By Marysa Stevens
As the end of my husband’s intern year approaches this week, I’ve taken some time to reflect on where I was a year ago and what I can walk away with from this experience.
Just like four years of medical school don’t actually prepare our spouses to suddenly wake up one day and manage their own panel of acutely ill patients, nothing can teach you how to be a “perfect” intern’s spouse. But the truth is that being a spouse of an intern will test you, your marriage, your sanity, your patience and just about everything else.
After a year of trial and error, and despite all of the horror stories, week-by-week intern year does get better. However, I’ve learned the hard way that it doesn’t mean the hours get better, but you get better. Your relationship gets better. You handle the on call nights and lonely weekends better. You get really, really excited about date night once every eight weeks, and all of a sudden you no longer catch yourself crying in the corner in the fetal position.
I was warned that intern year would not be “easy” or “fun” for the newly minted M.D. or D.O. spouse. Whether you moved 1,000 miles away with your fiancé or down the street with your husband of five years, Intern Year is unlike anything you have been through before. Although you think you are fully aware of what’s coming, i.e., the long hours, night call, and Step 3, it will hit you like a train out of nowhere.
Anxious? Relax. The things that are initially unbelievably difficult will one day become second nature.
Before I knew it, I was content with having weekends to myself; I got into new hobbies, spent more time with friends, finished major house projects like color coding my closet and cleaning underneath the bathroom sink (I know you know what I’m talking about). Of course, I always miss my husband, but suddenly, “missing him” became easier. It has become a part of our normal lives, and I’m doing OK with that.
It took a few different rotations to settle in, but I realized I was truly on the path to greatness (work with me here) when my husband told me he would be on swing shift in the ICU for nine days straight and I didn’t burst into tears. Instead, I smiled and said, “Ok. Let me know if I can bring you dinner one night. I think I’ll go to the gym with Kristen this weekend. I have a couple of major work projects to get done. Let’s plan to go to our favorite restaurant when you’re done next Wednesday and we’ll celebrate with that cookie baked in a skillet.”
At that moment, the idea of sharing my experiences in a blog was born. As Oprah would say, it was my “Aha!” moment. I knew that we made it! I made it! And we’re going to make the rest of it, too! Go, team!
Reflecting back, I wonder: “How is it possible that I feel so much better about this schedule than I did at the beginning of the year? How has it become second nature?” Here are a few favorite quick tips from my imaginary yet-to-be-written best seller “Residents’ Wives and the International Shortage of Wine.”
Stay patient. Plan a date night – they do happen…not often, but it’s achievable. Keep your calendar loaded with projects, cocktails with the girls, a painting or yoga class. Call your parents when your spouse is working on the weekend. Set personal and professional goals for yourself. Make friends with other intern and resident spouses – they get what you’re going through and can commiserate. Finally, don’t give in to the hype that just because your spouse is now a super fancy doctor means he or she is suddenly off the hook for folding laundry or emptying the dishwasher.
This time next year you’ll hand down your own advice to the new incoming class. You’ll give them a few tips you learned along the way. You’ll smile and say to your partner, “We made it!” You too will have achieved greatness; these next few years of residency will be nothing!
Marysa Stevens is a public relations and marketing professional for a large radiology practice. She’s married to a family medicine resident at Madigan Army Medical Center in the state of Washington.