Saturday, January 25, 2014

Sympathy Appendicitis

Sometimes residency is such a blur of long hours, stressful situations, and emotional interactions with patients and co-workers. And actually, when I say sometimes, that isn't the part I mean sometimes about. Because, most of the time, residency is such a blur of long hours, stressful situations, and emotional interactions with patients and co-workers. The sometimes comes in another separate sentence (to avoid a crazy run-on--so yes, I may have sacrificed and settled with a fragment, grammar police). In that context, does it stand alone to say, "Sometimes I wish I were sick?"

I know I am not alone along my resident friends in envying the patient's we care for. I remember very distinctly on my general surgery rotation wishing for appendicitis. How would it be to crawl into bed with that patient, whose only responsibilities include four walks a day around the ward, using the incentive spirometer (the breathing whirly-gig), and documenting your bathroom visits, in the overarching goal of getting better?

Or better yet, changing places with the patient.
How very tired one must be to wish a surgical scar and the pain of recovery upon oneself for a few days of boredom and Oprah daytime TV overload!

I admit I haven't wished an appendectomy upon myself for quite some time. But I do have fleeting moments of jealousy of the thought of sick days.

And then I learned my lesson of the be careful what you wish for variety.

Luckily it didn't take appendicitis to teach me.

I ironically spent much of MLK Day (yay for my first holiday off in months--after making it through almost the entire holiday season on-call) lounging around, watching TV. I had been coveting the snow days my friends who work in the schools have been enjoying and really wished for some extra time off.  I woke up Tuesday vomiting. I thought I made a pretty good recovery until I was mid-tooth extraction in the operating room and suddenly felt quite off. I called for a replacement and spent some time recovering, only to feel worse and worse.

I don't remember taking a sick day in the past 4.5 years of residency. I may have been sent home a time or two but don't really remember. I felt very awkward but realizing I wasn't really needed that afternoon, asked to go home. I didn't make it back until Thursday (almost a 5 day weekend).

And being home sicker than sick, I remembered that maybe it is better to be the one on the healer's side.  Being sick isn't fun. I would have rather been at work.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

You're So Vain

I've been living with a lot of songs running through my mind lately. Today, I can't help but hum the Beatles hit, All You Need Is Love. A few lines keep coming to me: "There's nothing you can sing that can't be sung" and "Nothing you can know that isn't known." Similarly, what I am about to say in this blog is nothing earth shattering or revelatory. You are probably smart enough to have already "sung" it or "known" it for yourself. Regardless, John and Paul give me courage to share despite the potential for redundancy-- because for me, somehow it clicked this time around and I thought I'd share the love.
* * *

I think it is a little taboo to admit publicly that you feel some sort of dissatisfaction with your appearance. We are all supposed to be confident and happy, above those sort of petty things. Who wants to be vain and admit they spend time worrying about how they look when there are more important issues in the world, like caring for children, improving relationships, and solving world hunger?

Do we really measure our successes by pounds? Men don't tend to do this...why do we?

 That's why I think I feel such guilt over my own pre-occupation with beauty. I beat myself up for feeling bad that I have any slight imperfection. I tend to think, "If only I were prettier or thinner. Blonder. Taller. Tanner." And yet paradoxically, I feel quite happy with who I am and this body I have been blessed with. It can do amazing things regardless of a few blemishes. And in fact, it looks pretty good doing it (most of the time)!

Will it really be life changing? Forget about friendship, childbirth, meeting a goal, helping a found the right eyeliner!

So why the mixed bag of feelings? I think it has to do with a fierce war on women. A war whose enemies know that if they can cause dissatisfaction and unattainable goals that they will always have customers. It is a rare and admirably strong woman (or girl!) who can avoid (at least occasionally) feeling down on herself when she is constantly being bombarded with messages telling her that her appearance is the most important obsession (as evidenced by the two pictures above). And an obsession with impossible standards.

I used to look at the beauty industry as a kind benefactor, a nameless ally giving me tools to help escape potential self loathing and nitpicking by offering solutions and resources to finally be able to "love the skin [I'm] in." I know I'm not the only one being tricked by this tactic as evidenced by 2 minutes on Pinterest.

Ironic, coming from a photoshopped image!
I think we like to think we are above these kind of influences. I know I do. Who wants to admit that the cheesy jingle sucked us into buying those cookies at the store or the glittery ad in the magazine played into our shampoo choice?

Instead, we like to fool ourselves into thinking that meeting these beauty "ideals" are lofty goals. We make excuses that our weight and body shape is about "health."

Yup, really healthy thinking!

We wouldn't want to admit that we are superficial or vain or subject to mass marketing schemes. We tell ourselves it is inherently good to be "healthy." Or that it is important to want to improve ourselves. It is about discipline or self mastery.

Depends on your goal weight. And your genetics, too, maybe.
And it is.

It does if you have unrealistic expectations

Unless our goals are unrealistic. Then it becomes less about self mastery and more about self defeat.


I think we all know that photoshop is real and used extensively. But I was pretty unaware just HOW much. I don't see a big problem with removing a few blemishes, evening out skin tones, smoothing out lines.

This is still significant photoshopping
But I didn't realize that it is pretty standard to remove chunks of flesh or body parts like ribs or hips, or to even add back in to bulk-up those otherwise too-skinny models. Even the often idolized Victoria Secret models evidently don't make the cut (then again, in their pictures they do, in a big way, on the editing room floor!).

I guess she is skinny enough to have hip bones and ribs showing, and the real chest to match (small)! (Photoshopped on the right)
Still looks great but... (photoshop on the right)
And my favorite, she has a belly pooch like me!
And finally, in case you think I am crazy, want to attribute it to hard work outs and good self control, and still don't see the wonders of photoshop...

Recognize this man? I think it is Hugh Laurie from House, MD
...even our most fit role models get the treatment.

What happened to Kelly's abs?

If it is really about health, why aren't we trying to look like the Serena on the left?

When I started writing this post, I was unsure if I should share it. I realized it may lend itself to misunderstanding: that I may seem judgmental; like I am encouraging women to embrace unhealthy ideals such as obesity or personal stagnation in the order of "loving ourselves;" or like I lack in self confidence. That I am a whiner, complainer, or a fisher of compliments. So I left it sitting...
And then at church I was asked to read a quotation and the last line hit me:
"Only by educating and training our desires can they become our allies instead of our enemies!"
--Neil A. Maxwell
This ad seems ridiculous. But many of the images we compare ourselves to are just as preposterous.
I decided that that was the motivation for this post. Are our untrained, mislead desires making us the enemies of ourselves? Is our quest for unattainable physical perfection causing self hatred, feelings of failure or dissatisfaction? Do we discount our good qualities and the successes that truly matter for trivial matters like thigh gaps and overcoming hunger pains in attempt to look like the unreal images we see everyday?

I hope my small self-revelations may be helpful to others, even if some may find me vain or pre-occupied with trivial matters, lacking in confidence, or just plain silly. That may be right.
That's why I am still "in training" to see the inherent beauty all around and in all of us. And I am trying my hardest to remember that in myself. So I decided, I look great! I would still like to lose a few pounds, get in better shape, eat healthier. But in the meantime, I want to enjoy this beautiful, womanly body I have been given for what it is--something beautiful and to be celebrated.

And so I end with another line from a song:

"At the end of the day," I want to be remembered for the kind of person I was, not for how I looked.



Friday, January 10, 2014

The one that got away

Even though I am a surgeon, my background is in dentistry. So, while I like to think that I am making a difference in my life's work, it often isn't on the same level as many of my other surgical colleagues.

For example, the hospital I work at has a slogan/motto/mission statement (whatever the appropriate term), "Changing medicine, changing lives." Somehow changing the phrase to, "Changing dentistry, changing lives" just doesn't have the same appeal.

I still think what I am doing is important. Maybe in some ways I am saving lives, but usually in a more figurative manner. "Saving" my teenage patient from her tormentors who "make fun" of her "buck teeth" by realigning her jaws seems pretty important. And "saving" my patients from their excruciating tooth pain certainly is significant in that moment.

But today I was reminded that even though I don't usually see it, maybe I am saving lives. Unfortunately, that happened when my patient passed away today*. This doesn't mean I haven't seen death while working in the hospital. I have seen other mortalities while on other teams, but this was the first patient for which I was the primary doctor.  I had operated on her, and I had followed her all along the way.

I am grateful that I don't get this reminder very often! In fact, it took me 4.5 years of residency to experience it and I am grateful I am in a profession where that isn't unusual. I guess I will probably rarely know if I have "saved" or "changed" many lives. But today, I'm glad I'm "just a dentist" who hopefully wont have to find out for a long time.

*Sadly, people in this country can, and occasionally still do, die from dental infections. Usually they are not in the best of health and often delay treatment. I guess it is a good reminder to stay in good dental health and to seek treatment early for problems.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

It's the most wonderful time

Let's go out of order, shall we. Now that we have passed the New Year, let's go back to Christmas.

I was really looking forward to "the holidays" this year. And then I found out I would be on call for the month starting mid-December instead of January 1. Talk about a bummer! I was not only expecting to not be on-call, but hoped to take vacation to really enjoy that time. Luckily, I had plenty of time to come to grips with my ill-holiday fate (since at least June). By the time it rolled around, I was (mostly) okay with the idea.

Obviously, we were unable to participate in the Sheffield Chicago Christmas tradition. Every year they spend some time up in the city at Christmas time, driving home late Christmas Eve. Luckily, we were able to be in Chicago a few weeks earlier for a conference, which made it feel more like we were able to get in our Chicago Christmas Fix.

Since Abe and I were both working (he was working the night shift and I was on-call), his family was nice and came home a day early to spend some time with us. I particularly appreciated not being alone on Christmas Eve while Abe was stuck at the hospital.

(Unfortunately for me, that also meant the traditional Chinese Christmas Eve dinner! I'm not one for Chinese and so we joke that for me this is the "worst Christmas tradition, ever!" But at least with the Chinese buffet we went to this time I could pig out on things I do like...crab rangoons, Mongolian BBQ, sushi...)

Because Abe was working the night shift, we went to the hospital to visit him on Christmas Eve. We sang a few carols, opened Christmas Eve pajamas, and showed off Sheffield Christmas shoes.

We were blessed with a White Christmas day, which was also a quiet one for me, despite being on call. We were able to spend the entire day with Abe's family opening presents. I was really spoiled this year!

After I was very happy with the other gifts I received and feeling a little sheepish by the generousity of others, Abe surprised me with a new ring! It isn't anything like my last one, which is what I was wanting. (I didn't want any painful reminders of how it just wasn't quite right.) I do have occasional moments of missing my original, but it is so sparkly I usually forget. It is nice to have something back on my finger.

 He also surprised me with the gold Christmas tree I've been coveting since I saw it in one of our local department stores. I was kicking myself for not buying it when the floor model was for sale because I haven't found one like it anywhere else (at least for under $1000). Somehow he bought it without my knowing while we were doing some Christmas shopping together. I couldn't help but put it up the other day even though it is a little past my usual Christmas-tree-time window.

It looks pretty green in the picture below but the upper picture shows its color a little better. So excited to decorate this glittering beauty next year. Any suggestions anyone on a good color scheme?
Overall, I think this year that I was (almost) dreading turned out to be one of the best. I felt especially grateful for time with family, my health, and the wonderful things I have been so blessed with. I think worrying it might be a horribly disappointing year just made me appreciate it that much more.
With that said, I am still hoping to have a Christmas off-call next year!

Friday, January 3, 2014

2014 Blog Recap

2014 is here!

I decided to look back on a blog recap of the year. If you've been with me all along this may be boring...but it was great for me to remind myself what happened over the past 12 months. I wonder what posts will be coming this year?

January, I declared I was "going vegan" part-time. While I haven't been as successful as I would like in my diet and exercise goals, I have had some minor successes. I would like to eat more whole foods and vegetarian, vegan style meals this year when life quiets down a bit.

February, I had a lot on my mind, particularly women's issues. I did my first of many posts on "working moms" and my own personal journey (as well as some other amazing women I know) into my career, including divulging my back up plan. I mentioned some of my fears of incorporating the "mom" part into the "working moms" topic.  We talked about women wearing pants (gasp) at church. I also discussed some of my fainting episodes (that didn't deter me from my path to becoming a surgeon). Hmmm, don't think I finished with all of those stories, unfortunately...

March I gave some tips for having a successful appointment at the dentist with your child. We came home from a much needed vacation. And I introduced you to my cool sister C. Who is even cooler, by-the-way, as a freshman in a fancy art school majoring in animation and video game design. You can check out some of her class projects if you'd like.

April sounded like a kind of stressful month. And I posted a lot of bad pictures in an attempt to overcome vanity and some of the negative emotions that come from comparisons made through blogging and other social media. You'll have to find those posts on your own if you want to rehash them. I think it has been good for me to try to be honest and open online instead of always showing my photo-shopped image.



May was a transition time, moving from more junior resident responsibilities to some of my first major OR cases. It is interesting to think of how many surgeries I have done since that time when I was so new and so nervous! I also came back to my working moms theme to talk about my friend Michelle and her super interesting life in SE Asia. And it was fun remembering all of the awesome moms in my life for Mother's Day.

June was another stressful month at work, my first month as Clinic Chief. Funny to see a string of down on myself posts. Oops! But a beautiful wedding to round out the month and a funny post with horrible pictures of me and Tawnya for a good laugh. Oh, and my birthday at the end of the month.

July was obviously busy...another month on call I think and much too busy for much blogging. Good thing I am married to such a Super guy to make it through those hard months.

August I caused some confusion with some pictures of my baby bump. And I discussed my disdain for all things thinsporational.

September unfortunately was a big month with our burglary. And that brought my blogging to a screeching halt. I missed October altogether! November wasn't much better with busy times as chief resident.


December was crazy and my blogging sparse, more time on call and through the holidays. I did announce the release of my mom's book (exciting)! And I filled you all in one some of my favorite awful Christmas songs.

Thanks for reading! Hope we all have a great year together.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

A Long December...

Time flies, doesn't it!

Life has been a little crazy for us at the Sheffield home. Then again, it would be more accurate to say, "Life has been a little crazy for us at work (with minimal time at home)."

"We" finished my last December as a resident (Yay! Milestones!) with a bang! My two months of being the "Clinic Chief" full of elective surgeries, lab work ups, etc. was replaced with a month of "Trauma Chief," just in time to hit the holidays hard.

Some of the spoils from my time as Clinic Chief

While I've been on call the last 3 weeks, Abe has been working the night shift. One of the great reliefs of residency is pawning of calls to other doctors (often called "Turf wars", which I find has less to do with fighting over cases to do and much more with fighting over cases you don't want to do) when you are on call. Unfortunately, this is much less satisfying when you know the call you are punting to the other team (in our instance, very often Otolaryngology) will mean your husband will be up all night taking care of it and thus sleeping during the day instead of seeing you!

Anyway, we have been working opposite shifts, with me in clinic during the day and Abe working at night (plus me working any night and weekend time I get called in). This leaves about 40 minutes of crossover time if we are lucky per day, and a few runs of days without seeing each other. Thankfully, (1) we have some amazing and generous church friends who brought us meals for days and days and days (who are these people? Saints!) so we could have warm meals together in our pockets of time; and, (2) the night shifts are coming to an end. Yay. (3) And we have had a bit of overlap in the hospital with late night dates eating fried food in the cafeteria.

Don't we look so festive in our red and green scrubs?
I spent my nights alone very motivated for some reason cleaning our house and studying. Too bad our house is a big mess now from all of the holiday fall-out and I'm still not as smart as I'd like to be!


I did some major rearranging which gave me some extra motivation

As for the end of 2013, we were each able to take a few days off (took some call schedule maneuvering on my part) together. We took a quick trip to Chicago for a little extra Sheffield family time and to escape our igloo (I mean house), mostly just meeting Abe's brother and his wife for dinner and eating beignets at the Grand Lux Café before our traditional drive-back-from-Chicago-in-a-blizzard. (Seriously, I feel like it snows every time we drive back from Chicago, even in the summer!)

We were unlucky enough to have our furnace go out on one of our sub-zero weather days here in Iowa the day before New Years Eve. If I were someone who left dishes in the sink overnight (which of course I am not!) I could have taken a picture of the ice in the sink when the thermostat reached 32 degrees F. Since I am not, you'll have to imagine as best you can with this photoshopped one!

Okay, okay, you caught me! But it is a pretty good painting, right?

Okay, okay, it really is just real dirty dishes. Thankfully, we were able to survive until it was fixed without a lot of additional trouble. Hopefully I'll still feel that way when the bill comes in the mail.

As for ringing in the New Year, I was welcomed back in town to drain a huge dental infection in the operating room with just enough time to have an exciting New Year countdown (snooze), and finally kicking off the New Year with an early morning jaw fracture surgery.

And now I'm exhausted! Anyone ready for round two of this New Years post?