it’s outta my hands

This is sort of how I imagine the computer that does the match. Image via Flickr user Lori and the Bell Jar.

At some point in toddlerhood, it eventually hits all of us, the “I can do it by myself!”  And from that point on, to be human is to want to be in charge of ourselves.  You’re not the boss of me! I choose my choice! I’m in charge!

Lately, though, I find myself feeling like a toddler, trying to DO IT BY MYSELF, and this thing called life keeps reminding me that I’m not always the boss of me, I don’t always get to choose my choice.  Boy oh boy does the medical education system that owns our lives right now make that clear.  You see, in three weeks, Jon will get an email that will suddenly reveal what we’ll be doing with our lives for the next three years. And it’s more than driving me nuts.

You’d think I’d be over this, because we’ve been here before. Those of you outside the world of medicine might not know how this works, but at the end of medical school, graduating MDs have interviewed all over the country at residency programs.  They submit a “rank list” of everywhere they’ve interviewed to a central computer system, and at the same time, the residency programs submit a rank list of all the people who interviewed with them. Then the magic computer matches residents with programs, and on one day in March, all the med students receive envelopes revealing to them their fate for the next 3-5 years.  In our case, the med school threw a huge all-day party on Match Day (it was the Ides of March, I’ll never forget) and each med student had to individually open that envelope on a stage and announce where they’d matched to their entire class and assembled friends and family.

I have remarked that “the match is God.”  Now, I don’t mean that literally, but it’s just a big lesson in LIFE IS OUT OF YOUR CONTROL.  The match is the boss.  I tend to believe that things work out as they should, that we end up where we need to be, and that God can use something as silly as a computerized match to get us to new places on our life journey.  I had never even been to Charleston when Jon interviewed here and ranked it as a place he’d like to match.  True story, he’d never been here until he came to interview, but decided to apply because an internet quiz said it would be his “ideal hometown.”  I first laid eyes on our new hometown the weekend we came to buy a house.

Our first few months here were some of the hardest of my life, as I’d never been so far from family and friends, had to find my first post college job and ended up with one less than what I’d hoped for, and had to deal with my one and only friend and husband working 80+ hours a week, which proved to be an emotional wringer for us both.  There was a lot of crying, and in retrospect I was probably legitimately depressed for a while there.  Eventually we put down some roots, made some friends, and discovered that we actually like it here.  I lost that first job and found one that makes me much happier and allows me to take graduate classes and stretch my mind a little bit.  In a lot of ways, I feel like we’re finally feeling at home, only to start the entire match process all over again.

Now Jon is finishing his residency in pediatrics and has decided to pursue a fellowship in pediatric emergency medicine, which will be another three years of training.  This means another match.  Another series of interviews, another rank list, another day in which our fate will be handed to us.  At this point, I can’t even tell you where we’ll be in six months.  I can’t make plans for next summer.  I have to wait for December 2, when an email will decide my life for the next three years.  It’s like waiting for Christmas when you’re five years old.

On one level, I’m freakishly breezy about this.  I haven’t agonized with Jon over how to rank the places he interviewed, and I hope he hasn’t agonized too much either.  In some way, I feel like what we put down on that list really doesn’t even matter, it’s just that out of our control.  Though we think we’d like to stay here the next three years, I’m not even sure what the hospital puts down on their rank list matters all that much either. We had a friend in a different specialty who was all but told s/he woudn’t be matching in the hospital of his/her choice by an attending, only to end up matched there.  The match is like magic. The match is like God.  You just have to trust that the mysterious ways will work the way they should, and everything will end up exactly as it needs to be.

And intellectually, I know that worrying won’t add a day to my life or get December 2 here sooner.  Even though I feel like a toddler who wants to DO IT BY MYSELF, throwing myself on the floor and having a temper tantrum isn’t going to change things.

I need to learn to wait in this advent season. To prepare my heart and my mind for a change.  To accept that I don’t always have to be in control.  And when I think about it that way, it’s downright spiritual.  Come thou long expected Match Day… It’s too bad spiritual and real maturity have to be so hard-won.  Sometimes I’d rather throw myself in the floor and wail that my life has to be some sort of object lesson on life. And waiting. And patience. And acceptance.

9 Replies to “it’s outta my hands”

  1. I feel like such an ass saying this, but I love the idea of not knowing where you might end up. I panic thinking OH MY GOSH, I am going to live in Orlando the rest of my life. I do feel for you, I am terrible in instances where I am not in the know, and forced to wait before laying down plans, so in that respect it is a terrible terrible feeling that it sounds like you are wrestling quite well.

    But I mean at the same time I would be excited to get to shake things up. I just need a vacation I think.


  2. That was my life over the summer, as my husband finished up his PhD program and started looking for jobs, and then some post-docs, with me potentially facing leaving a job I had recently started and really enjoyed. When that was settled we had to figure out the moving situation, and while our apartment was let out a week into our last month there, we didn’t have our NYC place until a week before we moved out.

    Here’s hoping to a successful match made for you and your husband!


  3. Well at least you wont have too move to far outside of your same sort of region (unless you go to Colorado). Good friends of mine are both doctors and married and when they were applying to residencies they were just praying they both placed in the detroit-area because what if one placed in state A and one placed in state B? It all worked out but they were STRESSED waiting to hear.


  4. ah, i can relate. not in the specific sense (we’re not dealing with medical residency) but with some upcoming forks in the road that will be determined by unforeseen circumstances. we’re in the home stretch for him obtaining his doctorate, but that home stretch includes includes research, data, dissertation drafting / defense, & eventually the job market. we’re hoping to stay in the area, but we’ll see what happens.

    sometimes it seems like we really have it all under control until we realize that we really, really don’t. i’m guilty as charged.


  5. I remember some similar stress when I applied for grad school, but it was also very different in that I was single, and so I only had to worry about finding a place to live that would also take my cat. Even that wasn’t so easy, given the anti-pet attitudes of so many landlords.

    I hope that you’ll either get to stay put, or if you do end up moving, find that the new place is better than what you left! I’m glad that you’re managing to stay at least outwardly unruffled.

    The trick with all these experiences that can prod us to grow spiritually is that they never stop coming; they’re a journey without a real destination. I guess that’s both hard and good.


  6. My heart goes out to you. I just lived through that uncertainty a few times, military style. We got to Charleston… six months later we were told we would do prototype in upstate New York. Then we learned that the plant was closed, so we stayed in Charleston, and then the 10 weeks in Connecticut, and now, finally, we’re landed in Virginia.

    I went through a few phases of emotion — ending ultimately in exhausted acceptance. I kept trying to figure out how to have the best possible life in each location, only to be dissuaded by distance or local schools or whatever. Turns out Norfolk was the best imaginable option for us, and we are having a great time here. I got my dream job and life rolls merrily along, tra la la.

    If you live fearlessly and positively in the way I know you do, life will always give you what you want. I believe that. Go forth boldly and with purpose and your path will reveal itself to you.

    Plus, you know, Charleston is totally the pits. You don’t realize it until you’re gone. There isn’t even a Chic Fil A in the city limits, and you can’t get a decent haircut for any amount of money. Also, sorority girls. [And if you end up staying, this paragraph is redacted.]


  7. Lauren, now I miss you EVEN MORE!!! I am so there on the researching every single place. I know all about the graduate school options in every place we might possibly live, and then I think, hm, maybe I shouldn’t even waste time thinking about it since everything is so unsure. It’s not too much longer to wait now, and Thanksgiving is going to be a nice distraction. The 2nd is going to be here before we know it.

    And uh, come visit, they’re building a Chick Fil A on highway 17. 4rlz.


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