Disclaimer: this is a deeply personal post — much more than the previous one. Views are my own.
“Getting a corgi so you can attract all the ladies, right?”
“Like I have time for that.”
“This sacrificing for medicine thing is no joke. Just turned down a hot date to study on a Saturday night.”
These are real quotes I heard in the past 24 hours from fellow medical students.
I didn’t get closure.
We FaceTimed every day — catching each other up on our days. We had just seen each other the week before. Although we shared a difficult conversation before parting, a joke was mentioned at the end. A week later, they surprise you with the news that they found the love of their life. They want no contact because it’s not fair. Just like that, knowing someone since 5th grade means absolutely nothing. I am innately sentimental, sensitive, and loyal. This shattered the depths of my core. Without going into all the details, our companionship did have a romantic plot for some time, but due to many external circumstances, slowly fizzled along with growing apart in different cities. I knew we were at different stages in life and wanted different things out of life, but I couldn’t stop my loyalty. I felt devastation and sadness, but I couldn’t stay that way for long. I found myself praying for the other person to find peace in their life. Reading some of Thich Nhat Hanh’s works, I realized holding onto anger is just hurting yourself. Maybe, I’m the only weird person who wants to remain on good terms with someone that hurt you, but life is too short. There should not be a limit as to how many people you can be kind to. For relationships that grow apart, why can’t two people discuss a civil dissolution and go their merry ways while still remaining acquaintances in the most general sense? I’m aware of the old adage of people entering and leaving your life for different reasons, but I was naive to believe this person would be my lifelong friend. If you look at my life, my dearest friends are those that I’ve known the longest. These are some life lessons I’ve learned recently:
- People don’t have to be in every season of your life.
- You’ll never change other people’s thoughts, attitudes, or way of life. Accept what is and move on if it’s no longer giving you good energy and you’re no longer enhancing each other’s potential.
- Even if you have the best intention, other people are not guaranteed to think like you do. I constantly think about how life is so short on this planet compared to eternity. This motivates me to relish in all my relationships and connections to people and overall live with kindness for all people. I really do believe in the phrase “forgive, but never forget.”
- Nothing is ever lost in life: memories were made, experiences were shared, lessons were learned. Take them with you and don’t make the same mistakes.
- Always hold your family closer than friends (exceptions do exist for those who unfortunately have unreasonable family members or are estranged from them). It takes a lot to be estranged from family members as you share a blood line, but with friends and significant others, anything can break that bond within seconds no matter how long you’ve known them. Through my heartbreak, I’ve opened up to a lot of people and heard their stories. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard similar sentences, “married for 24 years, raised 4 wonderful children together, and divorced.” In my neighborhood, I am a part of a row of 3 houses that have single middle-aged women living independently after a divorce. The lifelong probability of a marriage ending in divorce in the U.S. is 40-50%. That’s about half of us! Here are interesting stats of some variables associated with divorce:
- importance of religion to the couple
- timing of the first birth of any children (before marriage, within 7 months, after 7 months, or never)
- if one spouse has generalized anxiety disorder
This is not meant to be pessimistic, but realistic in the fact that anyone can have a change of heart at any time.
- Serendipitously, I became quick friends with an elderly gentleman at the gym I regularly workout at. He describes our friendship as if “we’ve known each other for years” when in reality, it’s only been a few months. Even with a 40+ year age difference, we’re able to talk about anything and everything. We know all about each other’s love lives. Something he shared stuck with me: “I wish I would have gotten divorced 5 years before we actually did.” Early on, they both knew trouble was brewing, but he really wanted to stay together for the kids, at least until they all graduated from high school. He shared that kids know when there’s something wrong. Sometimes, it’s not about holding on and being loyal, it’s about letting go. This reminds me that selecting the right person is so important, no matter how long it takes. Don’t rush and don’t settle.
I hope by writing and sharing, I can gain some closure. I often think about how my experiences can help my future patients. As doctors, we need to remember we are humans and remind patients we are too. An activity I recently did to cope with loss is: writing down all the reasons why this was meant to happen and then on the back of the page, specific qualities of life you wish for in the future. Keep it somewhere you can access when you need to. Spirituality has also helped me cope tremendously. My family had roots in Buddhism, but I didn’t grow up with a religion. I’m not sure where this will take me in the future, but I have found comfort in developing a relationship with God, praying, knowing that He has a plan for our lives, and listening to Christian music. Another relationship I gained is a closer one with my family, particularly my mom. We’ve had our ups and downs, and still do, but this is the most honest relationship we’ve had in our entire lives. Due to external consequences, that individual and I did not open up to our families about the relationship. As teenagers and young adults, we blindly believed love is all we need. This was not healthy — toxic even. After I opened up to my mom about everything, I vowed to live honestly and authentically, especially with family. If someone doesn’t appreciate honesty and authenticity or if I find myself violating my values, I know I don’t have to force a relationship with that person or continue doing that activity. I can’t wait to finally live freely and without fear. In the Asian culture, respecting and caring for our elders into their old age is valued. It can be hard growing up in the US where this is not valued. It’s an ongoing internal conflict for me. The current cultural notion is: we’re young, we should be building our own lives, move far away, have 5-minute surface conversations on the phone with parents (they don’t need to know the important thoughts and activities of your life), visit them only during major holidays because being away from your friends is so boring. Years pass and the next time you really become close with your parents again are when they’re nearing death in a hospital room. Yes, we should all be independent adults chasing our dreams, building a life worth living, taking as many trips as we can, and having fun as 20-something-year-olds. I don’t disagree with that, but life can flash in front of your eyes. Years slip away, your parents get older, health problems arise with age, and when you finally realize you should have cared and spent more time with them before they pass, it might be too late. Imagine stepping into your parent’s shoes. The best situation would be to still have your significant other grow old with you, but what if you were divorced or widowed in old age? Would you want at least one of your children you raised to care about you or be sent to some arbitrary nursing home instead? I’m not advocating to live in your parent’s basement or constantly worry about them and put them first before the important things in your life, but a healthy balance must exist between independently building your vibrant future while also remaining close to your family, especially those that sacrificed so much to raise you to be the successful adult you are now. I am happy to return to my true values and know that one of my purposes in life is to care for my mother. Never change your values for anyone. I can only pray that my future significant other respects me for who I am, values and all.
Sample some of the songs that have helped me get through tough times:
- Stars Go Dim – You are Loved
- Danny Gokey – Tell Your Heart to Beat Again
- Matisyahu – Live Like a Warrior (Richello Remix)
- Chris Tomlin – Impossible Things
- Axwell – On My Way
- Mandisa – Unfinished
- Lauren Daigle – First
- Matthew West – Mended
- Bobby Mcferrin – Don’t Worry Be Happy
There were a whole host of reasons for my situation, but I cannot leave out the fact that medical school played a part. We must say “no” to hanging out on weekends with friends, going to birthday parties, family functions, weddings, vacations. We need to plan around major exams. We only have one summer between 1st and 2nd year. We always have things to study seven days a week, 24 hours a day. Lifelong learning is a cornerstone to being a physician. Sometimes, friends and family don’t understand this. I’m creating an ongoing list here to resolve this sacrificial dilemma and think about it in a more positive light:
- My faculty mentor told me “you can have it all – all of your priorities.” Know what your priorities are. Write them down. Your studies should be #1 or #2 on your list. If you make time to do what’s most important to you (say the top 5 things), you can have it all.
- Treat medical school like an 8-5pm job. Work relentlessly hard Monday-Friday during those hours to get things done. There’s always going to be more, but if you had a good week, don’t feel bad about taking one day during the weekend off to enjoy your #2-5 priorities.
- Share with your friends and family what you do and what interesting facts you’re learning about in the human body.
Did you know heart burn, acid reflux, and GERD are talking about the same thing? This is when stomach acid used to digest our food leaks backwards into our esophagus that connects our mouth to our stomach. The best treatment to try first for this is lifestyle modification, not medication.
- Eat more plant-based protein (beans, broccoli, spinach) to improve the strength of the sphincter/door between the stomach and esophagus.
- Avoid dietary fat, caffeine, chocolate, mints, herbs/spices eaten after meals, alcohol, estrogen and progesterone (birth control pills).
- Lose weight and eat smaller meals, so the stomach doesn’t extend too much.
- Avoid eating before laying down and elevate the head of your bed 4-6 inches (sleeping on pillows won’t work, you need to physically place blocks under the head of your bed to raise it).
Both men and women 50 years and older are recommended to get colon cancer screening. Colon cancer is 70% lifestyle related. Want to know how to prevent colon cancer in old age?
- Eat less processed meats (lunch meats, bacon, sausage, etc.)
- Eat less red meat
- Eat more vegetables and other fiber-rich foods
The link between a meat-heavy and vegetable-sparse diet to colon cancer is as strong as the link between smoking and lung cancer.
3/4 of all adults and 90% of adults from African and Asian descent will experience lactose intolerance. This means that you don’t have the functioning enzyme to break down the lactose in dairy products. The lactose travels further down your gut and gets chewed up by bacteria. The result of bacterial digestion produces carbon metabolites, hydrogen, and carbon dioxide. Therefore, you have bloating, diarrhea, and dehydration after eating dairy products if you’re lactose intolerant.
Take your significant other to medical functions or a night out with your classmates. When you involve your loved ones, they become a part of the journey rather than a carry-on baggage you lug around. However, if sharing your new way of life isn’t working and you feel dragged down and unsupported by this person, it might be time to let go. We’ve had three relationships break up in our medical school class shortly after starting school, but we also have two students starting families while in medical school (albeit the wives are not the students). It can be done, but it requires deep understanding, patience, and strong communication from both people. I recently read a wonderful article about how a wife survived family life while her husband was in residency. It helped me gain a lot of insight into how to work on a relationship and what kind of understanding must exist on this medical journey: http://www.kevinmd.com/blog/2014/11/wish-knew-advice-spouses-doctors-residents.html
Thanks for reading. I pray we all live the life we’ve always wanted.