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Jul 20, 2009


I have a new favorite thing. Lately, after Colin goes to bed and the dishes are done, I’ve been taking the dogs on long walks, learning the neighborhood, meeting people the live around me, and listening to something. I have always loved walking the dogs, but the long work hours and the high maintenance entity known as a baby have made walks a highly sought-after luxury, these moments alone, this time to be outside and listen to whatever I’m in the mood for. It feels a little bit selfish to go out by myself and never offer the option of walking the dogs to Patrick, but I mentally file it under “Self-Care” and set off.

The dogs and I have made all kinds of friends around our new neighborhood. There is an older black couple down the street who sit out on their front porch and watch the evening pass. It wasn’t until the third or fourth walk that they waved back to me. And there are a pair of dogs that live three blocks over, in a house with an invisible fence, who come to the edge of their territory and try their hardest to turn themselves inside out in their excitement to see us. My dogs and I always stop and we have something of a love pile in their front yard, the five of us, everyone touching everyone else. And there is a row of houses a few blocks north of here that are rentals to student at the university in our neighborhood and there are always a few of them sitting out, smoking, talking on their phone, playing corn hole or beer pong. They are always friendly and jovial and never fail to make me laugh.

The last week and a half, the time since I started on Inpatient Pediatrics on the Hematology/Oncology service, has been an amazing experience, but it is wearing me down. While parts of this rotation are great, there is just so much sadness, such devastating sadness, that I come home and can’t help but hold Colin tight until he squirms away. I wonder if it is different for my classmates who don’t have any kids yet; I can’t imagine that it is any easier for them. No one wants to see children in pain or dying. But I can’t help thinking about it when I come home to my own baby. This is so much worse than plain and simple “medstudentitis”. This is flat out paranoia.

But who could blame me? When there is a four year old who only went to the doctor because of a cough and the chest x-ray found cancer in her lungs and further scans found it everywhere else? Or how about the seven-month-old baby who has cancer in his brain so badly that his reflexes have regressed to that of a newborn? Or the two year old who has only seen his house for three months of his life and who will never see it again? How, then, do you not jump at every cough, count every respiration, watch for the slightest sign of disease? And how do you come home to your perfect child and not sob for those parents you left at the hospital?

My walks do more than exercise my dogs and get us all a breath of fresh air. The solitude gives me the space I need to go back the next day, the time to process the sadness and try to see it in perspective. Time to mourn. Energy to learn. This rotation is an incredible experience and it is my honor to participate in the care of these children, to get to know the families and their stories. But surviving this is a matter of being strong enough to care for them, to care about them, without losing myself in the process. I am still learning. I think I will forever still be learning this particular skill.

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