Reflection on Thursday: Uploads, Downloads and Hard Drive Reboots
________________________________________________________ Do you ever have periods in your life where you feel like every drop of energy and productivity is being zapped out of you? Like. . . everyone and everything has their USB drives connected to you as their power source, but focused on their needs. . . . . . needs to download from your hard drive, but with very few uploads in return? I mean, I don't think it's on purpose. Sometimes it's the nature of where we are in our lives. People just need you. And while it feels good to be needed, it can be draining at times.
So that's where I'd been fairly recently. Drained. Finding myself stretched in so many directions sometimes that I can feel the seams popping . . . . .resident requirements, student needs, family life. . . . but wait--that's nothing new for me. What, then, makes it now feel so different?
The Difference . . . .
At the end of a particularly long day, I was sitting in the sunroom lounging on the couch. Slightly unusual that I was able to do this considering my kids were not only home, but very much awake. Lately the boys have evolved into being more tandem playmates than parallel playmates. This new arrangement keeps them occupied far longer, and affords me those periodic Calgon moments that used to be no more than fantasy. So there I lay on the couch. . . .mentally recapping my day. . .the highs and the lows. . . .I allowed my eyes to close. Ahhhhh.
"Mommy. Mommy!" I opened one eye and looked at Isaiah, standing in front of me with a Batman costume on. He leaned forward, close enough for me to smell his kid-breath, and repeated, "Mommy!"
"Yes, son. I hear you," I replied while closing my eyes again.
"Mommy, what does 'improved' mean?" he asked.
I rolled over, faced him, and met his eyes. I can always tell when Isaiah really needs my undivided attention. This was one of those moments. "It means you got better at something. Like remember when Mommy used to push you and Zachy in the double stroller, and I would get tired if I tried to run? And then I kept trying until I could run without getting so tired?" He nodded. "That means I improved. I tried and then got better."
Isaiah stood quietly for a moment, looking pensive. "It means at first you weren't doing a good job and then you did better?"
"Ummmm, not exactly," I responded, "It just means your hard work paid off."
"Oh," he answered while still looking concerned. I knew exactly why. Earlier that day, he'd participated in his "graduation" from Pre-K, and upon receiving his "diploma" he also received another special distinction-- "Most Improved."
His teachers somehow decided that all of the kids fell into two categories: "top achiever" or "most improved." Apparently, Isaiah didn't make their cut with the former, and --okay, I'll admit it-- I was slightly miffed. But after a while, I decided that I know my child and where he is cognitively. I decided to let it go. But Isaiah didn't.
"Why didn't everyone get most improved? Didn't everybody learn stuff and then do better?"
"You know what, sweetie? Everyone did learn and do things better. But maybe you did the most better." Most better? Really? I knew how crazy I sounded, and even more, I know my child. He would not buy this reply--no way, no how.
"I don't know if I want to be 'most improved.' Does it mean I had more trouble than them at first?" I sighed hard. Mostly because I didn't know the right answer to these questions, but also because I thought that the award and the very idea of giving such awards to 4 year old kids was complete bullshit. I wanted to look my son squarely in his eye and tell him just that, ending this conversation once and for all. But I couldn't.
Instead, I gently told him about awards and comparisons and how tricky that can be. How even Mommies feel funny sometimes when it comes to things like this, and especially so when it comes to their own children. Then I told him that he was special and wonderful and smart and amazing. He hugged me tight, and, literally, said, "Thank you, Mommy, for telling me that because I think I know a lot of stuff and when you say that it makes me feel proud of myself." Sigh. . .
So now I know what's so different. My children are growing older, and now they need more than just basic care. This, compounded with my professional life, gets pretty heavy at times. The downloads are no longer just diaper changes, cold milk, bubble baths or night time prayers. They now include questions like "what is improved?" or "are you proud of me?" or "why would God ever take a child to live in heaven?" The difference is that these types of downloads require more memory. . .and if I'm not careful to stop for a moment and breathe. . . .my hard drive gets drained and feels like it might crash.
Rebooting. . . .
Lately I've been trying to focus on the uploads and not just the downloads. I'm trying to be present enough to appreciate why those jumpdrives are attached to me in the first place. I've also been trying to slow myself down enough to receive what uploads I may have missed out on before.
A special upload. . . .
On last Saturday, Doug, one of my student advisees, got married here in Atlanta. I have known and advised him since his very first day of medical school, and through our unique curriculum at Emory, have had weekly contact with him since 2007 in a small group with 6 other students. He invited me to his wedding, and (being my perpetually five minutes late self) I managed to slip inside of the church moments before it would begin. Unfortunately, this meant that I was seated away from the rest of our small group, but nonetheless, I was thrilled to have made it just in the nick of time.
First came the organ music, followed by a soloist that sounded like a professional opera singer. This is nice, I thought. But then something happened. Doug entered with his groomsmen and the pastor. The minute I saw him walk in to await his bride at the altar, I felt overcome with emotion. I saw the first day of medical school, I saw the first day of clinical medicine, I saw the countless teaching sessions and mentoring sessions. . . .and somewhere in there, I saw my own sons. I willed myself to keep it together, 1) because I wasn't wearing waterproof mascara, 2) because it would surely lead to the ugly cry, and 3) because I was the absolute only black person there. (I figured that a hysterically crying black woman with raccoon eyes would not be such a good thing at this particular moment. . . .but I digress. . .) And so, this time I did the "pretty cry"-- complete with rapid mascara blotting, upward gazes, and eye fanning.
When the ceremony was over, I joined my student group in the vestibule. Doug walked up, and we congratulated him. It was such a moment, all of us there together supporting him on his big day. I could feel the upload--but just when I thought this was as good as it could get, he looked at me and said with genuine relief in his eyes, "I thought you weren't here. I looked and didn't see you with them, and I said to Anne, 'Dr. Manning. She didn't come. She's not here.'"
Anne touched his arm gently and added, "I told him you were here. I told him Dr. Manning would never miss this." Then she looked at him all new-bride-glowy. "See? I told you, Doug."
I couldn't believe what I'd just heard. That, with as much as he had going on, that he would not only think that, but actually take the time to say it to his new wife during his wedding. I chuckled to break up how intensely moved I was feeling. I looked at Doug and said, "Of course, I'm here, Doug. Of course, I made it."
He smiled and gave me a tight and genuine hug. "I'm so glad you made it, Dr. Manning. I mean that. I'm so happy you are here." And before I could even process the emotion I was feeling, he was whisked away to join his wife and family for wedding photography.
I walked out of the church and sat in my car for a few moments. I thought about how I had been feeling. . .how drained. . .how zapped. . .and then I thought about that moment in the foyer with Doug. It was the most perfect and simple reminder I could have ever been given about why I'm doing all of this. This is why you do this. This is what happens when you let people plug into you. And then I allowed myself to experience it, really experience it. . and then. . .allowed myself to cry. A tired, happy, and fulfilled cry.
Of course I made it.
I'm learning that the very best downloads I can offer don't involve diagnoses, or science, or complicated concepts. They involve relationships. . . . .and most times, just being there. Sometimes it's as simple as rolling over on the couch to face my son . . .and other times, it's just inconspicuously sitting on a lonely pew in a church full of strangers. . .quietly patting the corners of your eyes and wondering why you can't stop crying.
Honestly? I write this blog to share the human aspects of medicine + teaching + work/life balance with others and myself -- and to honor the public hospital and her patients--but never at the expense of patient privacy or dignity.
Thanks for stopping by! :)
"One writes out of one thing only--one's own experience. Everything depends of how relentlessly one forces from this experience the last drop, sweet or bitter, it can possibly give."
~ James Baldwin (1924 - 1987)
"Do it for the story." ~ Antoinette Nguyen, MD, MPH
Details, names, time frames, etc. are always changed to protect anonymity. This may or may not be an amalgamation of true,quasi-true, or completely fictional events. But the lessons? They are always real and never, ever fictional. Got that?