Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Keeping the love alive

Happy Valentine’s Day! (Sorry it’s a day late.) Being partnered, married, living with a significant other, or committing to a long-distance relationship during medical school isn’t easy. In fact, I, as well as several other members of my class, might argue that it was (and occasionally remains) the most difficult part of adjusting to medical school. The challenge comes with balancing a program that is supposed to consume your life with a relationship that matters to you. Obviously, relationships can be difficult no matter who you are dating, and when, but medical school brings in some specific challenges. I currently live with my partner and know that I tried to avoid addressing the issues our relationship would face in medical school as long as possible. I thought I’d share a bit of our story.

The first hurdle occurred even before med school started, deciding when, and how, and where, and if we would move. We were both in school, and the medical school admissions process wasn’t exactly a short easy one. We talked a great deal about whether she should look for a job somewhere, and we would live apart until she could get a job near where I went to school, or whether she would wait and get a job where I got in. We ended up deciding on the later, though I think we’ve both questioned the wisdom of this decision. The fact that the admissions process is so drawn out made it difficult for Alicia to look for a job, and as it stands she doesn’t love the one she’s got. We’re together, but she’s in a constant state of looking for something better to come along.

Once medical school actually began, there were a whole host of issues to address. Alicia’s job didn’t begin to take up the amount of time that lecture, lab, and studying demanded of me. I’d anticipated that I’d never see her. Instead, it was worse: I was always home because I like to study where I can eat and listen to music, I just couldn’t hang out with her when I was there. It was like the proverbial kid in the candy store, wanting something that she could see, but knew she couldn’t have right then. There were some bad days, arguments about my inability to say no to extracurricular activities, and unconscious demand that she work around my schedule. In my defense, we were both adjusting, but I wasn’t doing a great job.

The administration does its best to make it easier: flex time, the much touted, sometimes loathed, but nonetheless there privilege of taking quizzes and exams at any time over the weekend allows me to free up time to spend with Alicia. It doesn’t, fortunately or unfortunately, help me figure out in which of the 1,000,000 activities I should get involved.

Thankfully, after approximately 6 months of medical school, I feel like we’ve reached a comfortable place. I try to focus on my schoolwork so that I can be as productive as possible and have time not only on the weekends but during the week for Alicia. She understands that every Thursday I’ll freak out about my quiz/exam and that it is usually baseless and will get everything done. She’s also submitted herself to occasional cardiovascular, respiratory, and abdominal exams, and enjoys making up ridiculous histories for me to practice taking. I’ve committed to the student organizations I care the most about, and accomplish as much as possible while she is at work. We’ve also taken up racquetball, a new hobby for both of us, so that we can exercise together. Appropriately, yesterday as I was writing inside her card I realized that things actually have worked out, and that I don’t think I could get through it all without her.

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