Post op day 8. Dad’s hip replacement recovery is going fairly well, but he doesn’t understand why he isn’t 100% already. If you know Dad, this is no surprise. I am here with my parents mostly to provide comic relief and a respite from the boredom of convalescence, to prevent Dad from torturing Mom, to reassure Mom that Dad wasn’t going to fall or die, and to make the 11th hour Wawa run in the snow.

A few weeks ago, as we were enjoying a kid-free lunch after Church, Bernie voiced the inevitable: you should be there after your Dad’s surgery. Most moms—even those with young, independent teens—assume we’re absolutely essential. Bernie assured me I wasn’t. In, like, the best, I’ve-got-this way. So we booked a one-way, not knowing how Dad would fare surgery, and I told the boys I was going home for a few days, maybe a week.

Brodie was confused.

“Wait. You said you’re going ‘home’ instead of ‘to Philly.’”

And I had. Home is where your parents live, I told him. I guess that never changes. I’m home: here in the Over-55-on-a-Golf-Course condo complex where I didn’t grow up and where the only vestige of my youth is this trio of high school graduation pictures.


Paige and I rocked the ’80s scrunch and mousse ‘do.

Home is where I spend the first hours of the day working the crossword with Dad and making him an egg sandwich while Action News announces anticipated weather that mom will fret over for the entire day, even if we have no plans to go outside. Home is also where Wawa is on the corner, the accent is hilariously homey, and I can order a hoagie.

After marriage and kids, it’s rare to spend this much quality downtime alone with your own mom and dad… rarer still when everyone is pretty much healthy. This is lucky, stolen time. On Sunday night, two Proseccos into a Feast Day cocktail hour, Dad and I predicted with stunning accuracy the scores of flipping snowboarders, marveling at the “big” mistakes that cost Olympians a hundredth of a second and a medal. We’ve also logged 6 hours of golf tournament napping, entire mornings of talk show programming, 60 Minutes, and naturally, a lot of Fox News. We haven’t missed an episode of Jeopardy and dammit if that Vanna White isn’t still stunning.

This is 75. I’m writing the screenplay.

Surgery is no fun and being on the other side of it for the second time (albeit, a bit removed since it wasn’t me getting the new hip), I’m ever more aware of how ill prepared patients are for what comes next. Dad only heard that the pain of recovery would never match the agony of an arthritic joint. Well, not so fast, amnesic advice-givers. This was, and continues to be, plenty painful. Dad needed every single pain pill… and they only gave him a handful of days to wean himself, never once preparing him that weaning would be necessary, or that we might feel like dope peddling criminals to want more in the house, just in case. I snort-laughed at the 20 year old secretary who handed me a ‘script for a measly, additional day-and-a-half of pain relief for my dad who was dutifully doing his laps around the condo, icing and elevating, and choking down an entire fruit basket to ward off the inevitably awful effects of Percocet. I stopped short of demanding more. I’m here as The Daughter, not The Doctor.

Because he’s not 100% yet, Dad doesn’t feel like he’s turned a corner. But yesterday, his pedometer counted a good amount of steps taken with little more than Tylenol on board. So I’m going back to my boys in the morning—back to the house where I’m the one who birddogs the laundry and dishwasher, plans the meals, and knows the status of the pantry’s snack reserves. My boys spent the past week in an extended culinary celebration of Chinese New Year, eating an insane amount of noodles and dim sum and fish jerky, and getting taller without me. Their stories will hint at how independent they have become, but their hugs will betray them. As we’ve all witnessed in the past week, teenagers are awesome, and I miss mine.

But until I know my own Dad is feeling like his return to 100% is somewhere on the horizon, my heart will still be… home.








It Was an Honor and a Privilege to Write This

In the next two weeks, we’re going to six graduation ceremonies and parties. During a dozen years on Bernie’s arm attending black tie dinners honoring future surgeons, I have listened to 192 speeches. I counted. The amount of time these residents donate to difficult training– and what they sacrifice to do it–allows them the honor and privilege of saying whatever the hell they want up at the podium. But that doesn’t mean I might not poke fun of them. Just a little. Congratulations, graduates.

Graduation season is upon us, friends. And it’s all an honor and a privilege! It would have been impossible without your support on the road less traveled. It’s also a lot like swimming with sharks, but Mark Twain probably said something about it best. As a kid I dissected woodland creatures and took apart the toaster! Everyone or no one in my family is a doctor, but most of us have inspiring, dead relatives. I’m from far away (NOT a Red Sox fan, hahahahaha!) or from right here (Whoo hoo! Go, Sawx!) and when I started training something embarrassing or horrible happened. And then incredible and wonderful things happened. And it was all an honor and a privilege to have worked with you, the best people I have ever known, though the sum total of our future friendships will be Facebook “likes.”

The rotation where I was finally treated with a modicum of respect, performed with reasonable proficiency, or the one with the least amount of call inspired me get a job doing that. Or, I’m really excited about my cardiothoracic surgery fellowship and the next paragraph is testimony to the man-crushable cowboy heroes of the operating room. I bet none of us will miss these horrible winters, huh? Hahahahahahaha!

Props to my current/future husband/wife/partner. We made it, honey, but we’re still broke. After a near decade of training there’s only, like, a few more years on the futon. I might get a little teary thanking you–maybe I’ll grab the baby for this part– as inspiration to the junior residents, and to prove I’m not always a condescending, work-dumping asshole. Look guys, they can’t stop the clock!

Michael Ellis DeBakey–or maybe Twain again– said something apt to this moment. I’ll never forget my training here at the World’s Best Hospital with the most Talented Surgeons in the Universe, unless my fellowship institution is a trade up and then you’ll only see me in their caps and sweatshirts. But I can’t wait to reconnect with you again as collaborators on research projects in this exciting field. Until I go into private practice… then please “like” my Facebook page.

As the person who wrote all of my recommendations always says, “blah blah hard work blah blah fun!” Thanks to grandma-on-oxygen or cousin-from-Hawaii for making the trip… and for this awesome chicken-or-fish dinner. It’s all been an honor and a privilege!

Is anyone validating the parking?

It’s your moment… tell us a great story.

Big Shot Jerk Face (or, how I met my husband)

It’s the first day of my surgery rotation, third year of medical school. I have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing, so I focus on the easy stuff: looking pretty and being on time. Boosting my first impression seems important since I cannot remember where the electrolytes belong on those stick figure scaffolds or any of the branches off of the mesenteric artery. Only a few weeks prior, I became Dr. Stockton, defending my PhD dissertation in front of my parents, an entire Immunology department, devoted friends who will endure 79 slides about a cell surface molecule, and a (recently ex-) boyfriend. I was A Smart Girl, searchable on PubMed, and could talk to the field experts without hair flipping or reproach. But there were two years of clinical rotations to complete before gradation; and after a four-year hiatus of mouse murdering and futile, ring-less dating, I was rusty.

I set the alarm for 4:30am, blew out my hair, and channeled my best Bond Girl Goes to Medical School. One could reasonably assume that this getup was enduring an extended tour from an evening of bad decisions, but that didn’t occur to mid-twenties me. I looked good. Also, I needed the confidence of little dress/tall boots to endure impossible questions–a sort of medical hazing known as “pimping”– from a group of doctors who had only ever been described to me as assholes. Surgeons have a reputation (especially among the nerdy, PhD set) for being jerks: over-confident-frat-boy-cowboy-old-school-chauvinistic jerks. I had been warned, and I’ll admit to the disappointed sighs of my feminist sisters that I dressed to appeal to that demographic. It was still dark when I located the right floor and found a sleepy intern to tell me what to do. An hour later, I had collected the overnight vital signs of every patient on the service.

The Chief Resident arrived at 6am with a few other blue-pajammied underlings in tow. They were a sniggering bunch of inside joke-swappers; their swagger intimidated and annoyed me. Blech. I’d never catch up with these gunner medical students who could spew correct answers like the names of their own children. I had forgotten everything I’d learned five years ago in Gross Anatomy, and I had no desire to memorize minutia to impress physicians in a specialty I certainly never intended to join. Clutching my notecards with their teeny documentation of temperatures and urine outputs, I braced myself for the upcoming twelve weeks of sleep-deprived grunt work and public mockery.

The third year resident appeared to be in charge of rounds, and led the gaggle of us into each dark room to awaken the post-surgical patients, barking orders at the intern for dressing changes, scans, labs, or discharge plans. Occasionally he’d regard the medical students with distracted disdain, and assign us mundane tasks with subtle assurances that somehow we’d fuck it up. The Chief filed in behind us in his unstained white coat, paying more attention to his coffee than the plans for the day. He spoke quietly and infrequently, but his offhand remarks elicited smirks from the residents within earshot. I didn’t actually hear him speak until it was my turn to present a patient.

He didn’t interrupt me right away. I thought I was doing a bang up job, yammering away about temperature spikes and heart rates and drain outputs just like the students before me had done outside their patients’ doors. But he stopped me mid-sentence…

“Stand up straight when you’re presenting a patient to me.”

I was leaning against the wall. I was also desperately trying to finish my little speech about the overnight events of a patient I had never met so I could disappear again from their notice and questions. But Big Shot Jerk Face made me re-start my presentation from the beginning to the smug delight and grateful relief of my fellow classmates. Stupid, stupid, stupid girl, I thought. I had committed a grave error in sartorial judgment. Pants-with-clogs ponytail girl got through her morning report with absolutely no hassle at all.

Later that day, Big Shot Jerk Face sat down across from me in the cafeteria. The other medical students had already raced off to compete for space at the carotid artery aneurysm repair, but Big Shot Jerk Face implied that there was no rush and started being nice to me, explaining his reaction to my wall-leaning insolence was a common prank on Day 1 of a rotation. I was relieved that such a blatant example of asshole-ry was only a joke, less happy to be the butt of it. Big Shot insisted I follow him into the next case, and then his next one, where I began to notice that the attending surgeon was letting Big Shot do all of the sewing, and the nurses were happy to see him (if not blatantly flirting with him). Suddenly, surgery seemed interesting.

How many of you fell in love during medical school?

How many of you fell in love during medical school?