For today’s post I wanted to put forth pieces written by two of my fellow colleagues, who were elected as co-chiefs. Aimee Tegtmeier was selected to be chief with me while Dani Watkins was elected to fill the role in my absence. I felt they had a unique perspective not only because we were in the same class of residency, but also they were asked to fill the position of co-chiefs. While Greg and Megha were forced to deal with all the initial logistical hurdles my condition presented, it was Aimee and Dani who handled the repercussions of my absence from July of 2013 to the present. More importantly, I consider them both very close friends. It goes without saying that they have been extremely kind to me since the surgery. Even though I know they easily handled the chief position, they both went out of their way to try to include me in all ‘chief decisions’. We would often have meetings where we would discuss various topics, such as scheduling, changes to our protocol, and issues that our fellow residents brought up. I knew they did not need my help or input on these issues, but was honored they chose to include me in this process.
Both Aimee and Dani have moved on: Aimee is set to finish residency in this month (normally residents finish in July, but Aimee’s completion was delayed as she took time off after the birth of her first child), and Dani is practicing medicine in Cleveland. There is no doubt in my mind that they will be fantastic attending physicians: their combination of knowledge and compassion makes for an ideal clinician. My only fear is that they will move away and I will lose touch with them. Luckily for me they both have ties to the area: Dani is from Michigan, so family is an excuse for her to return. Aimee’s husband (also a very close friend of mine) is a resident in another program, and has will not finish until July of next year, thus, she is going to work in the area at least until he is finished.
I did not know either of them prior to residency but I have gotten to know both of them very well since our move here in 2011. They are very different from each other: Dani is blunt, and has no problem telling you what she is thinking. Aimee is always smiling, and is the type of person who makes you feel better simply by being there. While they are almost night and day in their own personality, when it comes to patient care they both always put the patient first. Another similarity is that they are both incredibly kind people. Even though I have been out of the loop in the residency, I try to stay in constant touch with both of them; this can prove difficult for them, as Aimee is tending to a newborn while getting ready to become a working physician, and Dani is working as a clinician in Cleveland. Yet somehow they both find the time to check up on me.
I asked them to write a piece about what challenges my absence presented, and what it was like to see me in the hospital. This is what they wrote:
Those of us lucky enough to be in the family medicine field know that priority number one is family. Our residency program is no different, we are all linked together as a part of a unique family unit, and when one of us is struggling it is very hard on all of us. The first feeling I had when we found out what was happening with Chris was fear. Fear for the surgery he would need, fear it was cancer, and fear for what this would mean for his recovery. The first feeling of relief was when Fleur told us it was not cancer and it appeared the surgeon had gotten all of it. Then my concern shifted to ‘how will his recovery go? How will Chris and Fleur handle a new baby and care for Christian?’ When I saw Chris at Sparrow after he was transferred, I will not sugarcoat it….. it was overwhelming to see such a strong, young, and active person be suddenly thrown into a state of complete dependence in such a short time when we had just worked together at the hospital a few short weeks prior. This threw all of us into protection mode at the program. Everyone worked together and we knew what we needed to do. Although we could not physically help Chris go through therapy, we could split up calls, take Fleur’s calls, bring food, and send well wishes of encouragement. When Chris asked if I would work with Aimee as co-chief resident, I could not turn this down. I had not initially wanted to be a co-chief, and also wasn’t sure if the program wanted me. Without question it was something I needed to do. Chris’ absence was difficult in the fact that our friend, our family member, was not by our side as before. What amazes me is the love the other residents showed, and their complete selflessness in covering any and all calls that needed to be covered. The office in baskets for Chris and Fleur were divvied up, and patient care continued on.
The sadness I believe we all felt when first seeing Chris after surgery has melted away, as now when I see him, his strength and physical ability has improved so much and the capacity for the human body to heal has proven to be simply miraculous. The sheer mental strength and love Chris and Fleur both possess is even more miraculous. We all wait with bated breath for his time to return, and although we are moving on as we have graduated I have no doubt Chris will return to finish residency and will be a better physician for having gone through the trials he has.
Naturally it was very difficult for me to see Chris as a patient and not as a fellow physician. It was surreal what he and his family, and us as a residency family, were facing. Brain tumors happen to other people, not to people I know and care about. As scary as the diagnosis was, I was relieved to hear the word benign. However, we knew this wasn’t the end of the story. Chris would have a long road of recovery ahead. I tried to put myself in his shoes. Would I be angry, confused, in denial? Or perhaps just relieved to not be facing a malignant diagnosis? I was amazed to watch Chris face his challenge with dignity and resolve. Though he was noticeably different on the outside (speech and visual changes, difficulty with walking, fatigue, etc) the same old Chris shown through from the inside. During the early stages of his surgical recovery despite his physical deficits, he always seemed to have a positive attitude. I never once heard him complain. In fact, whenever we would visit him he always seemed more interested in our goings-ons than he was with recounting his own difficulties. His wife (and my colleague) Fleur was also a pillar of strength during this time. The usual smile that graces her face never left. I admire the way she stood by Chris as his encourager. Prior to the diagnosis and surgery, Chris had just been elected co-chief resident along with myself. In his absence, my colleague Dani volunteered to take over the bulk of Chris’s role. It was strange to plod ahead without him. He was always there in spirit and offered to spearhead several projects. But his recovery was no doubt a full time job, mentally, emotionally and physically; and I know he regretted missing the opportunity to his class in full force. One thing that really stood out to me during this time was that Chris still viewed himself as a physician in pursuit of his end goals. Even though he was forced to take on the role of the patient, I felt like Chris didn’t let his physical handicaps limit his aspiration. He was not retreating or backing down. This must have taken an incredible amount of courage. Chris is still working hard pick up where he left off and we are eagerly awaiting his return.
 See an earlier post titled “Greg and Megha”. They were the outgoing chiefs at the time of my diagnosis and surgery.
 The ‘medical’ calendar begins in July, meaning new residents and new chiefs. It is often said that as new residents begin in July, the worst time to become ill is in this month.
 I’ve had many residents tell me of the great job they did.
 I would often hear from patients how much they loved having Dani and Aimee as their doctors.