Emotional Baggage · Residency

The Mark of Difference

Residency has been a constant uphill battle for me, right from the beginning. The learning curve is steep, the work hours are long and gruelling, the patients can be challenging, and the learning environment requires an iron clad heart. But none of these things were what posed the greatest challenge to me. Rather, it has been the intimidation, harassment, hierarchal control, and hidden curriculum that have cut down my branches and knocked down my trunk to leave a small stump of the person I was when I started.

It might have been the online bullying and harassment that led to me closing down this blog in the first place. Perhaps it was the way in which I was never supported by anyone I spoke to about this issue and instead told to “shut my mouth, keep my head down, and get through unnoticed.” I didn’t like that idea and it brought me great discomfort to know that I was supposed to let this happen to me and the people around me. At that time, I wanted to take a stand and I didn’t.

Then there was the time when my pregnancy and maternity leave resulted in a work related experience that caused me to question my entire career and life choices up to that moment in my life (this was all chronicled on my other blog, that I opened after closing this one). This experience, which I will refrain from explaining in any great detail, began with an earlier than expected baby, a negative and inappropriate evaluation regarding my skills as a pregnant resident, and the fall-out of those inter-related events. That event has shaped and reshaped everything about my life as a resident and a mother, and not in a good way. This time I took a stand. I found some support from one person who believed in me and I spoke out. Too bad I was still silenced.

If those two things weren’t traumatizing enough, I was then self-inflicted with the task of returning to work after a 5 months maternity leave with no support from my residency program to pump milk for my baby. Let me clarify this point: I asked for support and was explicitly told that “you can’t control other people’s perceptions of you” when I asked how I could balance being a committed resident with a milk-sustaining pumping schedule. I walked away from that encounter determined to prove them wrong. And I did.

But all of this has been at the expense of something else… something that deep down causes me to question myself and my validity as a physician, mother, and human being. Being the outspoken one; the difficult one; the square peg squeezing through the round hole, it has marked me in such a subtle way that at the outset you don’t even see it. Unfortunately, that mark surfaces in the ugliest of ways and torments me just as I believe that I’ve managed to scrub it clean.
But, No.
There it is.
It’s a stain that is a part of me now.

Today was that day. The day when the stain was revealed in its most magnificent form. I met with my program director to discuss what I thought was going to be an insignificant issue – until I was asked to come for a meeting when I knew that an email with the expected outcome would have been sufficient. And there it was, plain as day. There is no hiding the mark of the resident who has gone against the grain. The only consolation in all of it was that she had empathy – she was only the messenger and not the decision maker. She confided in me that she too, as a resident and junior staff, was the outlier – the one who made noise – the one who got marked.

And then she quoted Gandhi.

I’d like to believe that I am currently in the fighting phase. Actually, I have to be in the fighting phase because I’m not sure I can last much longer in this ring. If this is laughing, then I never want to know what fighting looks like.
I’m not sure what winning looks like, but I have to believe that it’s better than this.

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