About two weeks after my discharge there was a get-together of the second year Family Residents.  We try to have an official meeting at least once during the year so we can all catch up and try to stay somewhat sane amidst all the madness that is known as residency.  Besides socializing, we also complete team-building exercises and air any grievances we may have.  We call it ‘Wellness’.  An attending physician and Amy R. usually oversee these meetings.

——– Amy R. ——–

Amy R. is our office social worker.  Officially she is there to help with certain aspects of patient care[1], but because of her high quality of work, we take advantage of her and go to her for help with even the tiniest of minutia that even tenuously relates to patient care.  My older sister, Amy, has the biggest heart of anyone I know.  Amy R. is nipping at her heels in that category.  Following my surgery, Amy has visited me in the hospital and prepared a meal for Fleur and Christian.  It was during her meal drop off that she revealed to Fleur she had often thought of our situation and it brought her to tears.  I have been in frequent contact with her to help me with any (there have been several) insurance issue I have had.

Amy R. -in her office
Amy R. -in her office

Amy has spearheaded this annual meeting but gets pushback when she tries to arrange for more than 1 day per year for ‘wellness’.  Personally, I like it and feel that it is a refreshing change of pace.  To my knowledge, this is unique to our program, and none of the other residencies at Sparrow have this.  Recently one of the residents from another program tragically took his life, allegedly because of marital troubles. I’m sure working over 80 hours per week in a grueling residency did not help matters.  Would an annual Wellness day have saved his life?  Probably not.  Although bless Amy’s heart, I’m sure if it were up to her we would have daily Wellness meetings.  Would a daily Wellness meeting have saved this man’s life?  The answer becomes less clear.  I realize that, as with everything else, balance is important; and in residency a balance needs to be found between learning, work, and mental well-being.  My thought is that recently the balance has been tipped toward working and away from learning and mental and emotional health.

———- Wellness ———-

Anyhow, after the surgery, Amy asked Fleur and I if we would like to join the meeting, as all of the other second year residents would be there.  Fleur, knowing me, understood that I did not want to go, but thought that I should go.  In fact my mother, who caught wind of this get together, suggested I give a “Thank You” speech during the gathering. I respectfully declined.


noun    (Medical Dictionary)

Medical Definition of WELLNESS

: the quality or state of being in good health especially as an actively sought goal <lifestyles that promote wellness>
The Merriam-Webster definition of Wellness

The session always opens with pleasantries and socializing between the residents.  It’s funny, even though we are all in the same year of the same program, we rarely run into each other.  Seeing each other is akin to meeting an old friend that you haven’t talked to in years.  So greetings like, “Hey! How are you? How are your kids?” are not rare.  After catching up with each other, we then get together as a group to answer several of Amy’s questions:  “If you could give the incoming interns one piece of advice, what would it be?”.[2]  Fleur and I were late as usual, missed the beginning of the get-together and came in in the middle of the question-answer session.  “Name something that you are grateful for and something that bothers you.”  There were about ten of us sitting at a round table, and we were situated in such a way that Fleur and I were one of the last to answer.

My fellow residents
My fellow residents

One of the residents answered that she was grateful for her family and that bullies bothered her.  She went on to elaborate that her definition of a bully is someone who tries to enforce their way of doing something or their beliefs onto you.  When one thinks of bullies, one envisions an adolescent demanding lunch money.  But she had a point. The idea of a bully changes in adulthood and is even different in the field of medicine.  Of course, there are still adults who intimidate with the threat of physical force, but more often now the intimidation comes in a different form, an emotional bullying.  However, the line between someone who simply has a strong personality and a bully is thin. Just because someone is opinionated doesn’t make him a bully.  In medicine, you are forced to interact with all sorts of personalities and at 4am, the people you call aren’t always the most chipper.  In fact, I attended a lecture that focused solely on how to optimize interactions with other providers. This lecture zeroed in on introspection and used your personality to help you interact with other providers.  I believe that tools given to me during the lecture could be translated to everyday life.  We were warned, one of the people you will have to talk to will have the mix (perfect storm) of: 1. Someone who doesn’t want to talk to you[3] , 2. They have a personality that doesn’t gel with yours and 3. The person does not agree with your assessment of the situation/patient.[4]  We are taught that in this situation we have to remember we are now the patient’s health advocate, and that different approaches might work for different providers.  How does this relate to bullies and more importantly how does it relate to my situation? I have come across ‘bullies’ in my recover–people who demand that I recover in their way.  They are hard to spot and their methods are often subtle, unlike the obvious playground bullies. I often have to employ the same techniques I do in dealing with these ‘bullies’ as I did in medicine.

When it came time for a response from my wife and me, her response was, “I’m grateful that everyone has been so kind during this whole ordeal…” She couldn’t continue, as the tears choked off the rest of her response. It was my turn to respond–even though I was going last I had not used the time to think of a response. This was probably good, as providing a rehearsed response would detract from its sincerity.   “I feel grateful for my health,” I could see the bewilderment in everyone’s eyes. I was just diagnosed with a brain tumor. Although good health is a typical response, in my case it seemed to make no sense.  To them, out of all aspects of my life, my health was the one that was failing.  I thought of this as I elaborated, “Throughout this ordeal, I have been told how unlucky and unfortunate I am,” I went on, “but I feel incredibly lucky, lucky to be alive, lucky that the tumor was benign, lucky to have the family I do, and lucky to have friends like you.  Now when anyone tells me how unfortunate I am, I tell them how lucky I feel.”  I also wanted to tell them how this had allowed me to spend time with my wife, newborn son, and eldest child, but I could not go on as the tears prevented me from talking any more.


[1] For example, there seems to be a shortage of child mental health professionals in Lansing.  Thus Amy hears about all patients under the age of 18 who needs to be seen for psychiatric issues.

[2] I think my response to this was that I’d reiterate the importance of sleep.  Even to this day I try and make sure that I get eight hours of sleep every night.

[3] For various reasons: maybe they don’t like you, maybe it’s at an odd hour, or maybe they’re mad their sports team just lost.

[4] I’ve unfortunately had many of these encounters, most of which originate in the Emergency Department (ED).  The ED is an interesting place because it is essentially the gateway (in the majority of cases) to the hospital.  Physicians in the ED often have no choice but to ‘admit’ the patient to the hospital per the standard of care.  Let’s say someone was admitted for difficulty in breathing.  There are countless numbers of conditions that can cause difficulty in breathing with a heart attack, clot in the lungs, or infection in the lungs being some of the ‘bad’ possibilities.  I’m not a betting man, but chances are that this person will leave the hospital in good health, without having been diagnosed with any of these conditions.  But in the eye of the ED physician, if 100 patients are admitted to the hospital with difficulty in breathing, and 1 ends up having a heart attack, it’s worth getting berated and yelled at to help the one patient.  Having trained in the ED for a year, and having several family members work as ED physicians I respect this field, and detest it when someone gets a page from the ED and says something sarcastic to the effect of, “It’s them! Great.”

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