still waiting to hear about your response to your recent acceptance that we sent to you via email.” Funny thing, that comment. The email that told me I would be becoming a doctor had gone to my spam folder!
Who determines what is and isn’t spam, anyway?
Needless to say, I accepted it on the spot.
After I hung up the phone, I promptly cried like a teenage girl in a hormonal fit. This had been a long road with lots of uncertainty and lots of doubt and failure. Yet, it ranks easily as one of the best memories of my life.
And, yep, I finished that workout. Best workout I probably ever had!
More of the same from something I mentioned above.
Don’t ever give up on your dreams. Persistence pays off. Keep your head down and your hands on the plow. All you can do is take care of the things that you control, and hope for the best.
Life doesn’t always go our way, but when it does it makes it all the sweeter. Learn to live in the losses and to celebrate the wins.
And, if you need help, recognize that the weak thing to do is to not ask for it. We all need help sometimes. I know that I do.
TPP tells a great story, and I’m thrilled that he was willing to let us in on his life for these words above. With so many moments that happen in life and all of the lessons we learn from them, I’m always interested to see which moments people choose to discuss here. I really enjoyed this one and I’m interested to hear your thoughts in the comments below? Have you been through similar tough times, like TPP – or were there some “wins” of his that you can relate to? Let us know and we’ll keep the discussion going!
Thanks for reading!