On the Side

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On the Side - March 2017

Our Ever-Present Help
Carol Shrader

We were dorm parents when Wade was in medical school. The University of Chicago provided us with room, meals, utilities and we just (JUST) had to care for the 80 undergraduates in our apartment-style dormitory.

The stories are endless. One night a young lady showed up at our door at 3 in the morning to complain that her roommate was burning a candle. She was completely distraught. I held up my pointer finger as if it were a candle and blew on it, then sent her back to her room with the necessary knowledge to remedy the situation. (Ok, would that sound less heartless if you knew I had JUST gotten three newborns to sleep when she knocked on the door?)

One of our real responsibilities was to host a “Study Break” several times a week to engage with the residents. The school was committed to helping them socialize in an effort to improve their mental health – as a matter of fact, that was the most important aspect of our job, helping these young people cope with the stresses of their academic careers. So one of our “Study Breaks” involved holding a must-see TV night in our apartment every Thursday. We had snacks, fellowship and watched an episode of Friends before really settling in to watch ER – the medical drama of the era which happened to be set in Chicago and often had scenes from our very own University of Chicago.

I have to tell you that we loved that show – all of us. And as the wife of a medical student, I found it exhilarating to think my husband was and would soon be even more immersed in the life-saving skills that George Clooney so embodied on screen!

Should we all pause for laughter, sighing, or both here?

Fast-forward a few years to a new must-see TV show about medicine and hospital life – Grey’s Anatomy. We were further along in training and I thought maybe it would be a good fit for my post-putting-triplets-to-bed-but-prior-to-Wade-coming-home routine.

But I couldn’t watch it. The show’s drama made me doubt my marriage. The imaginings of all those beautiful women at Wade’s hospital made me doubt myself. It wasn’t exhilarating like it had been in medical school. It was too much.

I am not condemning those who do watch – please know that – I am saying that for me, medical dramas are not healthy. They give Satan a stronghold to inject fear and worry into an area that needs to be free.

“And do not give the devil a stronghold.” Ephesians 4:27

So please follow with me – because I know this about myself. I know that the suggestion of drama in the medical field can cause irrational fears, which I try to avoid. And so when the link recently appeared on Facebook regarding a physician who attempted suicide but lived, I quickly scrolled past. I didn’t want to read it. I didn’t want to know.

And then when it popped up a second, and third time I just closed my computer completely.

But then today it showed up again. This time, I felt compelled to click. I felt compelled to educate myself on the topic rather than burying my head in the sand. Do you know what I learned? Every year the United States loses the equivalent of a small medical school of physicians to suicide. Did you get that? A small medical SCHOOL!

According to Louise B. Andrew, MD, on the Medscape website, the numbers aren’t exact due to cause of death reports but it is believed that the number hovers around one physician suicide a day – 300-400 a year.

300-400 a year.

We are starting a new Side by Side chapter in my home region of Jackson, Mississippi. At our first gathering a new friend shared that her mother-in-law had taught her so much about caring for her physician husband.

That comment keeps resonating in my head – caring for her physician husband.

So often my prayers for you center around sustenance during your years as “single mom” while your husband is in training. The prayers focus on encouraging you, supporting you. And while ultimately I believe that all of this is important BECAUSE it supports your husband, I have to confess that sometimes the “supporting the husband” parts gets lost for me.

And yet, 300-400 suicides a year.

Ladies, our men have stressful jobs. They are every day faced with an onslaught of decisions that really and truly are life and death. And patient care is often the easiest part of their practice – they are faced with pressures from all aspects of the healthcare world.

And so, suddenly, I want to hold a big Study Break at my house and invite all of you and your husbands. I want to invest in the mental health of our men.

But since I can’t do that – may I remind you that we are in this together? We will stand together and kneel together and seek God’s perfect peace for our guys in their calling to the medical field together.

You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you! Isaiah 26:3 (NLT)

And as we stand together, let’s keep our minds aware of warning signs for suicide: depression, the loss of interest in things he used to enjoy, and trouble sleeping.  

Oh girls. We need to gird ourselves up to support our men. We need to be praying for them, for each other, and for God’s sustenance as they do a work that is at once rewarding and draining in ways we possibly cannot even imagine.

If you do recognize signs of depression in your husband, first know that you are not alone. Depression affects many people.

According to Psychology Today, there are things you can do to help:

  1. Encourage your husband to think through what the triggers for his depression could be.
  2. Depression often leaves us feeling as if we do not want to move, get up, participate in our usual activities. But even just tossing the ball with your children can release endorphins that improve the way you feel. Encourage your husband to move.
  3. Depression can be isolating. Remind your husband that he is not alone. Encourage social interaction.
  4. Remind him that a therapist is a safe place to talk and share his struggles.

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” Psalm 46:1 (NIV)

Much like I had to be intentional in caring for the undergraduates in my care in Chicago, we have to be intentional in the care of our men in our medical marriages.

Now may the God of peace… equip you with all you need for doing his will. Hebrews 13:20-21 (NLT)

Please know I am covering you – and your men – in my prayers!

Carol Mason Shrader

Carol Shrader and her husband, Wade, live in Madison, MS where Wade is a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Mississippi Children’s. They have three college sophomores and one 11-year-old. 

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