Friday, May 16, 2008

T. Unmasked (just a bit): the Interview

It's my one year blog anniversary!!!

I cannot believe this blog has been part of my life for a year. Thank you so much to all of you who stop by, read, and support it!

Happy one-year anniversary, too, to Dr. Ramona Bates, who writes the extraordinary blog Suture for a Living.

As part of the blogiversary celebration I invited readers to send me "interview" questions for today's post. Some of your questions overlapped, so if you see yours worded a little differently, that's probably why.



What crummy (or not so crummy) jobs did you do before becoming an anesthesiologist?

I worked behind the pastry counter at Sutton Place Gourmet once. Lots of yummy crumbs, so not so crummy.

What’s your favorite food?

Chocolate! And, really good Thai.

What is the healthiest food you love and the most unhealthy food you love?

Healthy: ripe, plump, sweet blackberries. Unhealthy: unfortuately I really enjoy sweets (really great cakes, chocolate-chunk cookies, creme brulee, and ice cream), and deep-fried stuff – hush puppies, onion rings, yucca, plantains, dough…

Do you do crossword puzzles?

Love ‘em. Also love sudoku and logic problems.

Do you speak any foreign languages (badly or fluently)?

I can speak some Spanish, French, and Tagalog, and a little Italian. I’m in the beginning stages of Arabic, Russian, and ASL (and may be in these stages indefinitely!). I learned some ancient Greek in high school but all I can do now is read some words. Ditto with Syriac, except it was college, not high school. I don’t consider myself fluent in anything except English.

Why did you choose anesthesiology? Did other specialties cross your mind?

I was going to be a pediatrician! I even did a year of training in pediatrics at a tertiary care center that had a large number of kids with cancer. Then I was going to do a fellowship in medical genetics or neonatology…

But I fell in love with anesthesiology after an anesthesiologist at this same tertiary care center taught me how to mask-ventilate a 12-year-old boy. It was so direct, so visibly effective, and it felt so great to be able to make a difference in a particular moment, to help a child breathe when he was unable to breathe for himself. It seems incredible that one’s life should change so drastically because of the inspiration (so to speak) of a moment, but after exploring the field a little further, I was hooked.

That episode explains in part what I love about anesthesiology. You can see the help you provide coming to life right in front of you. Every act, whether it’s running a code or drawing medication up into a syringe, is meaningful and requires complete mindfulness. Anatomy and physiology, which so many doctors feel they don’t get to use much once they leave med school, are integral to our daily work. And being present to people when they’re at their most stressed-out – even after I’ve rendered them unaware of my presence – can be rewarding in and of itself.

Anesthesia Oral boards sound frightening and beyond stress...

They were!

How did you make it through all the stress and the pressure to prepare for those 70 minutes of your life?

Well, for one thing, I had my friends C. and O. going through the process with me. If we hadn’t spent all those months calling each other once or twice a week to do mock orals, there’s NO WAY I would have passed. Practice and prayer. These seem to be my main coping strategies.

After you found out that you had passed, what was the first thing that came to your mind? Just curious about life after Oral Boards...

To be honest it took me days to accept the fact that I had passed. The results were posted online earlier than expected, and I kept having irrational feelings that it was all a mistake. Because people had said the pass rate was 2 out of 3, I was sure that it would be C. and O. moving on and me left to bite the dust. I even asked my husband to look at the page to see if I was hallucinating or something. “Um, I think the word PASSED in big letters means you passed,” was his sardonic rejoinder.

Once I got over the shock I spent time celebrating repeatedly with my family, then I thought to myself, oh my goodness, I can read whatever I want, spend free time NOT studying, have vacations and weekends not marred by the burden of anesthesia books…I’m free at last! So I looked up oboe teachers online and the rest, as they say, is history…

How did you select the oboe as the instrument you wanted to learn how to play?

I’d never considered being able to choose an instrument - till now. My son’s violin teacher once said it’s always better when students actually ENJOY the sound of the instrument they’re studying. I’m grateful I studied piano as a child, and I think it’s key (no pun intended) if you really want to learn theory, but I have to admit it’s not my favorite instrument. I didn’t realize how deep my oboe-longing was until I was actually FREE to spend my time and energy as I chose. Many of my favorite passages of classical music are oboe parts, and I’ve always loved the sound of the instrument.

How do you feel about the concept of making your own reeds? I bet, with all of your other areas of expertise, you would be rather good at it. Have you tried?

I feel…INTIMIDATED! I haven’t tried yet because my teacher wants me to focus on playing right now, and I think her instincts are right on – perhaps she senses that the perfectionist in me would get trapped in a cycle of obsession & frustration if I tried reed-making right now. I don’t know that I’d be good at it at all – so much fine motor, such an art to judging how much to scrape off the end - athough I guess, as with arterial lines and sutures, it just takes practice…

When do you have time to write, read, and play your instrument?

Before dinner (while I’m cooking), or after dinner, while the kids are practicing their instruments or showering. Or after the kids go to bed, which is getting later and later with each passing year. Weekends. Vacations. Post-call days, which I usually have off.

Where do you get the energy to do everything you do?

Love o’the game, as they say, and also from the affectionate support of a loving husband. That really keeps me going.

Do you and your hubby share domestic chores?

Often he’s better about those chores than I am. He has always been a hard worker, at home and away from home, and he’ll do almost anything – laundry, dishes, taking out the trash & recycling, diaper changes when our kids were babies, maintenance stuff. No cooking, though.

What is the one thing you have to do nearly every day that you really dislike doing?

Interact with unpleasant people.

If it were easy to pick up and move where would you like to live?

Some place with lakes and mountains. I haven’t actually been (yet), but I dream of British Columbia. Nelson, or Kaslo, or the Vancouver area…

You seem to really love dance, so why didn't you pursue it? Ever wish you had?

Professionally? I’m actually glad I didn’t pursue it. I would probably have missed out on so much of the life I have now if I had stuck to it and made a successful career out of it. Moreover I wasn’t genetically endowed with the requisite body type and would have had to center my life around a strictly limited diet in order to maintain the expected weight. I do miss it, though, and I still dabble sometimes.

Pants, skirts or dresses?

Pants, usually - I’ve gotten used to them. But I love finding dresses that work!

Have you ever had acupuncture?

I’ve never had a full treatment but did have auricular needles inserted once during a workshop. My father-in-law had acupuncture for migraines with wonderful results.

Hey T! I know this is a long shot, but I was wondering if you've ever met Oprah?

I have! I got to be one of the discuss-ers for her book club. They flew me to Chicago along with some other readers, wined and dined us, and taped the book discussion. After that we had lunch with the author and with Oprah, and I got to sit right next to her. It’s been ages since I’ve had a chance to check in on her show but from what I recall she’s exactly the same off-screen as she is on the show - gracious and exceedingly smart.

If you could invite a few special guests to dinner (other than family), real or fictional, from the past or the present, who would be your chosen guests?

René Goupil, Jean Donovan, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Mary Catherine Bateson, Madeleine L'Engle, and Avicenna.

What books would you want with you if you were stranded somewhere indefinitely?

Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver, the New Testament, the Norton anthologies of poetry and short story, and a blank journal with pen.

Is there any way you can adjust your schedule so you can attend more orchestra rehearsals?

I’ll have to ask the scheduling person at work!

Picture yourself at 90. Which message would you like to send back to yourself in 2008?

Don’t wish; be. And trust in the process.

What does T. stand for?

The truth? My childhood nickname, which only my family’s allowed to use.

When I first started this blog I didn’t have much patience for the sign-up process and didn’t think anyone was going to read it anyway, so I put the T. down in haste. Then people started using it…I'll take votes for a lengthier pseudonym, though!

What makes you happy?

My children's affection and delighted laughter. My husband's kindness. My family enjoying a meal I've prepared, and eating well. Life's simple pleasures - quiet evenings in the park with my husband and kids, browsing through a book store, beautiful music, good company.


That's it for now! Thanks again, everyone, for celebrating with me!


rlbates said...

Beautiful eyes, T! Congrats on the anniversary and thanks for sharing with us.

T. said...

Congrats to you too - and thanks for being part of the celebration!

Øystein said...


I love the interview, and especially reading about how you chose anesthesiology.

Anonymous said...

hi, thank you very much for the interview, its always interesting to find out a bit about the past of someone who you read about as they go though their current life.

I didnt get a chance to send off a question, so may i make a late submission either for now or for next blogerversary?

During your work as an anesthesiologist, when was the time where you felt most afraid, if there has been one which sticks out?

I ask because im soon to be entering medical school and i feel that fear is a topic which has not been touched on by those advising me.

(and sorry for taking up so much space)

Margaret Polaneczky, MD (aka TBTAM) said...

Found you via RL. So glad I did. Happy Blogaversary!

T. said...

Oystein, thank you. And thanks for including me in your last SurgExperiences round-up!

Jack - thanks for coming, and for such a great question! I think what I'll do is write a post about it in the near future...

TBTAM - So glad you stopped by. I have to tell you, your blog "tbtamdoesitaly" had my mouth watering!!

Lisa Johnson said...

Happy one year T! Great interview! I'm so glad that you started your blog! : )

T. said...

Thanks, Anali - and I'm super-glad I found YOURS, 'cause that means I also found you, which is great. Sorry I accidentally deleted your last comment when I deleted the teaser-post for this, by the way! Hope you and G enjoyed the blogiversary, and that we can get together and do an Earth Balance baking workshop some time. I'm thinkin' some Earth Balance red velvet cupcakes with some Soy Garden non-butter frosting... :)

Lisa Johnson said...

Oh the baking workshop sounds fun! Good idea! We'll have to do it! : )