doc w/ pen

a journalist becomes a doctor before your eyes

Category: The American

“Dr. Dating”

In a recent post, I shared one of my early online magazine columns from several years ago. Today, I’m sharing my most recent column, published this week. Most of my pieces (both for the magazine and here on this blog) explore science, medicine, and life in medical school. This piece, however, explores new territory. It’s called “Dr. Dating,” and as the title suggests, it delves into what it’s like trying to find a partner while surviving as a 35-year-old medical student.

This piece was first published in the online magazine The American. You can see the original version here.

Dr. Dating

Dating in medical school is hard. When your 3:30 a.m. alarm heralds a 15-hour workday, you have little time left for yourself, much less a partner.

Dating as an older medical student is even harder. When most of your classmates are a decade younger than you, your dating pool automatically shrinks. Dating apps make the whole thing almost impossible. When Cupid’s main criteria is pixelated faces there’s little room for meaningful romance.

I tend to post on sites that allow a more freeform profile, minus images. I want responses to my words alone. So far, I’ve had mixed results. I’ve dated two men seriously; one for a few months, the other for a few weeks. I was comforted to know there were people out there who shared my mindset. I’ve also gone on a number of dates with like-minded people who weren’t the keeping kind. There was either no physical chemistry or political differences of opinion too deep to overcome. I can’t date someone who doesn’t believe in the importance of social welfare programs, for example.

My online profile says I’m an intelligent, attractive, ambitious woman. I mention I’m a writer who wants to be wooed by words. I say I want more than a laundry list of hobbies. I ask for a photo or two, clothed please, promising to return the favor.

I put replies in folders so I can keep track of my suitors. My folders are labeled: “reply!,” “maybe,” “nope,” “compliments,” and “LOL.” The most interesting responses usually don’t lead to dates. Many say a lot about the people — I can’t say men, since until you meet the person it’s impossible to know — who wrote them and society at large. I’m part-lover and part social anthropologist. Human behavior intrigues me.

The messages in the “nope,” “LOL,” and “compliments” folders have taught me a lot.

But let me break it down. The “nope” e-mails are usually one- or two-liners like this:

Hi, I’m interested in you, hope to read back from you.

Or vague:

Good evening, how are you? I hope all is well. I am reaching out regarding your post. I am in my early-30’s, 5’10”, and looking to meet someone new outside of my social circle. Hobbies and interests?

I hope we have a chance to chat soon. Take care and enjoy your weekend!

If you’re looking for a wordsmith, you skip past these.

The “LOL” responses exist to remind me there are still plenty of misogynistic men who feel threatened by confident and capable women. Some believe a bad marriage is better than divorce. Many can’t imagine they might be the source of a divorce. I try not to respond to such messages. Here are a few examples, as well as my potential responses. I’ve made some minor grammatical changes for the sake of clarity, and have removed identifying details.

On divorce:

I’m white, live in [NYC borough], and [am] looking for a relationship hopefully leading to marriage and raising a family. I’ve never been married, no kids, don’t smoke or do drugs, rarely drink, no pets, not a vegetarian, and am Catholic. And you? You seem like a nice person. Why did you divorce?

Another:

The most interesting thing about [your profile] is the part where it notes you’re divorced and that you chose not to offer an explanation re: same. Thoughts?

I might reply this way:

Just because I posted an online profile with some vague details about my personal life does not mean that I owe you — someone I have never met, and know nothing about — an explanation. To be honest, I mentioned that I’m divorced for one purpose and one purpose only — to screen out people who have a problem with dating divorced women. Looks like my strategy is working.

One man responded every time I changed my profile. Here are excerpts from what I received — so delightfully — over a two-week span.

1. You’re pedestrian and obvious, you’re a plebe and a wannabe. You’re a middle-aged … student. Not sure where you get the right to be that pretentious. I wouldn’t even consider bedazzling your face with my semen.

2. I see you started four out of five paragraphs with “I.” Do you lack such an imagination as a writer that every sentence needs to start with “I” or “I’m”? Also — SELFISH. Your ad reads as “me me me me.”

3. You’re fucking stupid.

To this eloquent man (assuming he is one), I would reply:

Given that you have replied not once, not twice, but three times to my profile, not with the goal of meeting me, but of insulting me — and are therefore wasting your own time — I have no choice but to conclude that it is you who are stupid. Best wishes in your own search.

Some just don’t understand intellectual attraction:

What planet are you from where men will be drawn to your words before they are drawn to your body?

To which I would say:

Dear Sir, I am from Earth, a planet where a minority of men still desire not only physical but intellectual intimacy with their partners. This may not be your goal, but it is the goal of dozens of people who have replied to my profile. I do thank you for your kind concern, though.

My “compliments” folder exists to remind me good men are out there. Three snippets in that vein:

1. If you don’t mind me saying, this was probably the most well written and grown-up post on [this website]. I’m impressed, most everything else is devoid of any type of substance. Although I would love to go back and forth with you about any and all topics, I’m probably not what you’re looking for. But I felt compelled to write you. Anyways, I wish you the best in your journey!

2. Hi, seriously I wished I was 35. I loved everything about your ad. Unfortunately I’m [in my mid-20s]. Been looking for a woman like you for awhile but it’s so hard to find. My last relationship didn’t last long because she was more of a Nympho and I wasn’t unfortunately. But I need someone like you in my life. I hope to find my own … soul mate. I wish you all the best.

3. I just wanted to say I really enjoyed your ad. It was a pleasure to read such a well-written, clever ad. It brought a smile to my face as I perused the rest of the junk [on here] today. … Unfortunately, I’m not your type. (I fail in one important category. I’m married. Otherwise, it would be a great match.) But I wanted you to know that your ad brought a smile to my face and gave me hope of finding someone decent on [this website]. Good luck.

So there are kindred spirits out there. Somewhere. And one day I’ll find a smart, funny guy who isn’t married, isn’t crazy, and I click with. For now I’ve got medical school, and she’s a demanding mistress.

Advertisements

A story from the past that explores life and death, and what makes us human

As some of you know, I write a (mostly) monthly column for an online magazine called The American. I have occasionally posted the link to that column here on my blog. But it dawned on me that those of you who read my blog might like to read these columns as well, and are unlikely to come across them unless I share them directly.

So here is the first column I wrote, published online on April 3, 2014. At this time, I was working in a neonatology research lab at Northwestern University in Chicago. In this piece, I tangle with the themes of life and death, and what makes us human.

Note: This column was first published in The American. You can access the original version here.

The taut line

As the freezer door swung shut, the gravity of what I had just done sunk in. Just 15 minutes ago, the body now stiffening inside had been running, climbing, eating, drinking. I injected it with ketamine/xylazine to anesthetize it. I cut its chest open. I put it on a ventilator. I snipped out its heart and lungs with tiny scissors.

When it was all over, I wrapped it in scratchy, brown paper towels, sealed it in a gallon plastic bag, and tossed it in the freezer. Crush a cricket and I cringe; bleed out a mouse and I didn’t blink. What did this say about me? I left the research lab that day with a furrowed brow, but without an answer.

As if I weren’t troubled enough, I realized that in medical school, which I start this fall, some professor will no doubt utter the phrase “life is sacred.” I agree. How, though, to reconcile that idea with the fact that to save human lives, to improve them, we kill other animals?

These questions have nagged me since that first mouse almost two years ago. They haven’t prevented me from working in biomedical research. But asking them forced me to probe what I am doing and why. Along the way, I have asked other questions and made other observations, which I will explore in this column. As a former reporter and editor, I come by such questions and observations naturally. For years, publishers paid me to query and conclude on matters of public interest, such as zoning laws or school board elections. I stick to science and medicine these days, since “physician-scientist” is what I want to be when I grow up (or finish medical school, at least).

That career path means working with animals — probably mice, and probably killing them in the end. Some people might say, “Oh, it’s just a mouse.” When I stare down into a yawning chest cavity, though, at a pulsing heart, that gap between man and mouse narrows for me. Life is life. Death is death. I dole out the latter. (Count for last week: 22 rats, 18 mice.)

Watching a life come and go, instigating that coming and going, unsettles me all the more because its inception is such a miracle. Even now, every time I find a new litter of pups, called “pinkies” on the first day of life for their rosy skin color, I am awed. That first day, we don’t disturb the mother or the pups. To make sure they are alive and wriggling, we peek underneath the clear, plastic cage. From that vantage point, I can still often make out the little white “milk spot” on a translucent abdomen or two. “Good, they’re nursing,” I tell myself. The pups, born naked, blind, and deaf, grow and change daily. Within one week, their ears are fully developed and fur starts to appear. By 14 days, their eyes open. That’s when we kill them.

“Kill,” though, is weighty word, rife with connotation. Instead, we usually say, “sac,” short for “sacrifice.” Though using another word changes nothing, it can allow for a change in attitude — if you let it.

It can lend some respect and dignity to the animals’ lives, some purpose in ending them, and remind us to use only as many as are necessary.

As the word “sacrifice” suggests, there are elements of ritual in what we do, at least unconsciously. The animals are housed in a separate facility; we “sac” them in our lab. After we bring the plastic cage in, one of us drops a few Cheerios — a rare, exciting treat — onto the shredded, woody bedding. I work in a neonatology lab where we study (and hope to one day prevent and treat) a chronic and sometimes fatal lung disease. This disease affects premature babies exposed to high oxygen, so the mice we sac are juveniles, usually 14 days old. The way we induce this disease in the pups is to put them into an oxygen chamber, along with their mothers. So we have to sac the moms as well. This is the hardest part for me.

“I’m sorry we have to do this, mom,” my lab manager often says as she grasps the female mouse by her tail. “Thank you for taking such good care of your babies.”

Then she gently lays the mouse, its nipples still swollen from suckling, into an anesthetic-filled glass jar. The mouse quickly asphyxiates.

Watching this for the first time shook me inside. It still does, a little bit. There is a tension there, a taut line between compassion, curiosity, concern, and conscience. Through it all, I believe in an honest search for personal reconciliation. That makes us different from mice. That makes us human.