I was in my usual spot at the gym, not working out – of course – but working. I bring my laptop to the gym almost every day. I mooch off of their free coffee, and my kids play in the gym daycare. I use their high-speed internet, sip my coffee, and write.
But that day was different because as I got all settled in to write, I got the phone call. You know, that kind you hear about but don’t think it’s ever going to be you?
It was the hubs, and he very calmly said, “Catherine, don’t freak out. I was in a car accident. I am ok.”
So, obviously, when someone tells me not to freak out, I go ahead and freak out.
Although I was upset, somewhere internally, deep in my bones, I knew he was okay because he was calling me. He wasn’t in an ambulance or a hospital bed somewhere. I didn’t get a call from a stranger telling me about the accident. It was him, which meant, this wasn’t the end.
Still, he felt so far away. Like I wasn’t connected to him. Like I didn’t even know this person on the other end of the line. My mind was on autopilot. I saw the whole conversation play out in front of me like colorful letters flashing in front of my face. My mind was alert, but my body was frozen. I thought to myself:
He’s telling me he’s fine and doesn’t need to go to the ER. I am telling him he is not fine and he absolutely needs to go to the ER. Back and forth. I’m convincing his co-worker to take him to the ER. I can’t get to him. He’s hurt, and I’m being aggressive and downright rude, demanding that he get every test available. I should be nicer to him. He just got in a car accident. Get the MRI. CT. Whatever they have. He is fine. He will be fine.
Physically, I felt like I was somewhere else, even though I was rooted in my everyday gym cafe universe. I didn’t know what the next steps should be. The hubs told me I didn’t need to drop everything and grab the kids and drive 40 minutes to the hospital. He insisted he was fine. He said our 3-year-old twins didn’t need to be in a germ-infested ER. He promised to get the tests I want him to get. He said he’d be home soon.
But I kept thinking, I’m his wife. I should be there. People’s wives go to the hospital when they get in car accidents. But I didn’t go. He said to stay put, and I listened.
There’s a reason he felt so far away, so disconnected. Before the call, I hadn’t talked to the hubs much at all in the days and weeks prior. He was on night shift, driving into work at the hospital at night while I was on perpetual mom shift, the kind of days and nights that feel like they will go on forever.
My daughter sobbing at the door every single night begging her dad not to go to work.
The never-ending toddler terrorist demands.
The editors who write in all caps and make me hate my job. HATE my job.
The distance from family.
The pile of laundry that will one day eventually suffocate me. If I ever go missing, I’m in the basement, underneath the dirty clothes.
I traveled to the Financial Bloggers Conference right before the accident, something I go to every year.
Many of my friends and colleagues asked about the hubs. They knew I’d been quiet. I hadn’t posted on my blog in months…. many, many months. I’d been backing away, burrowing. Cocoon-ing.
I told them the truth when they asked. The hubs hasn’t been great. And neither have I. I put on a good show, but the truth is, nothing could have ever prepared me for this season of my life – of how much hubs being a doctor in residency would test me – of how much the three-year-old twins would test me – of how much this job I created for myself would test me.
The accident, instead of putting my life and my marriage in sharp focus and making us throw ourselves into each other’s arms, instead felt like another elephant to go on top of all the other elephants on our backs.
The hubs, who literally believed he could not take on one more thing suddenly had a broken hand/wrist. His future as a surgeon was suddenly uncertain. All of this work, this effort. Would it be for nothing?
Both of us moving to another country for medical school. Both of us driving our preemie babies across the country so he could start his medical school clerkship. The money we spent on his education. The money we saved so he could fly all around the country doing residency interviews. The nights he hasn’t been home. The moments he missed with the kids. The holiday parties he couldn’t attend. The grass I cut because he wasn’t there to cut it. And the trash I took out. And the snow I shoveled. Every time I had to put a kid in time out, every time I lost my temper with them because I hadn’t had a break. Every time he was about to leave the hospital to come home when an emergency rolled in and kept him there for hours more —- all of a sudden, it seemed like we had spent a decade working towards this life together and it could be gone.
The accident was 8ish weeks ago.
Hubs had surgery to repair the broken hand/wrist. I took him by myself to the hospital and cried most of the time he was back there. I felt so alone in the waiting room. There were so many other families huddled together, chatting, and then there was me with my stupid laptop trying to stay busy.
He was in a cast and then a split and now, nothing. He’s in intense physical therapy. He performed his first minor surgery on a patient yesterday with an attending, a teacher, right next to him to make sure things went ok (they did.)
And, for what it’s worth, I know it could have been worse.
The car was completely totaled. All the airbags deployed. But, he stepped out of the car and walked away. And the driver who hit him? He walked away unscathed.
I have to ask myself, what would have happened if he had died? Furthermore, what would have happened if he died with me feeling so far apart from him, so disconnected? Would I have even been able to remember my last conversation with him? The last words I spoke to him? When was the last time the kids saw him or played with him? With his schedule like it is, I honestly would have had to dig deep to remember.
All that to say, any physician who is currently training in a surgical residency program is going through an experience unimaginable to outsiders. There is literally nothing I can write to explain what it is like for all the surgical residents across the country who go to work every day. Even I don’t fully understand what goes on at his work, but I know that it has changed the hubs. And it’s changed us. And because of that, I do resent it often.
Still, we’re not quitters.
And I’m going to show my kids that even when things are bleak… like really bleak… you don’t quit when you’ve committed to something. We made a commitment to each other, to our families, to our kids, and even to the hubs’ residency program. We honor our commitments and we stick to them, even when every instinct and fiber and molecule and speck of air is screaming at us to run.
This whole thing – you know, the car accident thing – isn’t over.
Hubs is still very early in his recovery. The mental recovery from something like this is stickier and slower than the physical recovery. Physical recovery can be measured by doctors and physical therapists. It can be measured by muscle tone in his hand, the angle that his wrist can flex, the grip his hand can hold.
But mental recovery? It’s kind of like thick, gooey swamp marsh, the kind I used to run around in as a child growing up in Louisiana.
Sometimes you can run across the marsh with ease and sometimes you put your foot down in the mud, and it’s deeper than you thought. Sometimes you get a little stuck and things get messy. The mental impact of this accident was unexpected. Because residency has already taken someone who was mentally strong and wore him down, he was not prepared for this event. Trying to be back at work while trying to recover is kind of like someone aiming a firehose right at his face but also asking him to hold another firehose with a hand that’s still getting its grip back.
As for me?
Well, I’m a little tired of cocoon-ing.
I’m tired of burrowing.
And, I’m tired of hiding.
Consider me back here – at this blog – chronicling our lives, the good and the bad, just as I always intended to.