Monday, January 24, 2011

Joining the masses

I saw my doctor this morning and got a note to finally return to work. I told her I needed to work full-time, because our expenses are greatly outnumbering our income. My husband's paycheck covers the mortgage, the electrical bill, and maybe a little gas. That leaves groceries, the phone/DSL, diapers, car insurance, life insurance, health and dental insurance, and more gas for the cars. I recently had to explain to my toddler that he could not watch "Caillou" on Netflix because mommy's credit card is maxed out. Yeah. Not good.

So, I'm going back to work. This is good, right? No more eating rice and beans constantly (for a while, anyway). No more seemingly unending state of financial disaster looming over our heads. I know I need to do it, but when I lay down in bed and think about it I have to stifle the tears insisting their way out of my closed eyelids. I keep telling myself, it's really not that bad. I love the night nurses in the ICU. I love working with patients on vents. I love their complex situations and scrolling lists of comorbidities.

Still, I dread the idea of staying up all night and potentially doing this for years until I finish my pre-reqs. I'm tired of bringing people ginger ale and cleaning up their fecal incontinence. I'm tired of placating disgruntled patients, giving bed baths, and spending hours stocking random supplies in room, after room, after room.

I know. It really doesn't sound that bad. I'm sure tons of people aren't happy with their careers. Still, it's driving me apeshit. I hate that I can practically feel my brain start to atrophy when I go to work. I want to do something that isn't just a check mark on a list.

I don't know if I have ever written about my sequence of events after Oberlin, but during my last year there, I applied to masters programs in opera and post-bac pre-med programs. I got into both and ultimately decided to give up the singing to pursue medicine. I was supposed to start my post-bac program in the fall of 2007, but was terrified by the interest on the loans (by the time I finished med school, the interest would have quadrupled the cost of my post-bac program). My parents urged me to stay home and save some money, and this seemed like a reasonable idea to me, so I deferred from the program until the next year, lived at home with my parents, got a job as a caregiver at a nearby nursing home, and stowed away my earnings like a chipmunk.

Meanwhile, I'd been fooling around with this nurse at work. He was nice, real easygoing -- not really my type (loose definition of my type: bookish socially inept Caltech students who could ALWAYS help me with my calculus problem sets), but interesting. He had really amazing taste in music, but it was none of the stuff I normally listened to. Still, he was really not my type. He had a huge tattoo covering his entire back and he liked to wear camouflage pants on his days off. He was devilishly intelligent but had a complete disregard for the educational system and had dropped out of highschool as a teenager. He was really rustic. He lived in a cabin in the woods, he had a huge dog, and he used to have his own sawmill before he became a nurse. He wasn't my type, but he was hot and magnetic.

Historically, I had always put my education before guys. I highly valued my independence. I had convinced myself that I was my own star leading my way; that I was content with myself and my academic pursuits; that I didn't need a boyfriend or a husband to find happiness, and that I would never be blinded by love (or lust) and let a guy screw up my plans -- I had worked too hard for that.

So, what did I do? You guessed it. I became hopelessly enamored with this rustic man-nurse and let him screw up my plans. Idiot. Idiot. Idiot. Still, I don't really regret that part (most days, anyway). Then I got knocked up. When I found out, the idea was so ridiculous that I laughed. Me? Kids? What? I didn't like children; I didn't think they were cute; I'd never even babysat a kid.

I had always thought maybe I would have kids, but not until I was around forty or fifty...or sixty. Maybe I'd adopt. Pregnancy and childbirth seemed sort of overrated. I always thought that if for any reason I needed an abortion, that it would not be a difficult decision to make. Things were becoming complex, though. I had been working at this nursing home eighty hours a week wiping butts and playing scrabble, I was emotionally exhausted and confused about my interest in healthcare, and had all these weird pregnancy hormones surging through my body. I was depressed and was worried that if I aborted this little dude we had been calling "Cletus the Fetus," that I would crawl into a hole and never come out. My rustic-man nurse was about fifteen years older than me and ready to have a family. I knew he'd be an awesome dad. He was totally willing to play stay-at-home dad while I went to school. In some ways, it was like I had found the perfect guy. And so, even though kids have sticky fingers and dirty diapers and boogers and destroy everything, the idea of one seemed kind of happy. This is how I became a mother.

When I told my parents, the shame was pretty much equivalent to getting pregnant at age 12 by some five foot tall eighth-grader with a gameboy. My dad banished me from the family for three years.

I got over it and started taking my post-bac classes one at a time while working full-time as an EKG tech. The day that MiniMan was born, I went to work and I went to a class afterwards and took an exam. I was having contractions but just wanted to get the exam over with. I had studied well and I didn't want to have to study for it again (especially with a newborn). By the time I got home it was pretty much time to turn around and go back to the hospital. MiniMan was born about an hour and a half later. All the nurses said "if it were that easy for me, I'd have another one." All I knew was that it felt like squeezing a TV out of my nostril.

Things were okay at the hospital, but then I came home. I realized this crying, pooping, never sleeping torture device had taken over my life. I knew it would be bad, but it was worse. "What was I thinking," I asked a few days after he was born, bawling hysterically to my midwife. "I've given up my entire life." Somehow she was able to console me, and things did gradually get easier. Still, the snaillike pace of my coursework was driving me up the wall.

About a year later, I started applying to programs again. I applied to post-bac programs and for second bachelor's degrees. I looked into taking courses "a la carte" and just taking what I needed. I seemed to have researched every school within a 2-hour radius and how much it would cost. I got into a wad of programs. I could have done a post-bac program again and I could have gotten another degree with a full scholarship. I opted to take my courses at the big state school as a non-matriculated student. It seemed like the most practical use of my time (I wouldn't have to take two years worth of extra courses to fulfill a degree requirement), and it was still one of the less expensive options.

Anyway, you get the point. Then I went to school and went to work, and went back to school, and never slept and eventually flipped out. I guess my point is, I feel like I've been putting off the remainder of my post-bac courses forever. I'm becoming so impatient with and practically intolerant of my menial job (which pays less than half what I made singing with opera companies). I chose to be in this situation, but I never anticipated that this period would last so long.

I think I just need to suck it up, but really, I need to have some kind of end in sight. I have a really hard time dealing with the idea of being a hospital aide for the next five years. I'm not planning to take classes again until next fall. If I work and take one class at a time, though, it would take four years for me to finish these. It really horrifies me. I don't know what to do.


  1. I think you have a lot to think about.

    First, I think you were totally insane to try to do 2 hard science classes at a time while working full time. I couldn't have done that, and it's not like I also had a son to care for.

    Second, you might be able to cut some corners by taking a class or 2 (or 3?) over the summers. Have you thought about that? That could shave some time off.

    Also, you don't have to be completely done with your pre-reqs before you apply to med school. And don't let the MCAT freak you out. Most of the science on it is basic and completely learnable on your own.

    But I think most importantly, you need to get your head sorted out. If that's not working for you, there's no way any of this other stuff will. Take the classes you can, but don't go overboard with it.

    I felt a lot like you when I really decided to do the med school thing. It took me 3.5 years from when I started to when I finally went to med school, and at the time it felt like an eternity.

    That was way back in 2003. If I'd done MD only, I'd be 1/2 through intern year already.

    I guess my point is that sometimes these things take time if you're going to do it right. Deep breaths. If it's meant to be you will get there. And also, the time really does fly.

  2. I totally hear you on doing the job that you don't want to do. I'm with you on that one! I am also trying to hang in there and just keep telling myself that once my MCAT is done and over with that it will all be downhill from that. And like you, sometimes I have problems looking past tomorrow. We'll get there. I believe in it.

  3. OMDG -- I have thought about doing the summers. The only issue that I really have with it is that either I have to drive all the way to same-state-school that's 1.5 hours away, and that it would definitely be a five day a week kind of deal. I'm really soured on that entire institution, right now. The only other nearby options are community colleges, which I really would rather avoid. I don't know. Maybe it wouldn't matter if it was only a couple classes. I have analyzed this for such a long time I'm finally getting kind of apathetic about it!

    As for the head stuff, I just don't know. I just stopped seeing my therapist a few weeks ago because she really didn't think that she was helping me. I asked my primary doctor if I should go therapist hunting, and she said that she thought it was unlikely that I would find someone useful. HAHA. We have a pretty good relationship, and I sort of see her on a therapy-ish kind of basis..but I don't know. I don't know if I need to figure out what is going on with me, or if the reason I'm unhappy is just from putting this stuff off. I'm so confused. And it's such a pain in the butt to find a therapist. I had to call nine people before I could even get an appointment with one person. Ugh.

  4. Summers really are a b*tch. I used up 10 days of vacation/personal time when I took 6 weeks of physics over one summer. We had class 4 days a week, and class + lab 2 days per week, for a total of 18 hours spent doing Physics every week. It sounds like my job was a lot more flexible than yours is though, and I was able to kind of disappear. Would finding a different job be an option for you? It sounds like your dislike of your current job is part of the problem. Can you afford to do part time work? How about part time singing?

  5. Not living in a metro area makes the prospect of singing professionally pretty much obsolete. The other thing that sucks about singing is that it's pretty much always on a contractual basis i.e.: we'll hire you for our upcoming five month season (or whatever). I'm sure there are some church/wedding gigs, but usually those aren't great sources of income. Teaching is a possibility and something that I've done in the past, but right now it's not very appealing. I'd either have to teach from my house and get everyone else out of it (including my anatolian shepherd who howls when I practice), or pay to rent some kind of studio space.

    I don't know if finding a different job would help. I've kept my eyes open for listings, but I live near an ivy-league college town and everyone is overqualified for everything; you'll find bus drivers with PhDs. I've looked at local listings and almost everything is as low-paying as my current job (with benefits that are worse). I've thought about moving and applying for state jobs -- it's crazy, I make about 23k a year as an aide where I work now and could easily double that according to the listings at some of the forensic psych facilities. Then again, probably I'm no longer too appealing to the mental health profession.

    I would LOVE to go per diem in the ICU. Then I could just fill in holes in the schedule and sign up to work whenever I wanted. I would also lose my benefits, though. I am constantly arguing with my husband about him carrying our benefits, but his job is scary. One of his coworkers who had the nursing home's health insurance recently had an MI. After she was hospitalized and underwent PCI, she was told that when they put her insurance information through that she no longer had it. Apparently the nursing home hadn't been submitting her deductions to the insurance company. I think ultimately she got it sorted out with the help of the union, but it seems really messed up.

    If my husband works and I stop working entirely, we're poor enough to qualify for the state health insurance if he is sure not to make over 28k a year. I don't know. The whole thing is INSANE. I just want some cash to fall out of a tree.

    The only thing that might be a possibility is getting my doctor to sign on for me needing to work part time (for health reasons) while I go to school. If it were a disability, I don't think they could take away my health insurance. I actually think she might be willing to sign on for something like that... but there are time limits about how long you can do that it seems generally sort of deceptive.