So You Matched. Now What?

By Susanna Hindman

So you’ve opened that long-anticipated, hard-earned envelope on Match Day and finally discovered where your family is headed for the next three to five years. How did you feel when that destination was finally revealed? Scared, excited, anxious, hesitant, thrilled, disappointed, amazed, surprised? All of the above?

March 15, 2013. That was the day my husband and I stood in front of his entire medical school class along with our two-year-old daughter and opened the envelope we had been waiting on for nearly four years. The Rocky theme song played as we approached the front of the room, my daughter balanced on my hip. My husband and I exchanged quick “this-is-it” glances, our hearts racing as he slid his finger under the envelope’s seal and removed the letter we had been waiting to peek at for so many months. So our moment could be shared with the whole room, the medical school dean held a microphone for my husband as he read, “Matched in Med-Peds at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, MD.” I remember my eyes widening in shock and my breath stopped a bit short. We were under the strong impression that we were headed to another location, so this news caught us completely off guard. We had already begun house hunting somewhere else! But while that wasn’t the result we had been anticipating, and rerouting our expectations was a bit alarming at first, the privilege of being selected by Hopkins and the coming weeks of learning about Baltimore quickly restored our excitement and sense of adventure.

June 10, 2013. Just three months after learning we were destined for Baltimore, we kissed our South Carolina family farewell, emotions taking us on all sorts of roller coaster rides as we watched the grandparents squeeze their granddaughter goodbye. Three months. That’s all the time incoming residents and their families have to plan, and then everything changes. For us that looked like moving from the country to the city, from family to unfamiliar, from fields to concrete, from hot to cold, from South to North. The transition was a huge one, especially as intern year demanded more of my husband’s time and energy than anything we had ever experienced before.

Being away from our family during such a demanding and exhausting season has felt very isolating at times. And living in an unfamiliar city while supporting my spouse in one of the most difficult challenges of his life while raising our kids has often been overwhelming. But I’ve found there are several simple ways to keep a level head.

First, and perhaps most importantly, I commit to community. As an introvert, it’s so easy for me to think I’m ok without it, but no one is meant to live in isolation. Most residency programs have supportive communities for families that you can engage in, connect with playgroups, and learn about your new city. The one here at Hopkins really helped me get my footing when we first arrived. And the church we joined helped us move in, get to know our neighborhood, and quickly feel at home. The people in these communities continue to be our biggest source of support and encouragement.

Finding “anchor-points” around the city was incredibly helpful in dispelling the feeling of the unfamiliar that was oh so overwhelming at first. A park within walking distance, a grocery store I learned to find without the GPS, discovering the fastest route to and from my husband’s work, a pretty place to walk around; these were places I didn’t waste time becoming acquainted with. There would be plenty of opportunity to explore and discover all that the city had to offer in the months ahead, but these were the places most important to me, because it’s in these places that I knew I’d spend 90 percent of my time.

Establishing a routine, independent of my husband’s, is another key strategy I’ve lived by since we first moved here. Residents don’t have a routine, their schedule varying by the demands of the day and their rotation in the hospital changing every couple weeks. Trying to make my plans dependent on when my husband would come home was like trying to nail down a piece of wood to the sand. It’s simply the nature of residency. Creating a predictable, yet flexible, routine for my children and myself became a source of freedom for us. If I had planned a movie night at home, we would go ahead with that plan, even if my husband got held up at work. I put the kids to bed at the same time every night, giving me space to breathe and relax after a long day of solo parenting. Sometimes that means they don’t see Daddy for a couple days, and that’s always hard, but having that predictability helps my kids as much as it helps me. That’s not to say that I don’t sometimes keep them up 30 minutes to an hour later than I normally would so they can see their daddy and tell him all about their day, but it’s not something I make a habit of, simply because it becomes too taxing to jump in and out of routine. My husband benefits from this a lot as well. Since residents have very little predictability in their life, having that constant of family gives them an anchor in the storm that keeps them steady when the waves get rough.

Moving to a new city, away from family, away from the familiar, can be as scary or as exciting as you make it. For us, we chose to look at it as one big adventure, full of new experiences and places to explore. Having this perspective of adventure wasn’t a delusion, because adventure always comes with hardship. But it’s a positive one that expects great things, and therefore doesn’t miss out on those things because they were anticipated all along. Embrace the adventure, the fact that you don’t know what’s around the bend or how everything will work out. Yes, this season of life is probably the hardest I have ever experienced, but that’s not the end of the story. There is so much more to this experience than the hard parts. There’s so much good. There’s the sharpening of skills, the exploration of a new city, the discovery that you can endure more than you think, and the friendships gained, for example. And yet, sometimes the ugly stuff is still part of the package. It’s the combination of both the good and the hard that makes that moment when you cross the finish line so full of celebration and satisfaction, filled with victory and relief. The days are long, but the years are short. Live them to the fullest.

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Susanna Hindman, a Biology grad turned artist, candidly blogs about reality, faith, and home at {Re}visionary Life, embracing the revisions to her everyday plans through photography and prose. She and her husband live in Baltimore, Maryland with their two children, while he works to complete his residency training in Medicine and Pediatrics.

 

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