The world of medicine is like a bubble. A lot of people THINK they know what goes on there, but unless you're down in the trenches it's unlikely you do. So here is my semi-anonymous blog, here to tell you what really goes on in the life of a medical resident.

Monday, October 08, 2007

I'm Just a Rolling Stone...

One thing that has been particularly difficult about my medical training in general is the fact that it's never been in just one place. In the 10 years it's been since leaving the city where I grew up, I've moved 5 times. And that's just from city to city. If you include the number of times I've moved locally in that count, it goes up to 7. That's a lot of time spent leaving places, packing, unpacking, and getting to know new cities and surroundings. It's exhausting to think about.

But that's not all. Even my time in one place is divided up into different rotations. During medical school I did electives in four provinces and two continents. It was a great experience at the time. I spent my family medicine rotation in a B&B in a small town, constantly feeling like a guest in a stranger's house confined to a large bedroom. I spent a plastic surgery rotation in a city three provinces away from home again confined to a short-term rental bedroom in someone's house. My first emergency medicine rotation was probably the most bizarre in terms of accommodation-- I was renting a bedroom from the friend of the woman who owned the aforementioned B&B, who also ran a hair salon out of her home. I particularly loved the fact that although she was well aware that I was working shift work, she played talk radio at incredibly high volumes while eating breakfast in the morning-- in the kitchen just off my bedroom. My last elective in emergency medicine, shortly after moving in with the guy who later became Mr. Couz, was prematurely aborted. Three provinces in the other direction and again confined to a small bedroom in a stranger's house in a city where I didn't know a soul, I was so miserable I stacked my shifts in such a way that I was able to catch a flight a full 4 days sooner than initially scheduled.

The end result of all of that moving around is that I am currently feeling a sense of unease. I am currently in my (hopefully) last month of 'away' rotation. I understand the need for it-- there are very few pediatric hospitals in my province (or any Canadian province, for that matter-- we just don't have the population density for it) so in order to get a solid base in pediatric emergency medicine I need to work in one that ONLY sees kids. But lately I've been feeling very homeless.

It's a strange feeling. I feel homesick. But I'm not sure what city I feel homesick for. It changes depending on the day, and sometimes it’s for more than one place at a time.

I miss the town where I grew up in spite of the fact that the only people still living there from my past are my mother and my sister. I miss the neighbourhoods, the shopping, great restaurants… and as I get older I particularly appreciate how nice it would be to live in the same area code as my immediate family. I miss them, and would often give anything to be close enough to enjoy a Sunday dinner the family—and in my somewhat rag-tag family that can include anyone from my mom and sister to my stepdad, my uncle, my cousin and anyone else who happens to come by. I know that I’ll never move back there, however, as the health care system in that province is remarkably similar to third world countries and my husband doesn’t speak enough of the language to be employable as a paramedic.

I miss the town where I did my graduate work—many of my friends seemed to have ended up there, and although the traffic sucks most of the week and the housing has gotten pretty pricey I’d still move back there in a heartbeat. I loved the different neighbourhoods, the transit system (probably the best one I’ve experienced in Canada), the history, nearby greenspaces and rivers, the mix of languages used in everyday business, great restaurants… this is the city where I spent the past month doing pediatric emergency medicine, and I loved the fact that I had enough friends and family there to keep me busy and social on my days off. I reconnected with a lot of people and it made me nostalgic for the city itself.

I miss the town where I went to medical school. More than any other city I’ve lived in, I can see myself moving back there some day. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s likely considering my past with the emergency department there (see Match Day posts for further explanation if necessary). My husband thinks that I’m just nostalgic for medical school, and he might have a point. Much of the allure of the town came from the people and the strong social networks we had there. I couldn’t leave the house without bumping into someone I knew (both a blessing and a curse) and I loved the fact that half of my building was filled with friends and schoolmates. My apartment had a beautiful view of the lake, my best friend was a 5 minute walk away, and if I needed company all I had to do was cross the hall. My gym, my running routes, the park on the corner… it was my neighbourhood, and it was home for four years. I loved it. Now nearly all of the friends and classmates in question have moved on, but I still have a few good friends kicking around.

More recently I even find myself feeling nostalgic for the town I most recently left behind. Longtime readers of this blog will appreciate the irony, as I hated that city the first time I lived there and was dreading moving back for residency. But the two years I spent there were in a great neighbourhood right near some great wooded trails. We adopted Velcro dog there, got married there, I completed residency there, Mr. Couz retrained as a paramedic there, and we generally settled for two years. Although I bemoaned the distance we were from family (both mine and his) and the fact that most of my friends were residents as well and therefore unavailable for most social activities, I still find myself missing it. And beyond the fact that there was some decent shopping in the area, I’m not even sure what I’m missing.

I guess in each case the common thread is the familiarity. Each town was a place where I lived, worked and played for at least two years. By the time we moved from one place, we had established a routine. We knew where to find decent Indian food that delivered, knew where the off-leash dog parks were, knew a couple of good places to hike nearby, knew where to take out-of-town guests for breakfast… everything essential for making a new place home. And now I’m living in another new city—closer to in-laws but 7 hours of driving away from my family. We’ve been here nearly 4 months already but much of that time I’ve been doing various out-of-town rotations and haven’t had the chance to really get to know the town. My program is very small, and as a result I haven’t met many other residents. The ones I have met are out of town as much as I am, and don’t seem all that interested in getting together more than the required one time a week that we converge for academic half day.

But this is home. We actually own a home here, a first for us. Granted, the upstairs is mostly unfurnished, the backyard desperately needs to be fenced in, and the basement is filled with boxes but it’s ours. Mr. Couz and the dogs are here, which for me goes a good way to making me feel happy. And I know, realistically, that the only way it will start to feel like home is when I make an effort to make it so. But in the meantime, it doesn’t mean I can’t feel a little nostalgic for all of the people and places that I seem to be leaving in my wake.


Anonymous patientanonymous said...

That's a significant amount of moving around. I wonder how it compares to others who just pick a spot and stay. Or then, perhaps move on to practise permanently after residency.

Or perhaps another move might need to occur for further studies for specialty work.

It seems totally understandable to be nostalgic for all of these places? If you spent significant portions of your life there and have positive memories then they are important to you. And if you're feeling a little uneasy right now, these feelings will rise to the surface a bit more?

Best of luck with making your house a "home."

8:09 PM

Blogger Noel Hastings said...

I understand exactly how you feel. Every rotation I have in 3rd year is in another city, often another state far away, and I gave up my apartment so that I could save money this year. Every 6 weeks I move somewhere else and it is fatiguing. I thought the diversity would be good for training and I chose these rotations, but now I am worrying about the damage it is causing to my personal life.

9:57 AM

Blogger Xavier Emmanuelle said...

I hate moving... you must be so glad to be nearly finished training so that you'll be able to stay in one place for awhile!

Wow, you like our transit system? I guess if you live downtown then you get good service, but it's pretty awful in many regions.

Hope you enjoyed the children's hospital -- a couple of my friends volunteer there and say that it's a really positive environment.

3:31 PM

Blogger The MSILF said...

One plus you might not see immediately is that apparently the Canadian educational system is fairly cooperative with each other. We're always torn between this hospital belonging to X institution, and bitter infighting between them. It's nice that they will send you to a place that will really advance your learning. I can understand how the moving starts to suck after a while though. Hell, moving once is bad enough.

4:53 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's really tiring moving around, though it's not a problem while you were young but you have to think that someday moving around won't be easy in your age.

Best of luck,

9:34 PM

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