We often joke that there are two seasons here in Minnesota: Winter … and … Construction. It would be funny if it weren’t for the fact that we spend roughly six months out of the year confined to our homes and the other six months in reckless pursuit of as much time on our lakes, in our gardens, and walking through our neighborhoods as possible. For almost half of our year, we suffer through the isolation and brave the cold with one thought in our minds … summer. Of course, when summer comes, we are so busy reconstructing our lives and rebuilding our roads that by the time we finally slow down to catch our breath, winter is already upon us yet again.
It seems like the only people that really get things right here are the diehard fisherman who cast their lines from the shore when the weather is warm and then drive their SUV’s out onto the frozen lakes in the dead of winter. Sure, we laugh at them while they set up their tents on the middle of the ice to drill holes and bait their hooks, but ultimately, these old school Minnesotans can teach us all a thing about striking a balance in our lives.
Residency has two seasons: Winter and Construction
There are really bad months, where it seems like your spouse is living at the hospital. Medical students and residents work long, unforgiving hours. Pagers interrupt family time, date nights, and much needed sleep. When things are at their worst, it feels like one day bleeds into the next. The effect of this cycle of sleep deprivation and chronic stress can feel like a crushing blow to your relationship and family life.
When you feel like you have been stretched to your breaking point, a new rotation begins. Your spouse might enter a more forgiving clinical month where they are home by dinner time. They may begin a laboratory rotation where their schedule is predictable and the pager collects dust on top of the bookshelf. There is time to reconnect and appreciate the life that you are building before the next month, when the demands change again.
In reality, highs and lows are a part of the natural ebb and flow of marriage, family and life in general. The medical training years present unique challenges that test even the strongest relationships. Medical school and residency training require a commitment of time and emotional resources that can leave little room for family. Physicians in training are required to take call. This means that they have to work over night at the hospital on a regular basis admitting and treating patients. There are exams to study for, procedures to learn, and research that has to be completed. Even with the 80 hour work week rules firmly in place, many students and residents find that they are exhausted by the relentless cycle of stress.
Coping with the extreme highs and lows inherent to residency training presents the ultimate challenge. How do we create balanced, happy lives when we are catapulting from Q4 (every fourth night) call to Q3 (every third night) call? How can we keep our relationships healthy, and our children well-adjusted when we are riding a roller coaster that seems to have no end?
The goal, ultimately, is to be like the old fisherman … In the midst of the chaos of medical training, we must find equilibrium, so that instead of living through a process of tearing down and rebuilding, we are able to find a sense of balance in our day-to-day lives. This requires a certain level of acceptance and planning, but ultimately it is possible to take control of our lives and find peace with training.