Friday, December 23, 2011

Mentor-fic Part 2: Breaking out and braking in.

Rock wall climbing with Isaiah on a Saturday
With one of my student mentees, Erica U., on another Saturday.

When I was a child, my mother took me to see a pediatrician named Dr. Chris. I am pretty sure his real name was something else, but this is what he had us call him. Anyways, from what I recollect, Dr. Chris was a nice doctor in that Marcus Welby kind of way.  Crisp white coat. Pleasant handshake to mom. Antiseptic smelling room filled with glass bottles of ear curettes, cotton balls, and tongue depressors. Even a few kid magazines like Highlights.

As a kid, it was hard for me to imagine that Dr. Chris did much of anything outside of doctoring. Like, surely he drove straight home in his late model Buick, kissed his June Cleaver-ish wife on the cheek and chucked his son under the chin, right? And, of course, after that he switched into slippers kind of like Mr. Robinson and then sat down quietly in an arm chair to read medical journals and textbooks until dinner was ready.

But now that I'm a grown woman (and a doctor) I know that this was more than likely not the case. Not even close. Heck, for all I know, Dr. C was a straitlaced pediatrician by day and Harley Davidson hog riding bad ass by night. Or maybe he did improv at the local theater or had taken up swing dancing.  Who knows?

My friend and fellow Grady doctor, Stacy H., is a movie connoisseur. She loves indie films and big studio films and can talk about them better than Siskel or Ebert in their hey day.

Jason S., my other Grady doctor pal, marches in a marching band during his free time. And not just any old band. He is a part of The Marching Abominable--which is one part marching band and ten parts fun -- all dressed up in some of the best costumes you've ever seen.

Me? I write this quirky blog. And yes, it includes medical things, but I'm sure someone somewhere who meets me in the hospital or catches me talking about something on a television somewhere is a bit surprised when they happen upon this thing. After all--this is the place where I posted a video of myself double-dutching on my fortieth birthday. 

Aaaaaah. But that brings me to my mentor. My awesomely energetic mentor-extraordinaire Neil W. This guy has brains that put Marcus Welby, Trapper John, and House to shame. He edits Journal Watch Hospital Medicine, gives talks all over the place and has a wall littered with teaching awards from medical students, residents and professional organizations. But. He also plays a mean game of full court basketball, knows the words to more 80's rap tunes than me, and my favorite of all of his non-doctor talents?

Wait for it. . .wait for it. . .

He's an auto-mechanic. Yes, people. A highly skilled auto-mechanic. (Kind of like the car version of the "kitchen beautician.")

So check it. One day, back when I was pregnant with Isaiah, I was driving on interstate 285 and suddenly my car just decelerates. Just like that. It was horrible and terrifying.

And expensive.

Turns out that my timing belt had broken which I have since learned is something that you never, ever want to have happen to you because it will absolutely put you in the poor house. So I go to work and I'm lamenting in the hallway with my big pregnant Buddha belly about my dang near $3000 timing belt destruction.

Neil's antennas raise all the way up and next thing I know,  he is spitting all kinds of random factoids about pistons and jamming and timing belts and parts and jobs and labor and getting ripped off and . .and . . and. . yeah.  It was seriously like a one man episode of "Car Talk" on NPR. This is when I learn of The Great Garage of the Grady Doctor (aka Neil's garage.)

It was too late to get my engine fixed at the G3D, plus the head mechanic of the G3D was on the inpatient service that month so it was a no-go. But ever since then? Most of my mechanical questions regarding my car, I always run by the G3D guy.

That timing belt disaster involved a fairly old Volkswagen Passat.  I haven't had much need for the Great Garage of the Grady Doctor since getting my Volvo back in '04.

But in case you haven't checked your calendar lately, it's almost 2012 so the statute of limitations has run out on me not having car issues. And so. At the end of one of our recent mentor-mentee meetings where we were discussing a lecture we're giving together at the upcoming Society of Hospital Medicine meeting, Neil mentions that he is visiting his brother in California, at which time he will be replacing his brakes.

"It's a Volvo and I got a great deal on parts from eBay," he said happily. Neil gets really excited when he talks about fixing cars. His eyes dance all crazy and spit flies from his mouth because he doesn't even bother to stop to swallow the saliva of his foaming mouth. And though this is not the first time I'd seen or heard such a tale from my mentor, one part of this particular story grabbed my attention.

"A Volvo!? Dude, my brakes have been making sounds on my Volvo!"

"Squeaking?" he asked with raised eyebrows.

"Uhhh. . . . .more like. . .scrubbing. Heh."

"Scrubbing? Like scraping?"

"Errr. . . .srcrubby-scraping."

"Not squeaking, though?"

"I think I passed squeaking a few weeks ago."

And after that, it was back to that "Car Talk" thing again. Hands waving. Words flying over my head and at my face at several miles per hour. Not a single of which made sense to me. All I knew was that at the end of that meeting, in addition to putting together some objectives for our lecture on "Processing Medical Errors", I was also given the assignment of finding out if I needed pads and rotors or just pads.

Fortunately, I'd just gotten two new wheels for my car so that answer was easy. I needed both.

"Figures," Neil said with a shrug. "Scrubbing and scraping are never good news."

"Even if it's intermittent?" I asked sheepishly.

And to that he answered by just shaking his head.

So you know what happened next, right? Of course, you do!  My mentor breaks out into the full happy dance and comes up with a perfect plot for getting my brakes fixed up.  He offered to work on my brakes during my trip to Pittsburgh for my visiting profesora adventure and would even order the parts through his friend's auto shop. (Shout out to Billy at Bones Enterprises in Tucker, Georgia!)

Now seeing as he had just done this job on a Volvo and had been working on many a car of many a Grady doctor before me, I was 100% down with this plan. As was the B.H.E., because I am sure that many of you were wondering just where he stood on such a proposition. Now. Seeing as the B.H.E. and Neil the G3D mechanic are down like four flat tires (wow, I'm so witty) this whole thing was win-win. For sure and fo' sho.

Plus--it wouldn't involve us getting anihilated by some mechanic at a national chain for ridiculously inflated labor and parts costs.

All in time for Christmas, too! Hallelujah!

Alright, so I left my car at Grady with Neil and while I was off having fun with Shanta Z. and my new friends at University of Pittsburgh, my mentor-ific mentor was both coming up with new and exciting things for me career-wise AND fixing the brakes on my Volvo XC90.

Don't believe me? Check this out! (Oh! By the way, if you're viewing this on an iPad or phone, the non-YouTube videos don't display on those devices.)

Got a little help from his buddy -- Thanks, Billy!
And these are the brakes. . . brake it up, brake it up, brake it up!
Those hands also touch patients at Grady, you know.
I have no idea how he figured this out during med school and residency.
Apparently, these are very big brakes. Neil said they were "YOUGE!"

To make the story even BETTER. . . . Neil and his wife Tamara were about to take a trip to Florida to see his mom and needed a rental car from the airport.  So lucky me--they decided to get the rental car at the time that I was due in from Pennsylvania! Not only do I get my brakes fixed, but I get a ride from the airport to boot?


I said to my mentor one of his favorite Long Island-y sayings with as much New York attitude as I could muster:

"Who's betta dan you?!"

And I say that out loud in my car every time I stop without the sound of scrubbing, scraping, scrubby-scraping or squeaking.

Ha ha ha. . . .

So yes. Stacy H. is a makeshift movie critic. Jason S. plays a funky, beat-thumping clarinet in The Marching Abominable. I have mad skills with a double dutch rope and can even free-style rap if given the right beat, enough days of vacation and enough liquid courage. And my mentor, Neil?  Well he can both slam dunk on an eighteen year old hoop star in the Jewish Community Center and also replace the transmission on your hooptie in one day.

All between seeing patients and teaching medical students and residents. Don't let the white coats fol you. We are Jacks and Jills of many trades--not just the one you see in the hospital or the clinic.

And this? This is very necessary if you ask me. My mentor sets a great example of that which, in addition to my new brakes, I deeply appreciate. Yeah. . . I guess my whole point is . . . to see the humanity in our patients and their lives, we must first have lives of our own. Lives that include salsa lessons or trips to Cozumel. Lives that involve singing a capella in a quartet on Wednesdays and teaching boot camp to twenty baby boomers before heading to work every morning. Working on your mentee's Volvo in between giving her advice on teaching during her first stint as a visiting profesora all the way to screaming as a soccer-slash-swim-slash-basketball mom, taking up sculpting and writing a quirky little blog. And of course. . . . it's up to us to be mature enough to balance all of these things the best we can.

Which reminds me. . . .

When I was in Pittsburgh, I was talking to someone wise who said, "The whole term 'work-life balance' suggests that to do it well, life must always win. But you know? Sometimes work wins and that's okay. And sometimes life wins. I think 'manage' is a better word. I'm not sure it's ever perfectly balanced." That was some good food for thought and a good word, too. I liked that take on it and think it applies to this and all of the things we do inside, outside and in-between our professional lives. For us doctors, all of it needs to be swirled together to make us remember that we, too,  are people. . . and to allow us to always remember that we are caring for people. . .yes people, too.

I still don't know what Dr. Chris was up to on those Wednesdays when the pediatrician's office was closed. But something tells me it was a hell of a lot more than just reading journals and playing golf.

Mmm hmmmm. . . .

Happy Friday.

And now playing on my mental iPod. . . . . sorry, I couldn't resist!

. . .and of course, The Marching Abominable! Go Jason!

and last but not least. . . .proof that in my forties I'm nice with the double dutch ropes--STILL. :)


  1. This gives me hope that, sometime in the distant future when my training is behind me, I might be able to take that photography lesson that was given to me as a Christmas gift. In 2006.

  2. Hey sis...we gotta hav a life too or at least try huh?
    Have a Blessed Holiday with the family!


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