Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Countdown to Graduation, Part Four

Continued from Countdown to Graduation, Parts One, Two and Three.

Last Friday, I graduated from medical school.  I spent most of last week reflecting on the past four and a half years and the memories I hope to someday share with G-Bear, E-Bear and Baby Bear.  Here is Part Four, to be followed tomorrow by The Finale.

Year Four

I had three weeks of vacation between my my third and fourth year of medical school.  T and I used the first week to vacation back to Alabama for T's younger sister's wedding.  We returned home after an incredible weekend of family fun to resume our routine, as the promised land of fourth year was in our sights.  

A few days before I was to return to rotations, I missed a call from Nana as I was getting the kids up from their naps.  She was trying to get in touch with T.  T's dad had been brought to an emergency room by ambulance.  Everything was sudden and unexpected.  His condition was critical, they were trying to save his life.  I frantically paged T and called him.  When he answered, I had to tell him that his dad was in the ER, they were trying to save his life.  T came home almost immediately.  We were both speechless when he walked in our door.  His dad had just passed away.  We were on a plane back to Alabama the next day.

Nothing that I learned in medical school prepared me for what it would be like to loose T's dad or for what it would be like to support my husband and his family through that loss.  As a medical student, I had learned how good it feels to triumph over death and disease.  I could understand medical minutia about what had happened, yet in spite of all that knowledge, medicine had lost the battle against death for T's father's life.  But, as T reminded the crowd at his father's funeral later that week, what really mattered was that Jesus has won the battle for our souls against death, and his father trusted God for that.  

The day after we returned home from the funeral, I started my ER rotation.  It was rather haunting at times, being in the same environment where my father-in-law had died just days before.  I worked tremendously hard on the rotation, and even toyed with the idea of emergency medicine as a career.  I wanted to become so good at beating death that I could protect myself and my loved ones from being overcome by it and taken from me again.  I was weeks into my rotation before I realized, in great emotional panic at the time, that no amount of training would give me the ability to beat death every time I encountered it.  At some point, death will overcome each of us.  I thank God that, in that moment, I did not remain in the despair and sadness that I had been feeling for several weeks.  I was reminded of what I knew but had lost sight of in sadness: that Jesus is the Lord of both life and death.

"If we live we live to the Lord, and if we die we die to the Lord.
So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.
For this very reason Christ died and returned to life 
so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living."
~Romans 14:7-12

I finished my ER rotation having relearned a very important lesson from my father-in-law the physician: death has no sting for us not because of modern medicine, but because of our trust in Christ's death and resurrection.

The summer of hurdles and contemplation wasn't over yet, as there was more reflecting to be done.   As my ER rotation ended, I had to face the fact that, quite intentionally, I had used nearly all of my allowable third and fourth year vacation during the previous winter around the time of E-Bear's birth.  It was coming time to pay the piper.  As I stared into the meat of fourth year, I realized that I would have to work straight through the next 52 weeks without any breaks if I wanted to graduate on time.  What was more, T had two years of residency left, compared to my one year of medical school.  Our schedules were out of sync.  I needed to decide if I would graduate before him, and if I did, what I would do afterwards with him committed to his program for an additional year.  

Once again, I headed to the administration floor of the medical school to speak with a dean.  I explained my situation, and they offered me a solution:  decelerate out of my class and complete my remaining rotations in a more spaced out schedule, allowing me to be home periodically with our young family as well as graduate at the same time as T.  This accommodating plan was phenomenal, and I am certainly not the first or the last medical student to be offered such a fabulous schedule by my medical school.  It seemed to solve many of my misgivings and dilemmas.  

Even so, I struggled with my decision to decelerate, and it took me most of the summer to finally apply for approval.  In all honesty, I was held back by a fear of losing professional esteem, disappointment at the thought of falling behind my friends, and perhaps even a bit of professional pride.  In the end, these doubts gave way to trust that the Lord's plan for me would overcome any setbacks I faced if I decelerated.  What I would gain by decelerating was just too valuable to pass up.  I have never regretted the decision.

Next, Countdown to Graduation, The Finale.

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