Lights in the Dark

by Angela Self, TCMS President

This article was originally published in the May/June issue of the Tarrant County Physician. You can read find the full magazine here.


I once wrote about my hopes for life after medical school. I would imagine my office decor, my conversations with patients, the time I would spend coordinating their care. The thoughts were all happy and gave me hope when the dark days of medical school cast a shadow over my upbeat mood, when classes took me down the road of insomnia and gave me a near flat affect from studying more than 12 hours a day during exam time. I guess we all looked like zombies immediately before and after our exams, and some even had the fragrance. 

Once a girlfriend came to visit me and she stayed at a hotel on the beach. I discovered the pleasure of sitting and enjoying a piña colada and having zero thoughts of gluconeogenesis or small, slow-conducting fibers (protopathic). Denise, the Coyaba hotel, and a piña colada were all little lights for a med student who was over 2,000 miles from home.

There are times during my professional life that I once again feel like I’m over 2,000 miles from home. Denise is now married and living in Ohio. Piña coladas have way too many calories. The Coyaba hotel would require more PTO than I’m able to take. I’m sitting at my dining room table as I write this because stepping back into the office would make me feel like I’m still at work. I started to take an evening walk but turned around when a close friend told me how much my article sucked (the one you’re not going to read). He didn’t actually say that it sucked; he just pointed out how opposite of uplifting or encouraging it was and said, “It’s not your best work.” Thank you, “D,” for your honesty.
  

Why would I not be the happiest person you could meet? I have a great job. I am happily single and able to go out and meet a girlfriend for coffee any time I want. I see my beautiful daughter on a regular basis (who is working, doing well in school, and enjoying her youth by spending time with her close friends). My mom survived a hospitalization that nearly took her life in 2013 and has never smoked again (I had taken her home on hospice ten days after she was admitted). Heck, I barely have enough bills to qualify as debt. I should be dancing around the whole Grapevine/Colleyville area. But I’m not.

The strange thing about being there for everyone else is that you sometimes forget to keep a little piece of yourself to enjoy—you just give it all away. Yes, this is a “me” problem. I am the one who picks up the phone when I know the person calling is going to vent for the next 30 minutes, but after 20 years of friendship, you make an effort to still “be there” because that’s what friends do. When your very best friend calls and frantically asks for prayer because the vet is coming to put their horse down (which happened two days ago), how do you not take that call? When your mom wants to tell you about a grandkid she’s concerned about and says the stress is overwhelming, are you going to hang up on her? Another friend tells you they are really concerned because they are still having fatigue and shortness of breath since their heart procedure—and this is one of your health-conscious friends. How can you not feel that? Then there is the job that you love doing, but sadly you do it for 12 hours many days. I find myself on long walks, asking, “Am I missing something?” I wonder if there are elderly patients that I could be helping, or if I’m not fulfilling my calling by now being on the “administrative” side of Medicine.

Long walks, good coffee, and two cats have replaced Denise, the Coyaba, and even the piña colada. As I walk along, I play music from the 80s and 90s and look at all of the different trees—I love the long needle pines the best, they look and smell good. I see the cardinals and the other birds flying around and admire how they know the meaning of commitment. On the weekends I spend hours at the coffee shop with the same few people I’ve been meeting there for years (none of us got COVID-19, and almost everyone is getting vaccinated). They give me a special discount at Buon Giorno, just don’t tell anyone. What? They give everyone that same discount for bringing their thermal mug? I look up at the stars and try to find the big dipper, but I live in Grapevine and, you know, light pollution. I run a hot bath and sit there until it’s barely warm. Netflix holds many fond memories from my COVID-19 nights: Shtisel, Sex and the City, The Crown, Girlfriends . . . I really do make the most of each day and try to laugh as much as I can. It’s just been hard to laugh lately, and I wanted to share in case someone else is also having a hard time laughing, or sleeping, or even folding the laundry.

We are the ones who are there for everyone else. Who is there for us? Though my friends and family can drain the very life force from my body, I want you to know that I am here for you. You have sacrificed so much for others, and your colleagues see you. They care even though you thought they didn’t like you. I am struggling a bit these days, as I suspect many of us are after the year we’ve been through. 

Perhaps this is just my COVID-19 carb crash, but I am ready for this season to end. I am praying; I like to pray. I am even going to church on occasion . . . not that I care for going to church. But my faith has always seen me through the most difficult of times, and I once again find myself reading Joshua 1:9, knowing that He will be with me wherever I go. I am going to put that and a few other verses on the wall behind my laptop as a reminder that He is always with me. I have friends who do not share my faith, my politics, or my taste in music, but we do share the need to connect, to laugh, and to be heard. Thank you for reading my article and for being one of the lights in a sometimes dark place. Call me any time at 817-798-8087 (text first if you actually want me to pick up). We’re all walking through this—let’s do it together. 

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