Tag Archives: Sister Doctor

The haftas and the wannas… plus a freshly minted MD!

I’m currently reading my friend Lara Lacombe‘s fourth book — Killer Exposure. It’s so dang good, probably my favorite she’s written thus far. I love it, but it is destroying my sleep schedule because I “one more chapter” it all the way to way-too-late every single night. Thank goodness I’m almost done.

Killer Exposure on Amazon!
Killer Exposure on Amazon!

Lara writes exclusively romantic suspense, so it may surprise you to know that while chatting with my sister-in-law this weekend, a line from the book sprang to mind.

You see, Sister Doctor has now graduated from medical school and is officially an MD, which I guess means we can upgrade her to Dr. Sister. Yayyyy!! In honor of this big occasion, we threw a big Stankowski-style party… you know… like we do.

Badger Bash! Everybody wore red!
Badger Bash! Everybody wore red!

Dr. Sister tends to be on the humble side, which is the nice way of saying she absolutely cannot take a compliment without qualifying it, deflecting credit, downplaying it, or when all that fails, just getting super awkward.

Humility is an excellent thing and all, but when you excel as mightily as Dr. Sister has, too much can be a problem. Like yesterday, for example… she just didn’t seem to be able to thank us enough. Everything was “too much” and she seemed almost stressed out by all the attention and congratulations and such. Poor thing.

Pinspired burlap banner... I have a crafting problem!
Pinspired burlap banner… I have a crafting problem!

That’s when the line from Lara Lacombe’s Killer Exposure came to mind… when the (hunky) hero gets all intense and says to the (all-too-relatable) heroine: YOU ARE NOT AN OBLIGATION. (Oh man, Owen and Hannah…)

And after thinking that over last night, that’s exactly what I think yesterday’s (beautiful, curly-haired) heroine (me) should have said to (the overly humble) Dr. Sister: YOU ARE NOT AN OBLIGATION. We did not have to have a party. We wanted to have a party. We wanted to celebrate what you have accomplished, to recognize your achievements, to give your friends and family a chance to tell you how crazy proud we are and how unbelievably happy we are that you’ll be staying nearby. Not a hafta. A wanna.


We’re all a little like all-too-relatable Hannah and Dr. Sister on her big day, though, aren’t we? It’s hard not to let the insecurity that plagues us all play on the second track when other people are doing or saying nice things, isn’t it? Almost like our accomplishments, our big moments, are in some way a burden to other people. Why is that? Because think about it — think about those moments when you are super happy for or proud of a friend or a family member. It’s not an inconvenience to you — the happiness, the pride — it’s genuine. So why do we assume the worst of others? (Dr. Sister, I am not saying this to try to make you apologize for being overly humble, do you hear me? I’m merely using you as an illustrative example. Stop over-analyzing.)

I love the golden rule, the idea of treating other people as you want to be treated. But I think it’s wrong to some extent. I think a better rule is to treat everyone, ourselves included, as we would treat our best friend. That’s what works for me, anyway. Even my therapist says to me, and I am not kidding right now, “What would you say to Melissa if she were in your shoes?” The answer is always, of course, “I love you and you’re perfect and beautiful no matter what you do!!”

For example, when I got my PhD, after all was said and done, I felt pretty crappy. Looking back on it now four years later, I can see that really, the day was quite lovely. I looked like a million bucks in my fancy dress and sky high shoes, I rocked my public defense, I survived the private defense, I earned my doctorate, my labmates threw me an amazing party, and my friends and family were all there to support me despite having to listen to me drone on about mouse vaginas for an hour (literally). All I could focus on, though, was how much I sucked because one person told me I sucked. And I cried and cried and cried…. Again, literally.

What would I have said to Melissa? I would have said: Are you freaking kidding me?! You were perfect and beautiful and have so much to be proud of!!

So much nicer.

So, Dr. Sister, and all you other doubters, myself included, accept the compliment, let yourself be celebrated, appreciate the kind words and the hugs and the gifts and the parties in your honor, and always assume that it comes from a want, a desire to show you love… you, my darling, whoever you are, are not an obligation!!


So let’s just take this one more moment to celebrate Dr. Sister, MD, in all her glory! It’s been a long journey, and Dr. Sister has absolutely taken the long way — not because she had to, ever, but because she is so determined to 1) do things right and 2) get every possible valuable experience she can out of her training. It’s amazing. She’s amazing. And the University of Wisconsin is brilliant for choosing to keep her on for her general surgery residency. So much hard work to celebrate!! Seven more years to surgeon-dom!!

Dr. Sister :)
Dr. Sister 🙂

Straight from the heart… to your brain.

Happy Friday! Only a few more to go this Lenten season, and what better way to celebrate than with another Fishy Fishy Fish Fry. Tonight, we’re trying Libby McNeil’s at Hotel Marshfield. It would sound impressive, except… Marshfield. I know I’m not fooling anyway. It’s no church basement, to be sure, but it is still Central Wisconsin.

Pretty sure I’m not supposed to like Lent this much, and yet…

I love what Joan wants to talk about today. LOVE IT.

“Gifts of the heart are what memories are made of.” –Sheryl Nicholson

So, touching the heart is what makes the memory stick. YES!

“I have a theory that only what touches the heart is really lodged in the mind. Memory is made up of what has touched our lives. So, in later years, the data drops away because it is useless. But soft touches, hard words, deep joys, great pain never leave us. For good or ill, they remain. They are always there, soothing us or torturing our souls. The life question it leaves us with may be worth thinking about, What do we do with the feelings that clog our souls?” –Joan Chittister

I love this so much, not only because of what it means for personal experience (which, I mean, duh, right?!), but even more so for what I think it means about what we do work-wise. Simply about what sticks.

Gratuitous puppy picture!
Gratuitous puppy picture!

I recently wrote this about myself… my thoughts about teaching:

When I applied to Michigan Technological University in 2001 as a chemistry major, I did so despite my passion for biology as I had convinced myself that chemistry required “real” thinking while biology was mere memorization. However, my experience over the last nearly 15 years has clearly demonstrated otherwise. I now recognize all of science as a series of important interrelationships. A firm background in math, physics, and language is necessary to understand basic concepts in chemistry and biology, which serve as the building blocks to biochemistry, genetics, cell biology, molecular biology, and on and on to multitudes of other biomedical fields, including immunology, microbiology, virology, parasitology, and more. I believe that teaching with this perspective will give students a sense of how their courses are important with respect to the larger field of biomedical science and will inspire passion and enjoyment for learning.

And when I think about all of that in the context of what Joan is saying, what it really boils down to is this: I can do chemistry. I can think about, talk about it, get an A on a test about it, but honestly, I rarely feel it– in my heart.

Oh, to be sure, there are excellent chemistry jokes that make me ridiculously happy (the ether bunny is seasonally appropriate and immediately comes to mind), but for the most part, it just doesn’t light me up.

{Source} AHHHH ha ha ha ha HAAAA!
{Source} Ah ha ha ha!

Host/pathogen interactions? That lights me up.

I needed to know chemistry to really get it, of course, but the chemistry has long since faded. Loooong since. Yes, I can calculate molarity, measure pH, tell you how many protons a carbon atom has… but I could talk for hours about how tricksy gonorrhea and chlamydia turn out to be once they find their way into a genital tract. And how conversely clever the body is in response. On and on and on… because that lights me up. So I remember it. It is a memory that has stuck. Much more than any theory of quantum mechanics or SN reaction mechanism. (This last statement is so true that I had to google SN reaction to make sure I wasn’t just inventing that on the spot. It’s legit. Whew.)

Literally, an hour, about host/pathogen interaction. Love it.
Literally, an hour, about host/pathogen interaction. Love it.

I’m good at learning things, at remembering them long enough to write the paper, give the talk, take the test, but it’s definitely true that not everything sticks very well. And I’ve always wondered about that– why is it that I can sing every line from every song in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, even years after last hearing it, but could barely remember a given toxin’s mechanism of action for as long as it took me to brush my teeth?

Because the toxin does nothing to my heart. (Assuming said toxin is only theoretical, of course. Things would be different if we were talking about toxins for realsies.)

Jacob? Jacob and his sooooons?! They make my heart flip flop! And that’s why it sticks. I think, anyway.

So… what do we do with all those emotions that clog us up? Those memories that stick? The song lyrics that pop to mind when all we want is the answer to the next test question?

It’s a good question.

Perhaps the best answer I have found is to do something that lights me up as much as a song lyric every day, as often as possible. Granted, I don’t love everything I write about, but I get real into a lot of it. It’s even spilled over here, I’m sure you’ve noticed– foster care families, integrated behavioral health and primary care, rare genetic disorders, opioid addiction. Writing itself is like that, actually. It’s not exactly what I was “trained” to do, but I have always loved doing it. So maybe, in that respect, the clog isn’t a clog at all if you’re training those feelings on something productive. Maybe?


And a relatively unrelated side note… I’ve often felt jealous of the pride people have for their children, assuming it’s something I couldn’t know until having them. And I can’t have them. At least at the moment it’s difficult. Snowball effect. Woe is me. But then again, good things keep happening to people I love so very, very much. And I feel SO CRAZY proud. Absolute heart bursting pride for someone else. Or something else in the case of my sweet pup. So what’s to say that that kind of pride is reserved only for your flesh and blood?

Jerk, second track, that’s who.

So, anyway, upon getting some SUPER GREAT news for Sister Doctor today, I would be remiss if I didn’t share the heart bursting pride with all of you!!

Sister Doctor has matched into a General Surgery Residency program at the University of Wisconsin – Madison School of Medicine and Public Health! Not only is it one of the top programs in the entire country, but it’s also a mere couple hours away and, guys, I could not be happier for her!! (And selfishly for me and the rest of our big Sconi-based clan as she’s staying close to home and that’s excellent, excellent news!)

A little Match Day gift-- feminist needlepoint, a new favorite. Also, a message worth remembering in surgery residency, yes?!
A little Match Day gift– feminist needlepoint, a new favorite. Also, a message worth remembering in surgery residency, yes?!

On Wisconsin, yo!

Fun fact-- I was almost done with this one, in metallic thread and not red so as to avoid Wisconsin bias, but then for some reason unknown to me at the time, I started over completely in red and white (see above). Clearly, my subconscious knew where she was headed before any of the rest of us!
Fun fact– I was almost done with this one, in metallic thread and not red so as to avoid Wisconsin bias, but then for some reason unknown to me at the time, I started over completely in red and white (see above). Clearly, my subconscious knew where she was headed before any of the rest of us!


T is for Truth and t is for truth.

My drumline instructor when I was a freshman in high school once told us a really terrible joke about tuning piccolos (the extremely high-pitched mini-flute-like instrument absolutely essential to any John Philip Sousa march). I don’t remember it exactly, but it went something like this…

Q: How do you tune two piccolos?

A: Shoot one of them.

I told you it was horrible.

Yet, I was reminded of that punch line when I found myself facing this similarly challenging question yesterday afternoon…

Q: How do you get two biostatisticians to agree on an analytical approach?

The punch line has got to be similar.

Statisticians never agree.


Except there’s a difference. Bring a person with perfect pitch into the room (perfect pitch is an amazing and rare gift– I’m pretty sure Kevin from the LHS drumline, the guy who we called upon to tune our timpanis, had it. Absolutely amazing.) and you’ll be able to figure out which piccolo is hitting the right note and which one needs to adjust. That’s a Truth. In contrast, in biostatistics, there are many different ways to come to an answer and determining which way is the right way is really just a matter of opinion. Each approach may seem like an obvious Truth to the statistician that espouses it, yet both approaches are actually truths.

See the difference? The big T versus the little?

There are, in my mind, two different kinds of truth: Truth and truth. As a scientist, my tendency is to think of them in terms of a law (Truth) and a theory (truth). A Truth is a fact, a thing that is undeniable. Gravity is a law, it’s a fact, it’s a Truth. That gravity has an abnormally strong effect on me, thus explaining my general tendency toward clumsiness? That’s a truth. The truth can be different for you and me. The Truth cannot.

Like the word innocence for the letter I, the notion of truth keeps popping up over and over again in my life just as I hit the letter T. So it must be the word. (It was going to be Toot Sweets and Truly Scrumptious because I love Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, but Truth/truth gets a little deeper– so let’s go with that instead.)

Things that can feel very Truthy for me might not be even close for you. Take the Oxford comma, for example. (Are you into nerdy things like grammar? If so, I highly recommend you click on that Oxford comma link– it’s an amazing infographic entitled “The Oxford comma: Decried, defended, and debated” from Holy Kaw and I love it!) I have strong, personal feelings about the Oxford comma and will use it always, but there are two different opinions on that point and Oxford comma yes or no– either way is technically correct. Therefore, your own personal thoughts about the Oxford comma are just a truth. Not a Truth.

QED. (I was proving to you that the notions of law and theory, Truth and truth, don’t always have to be applied in a purely scientific capacity. I should have made that clearer from the get go. But now I’ve proven it and I’m not going back to re-write.)

I’m currently listening to the Audible version of the second book in the Divergent series. So intense! So good so far! Most recently, Tris and Four (pardon me, Tobias) were interrogated by the Candor faction (which for those of you not in the know, values honesty above all else) under truth serum. They were unable to lie and both were forced to admit some hard truths– big, important, sensitive, and personal truths. After each confession, the interrogator would be joined by  everyone in the group for a chorus of the phrase “Thank you for your honesty.”

I liked that. That’s a good response to a personal truth, whether you agree or not. Whether it’s Truth or not. It’s respectful and neutral. Granted, it would probably be an awkward conversational moment if the exact phrase was actually used in real life (e.g. You: “My pants are too tight.” Me: “Thank you for your honesty.”), but I do think the notion of appreciating someone else’s honesty is a good one. A very good one. (Perhaps a better way to neutrally appreciate such a statement would be, “I’m sorry you feel uncomfortable.” But I’m an apologizer… so… you could probably come up with something better. You get the idea, anyway.)

As I thought about the concept of Truth vs. truth and my truth vs. your truth, I realized how important it is for me to always remember that there is a difference. It’s important from the perspective of sharing my truth and accepting the truth of others.

When I share my truths, I have to phrase them as such– I need to start with a phrase that lets the other person know that this is what I believe to be true, but that it doesn’t have to be their truth, because it’s not necessarily the Truth, no matter how correct it feels to me. Similarly, when someone shares their truth with me, even if they are certain it is the Truth, I have to remember that it’s ok to have a difference of opinion.

There are a lot of things we talk about where this distinction is important.

Robin Williams is gone and he took his own life. That is the Truth.

Why he did it, what it means, what can be done in the wake of this tragedy– we all have a different truth about that. I don’t know anyone in my generation who isn’t touched by this tragedy… and that it is a tragedy, I think that is a Truth.

Depression is like that though. It’s divisive because that things are bad feels so incredibly true for the person who suffers, regardless of how things look on the outside. Of how things Truly are. You cannot tell a person at the bottom of that pit that the pit doesn’t exist because to them, it is all they can see. The successful career and the happy appearance are True, but depression is a truth it’s hard to see as anything less than Truth for the sufferer. I promise.

Nearly two years ago now, Sister Doctor was rotating through psychiatry as part of her third year medical school rotations. During that rotation, she came into contact with an elderly woman who was hospitalized for severe depression and suicidal ideation. She did not want to live. The woman touched Sister Doctor pretty profoundly, whether Sister Doctor realized it or not, and the way she spoke to me about it after the encounter struck me as particularly beautiful.

The woman had tried, in vain, to explain to someone who had never experienced depression herself what it was like and ended with a statement acknowledging the fact that without personal experience, it is not something that can be understood.

I can’t be certain, but I think that most medical students, most people for that matter, would have launched into an explanation of biochemistry and book learning and medical diagnostic criteria that would effectively minimize their own feelings of inadequacy.

Sister Doctor did not.

What she said to me was that she really wished she could spend an hour inside that woman’s head… to really know what it felt like, because the woman was right, she had no idea what depression felt like and couldn’t relate.


What if all doctors thought that way? What if all people thought that way? What if when someone shared a truth with us that doesn’t match our own truth we said, “I wish I could understand what it is like to be you in this moment…” “Thank you for your honesty…” ???

Depression is like that.

Chronic, undiagnosable  illnesses are like that.

The truth, with a little t, is like that.

Big Relief for Sister Doctor

Relief can be a powerful thing, can’t it?  In this moment, I find the physical symptoms of relief particularly interesting– that huge exhalation, the relaxing of the shoulders, the open mouth and release of laughter, or sometimes even tears.  Today was kind of like that, but not for me…

When I married my husband, I gained two additional little sisters, bringing me to a total of three.  Score!!  What a good deal!  (And I married into a seriously big, and seriously awesome family– double the family, double the fun!!)

All three of my little sisters, including the one by birth and two by marriage, are A-MAZ-ING.  They are bright, talented, brilliant, and passionate people.  All three of them put heart and soul into the things that they do, and today, I’d love nothing more than to embarrass the pants off one of them.

The oldest of my three little sisters (who is in reality only 3 months younger than me) is going to be a doctor.  A surgeon, even.  I’m pretty sure that she decided on that as a career when she was about five.  Follow-through is certainly one of her strong suits.

Seven weeks ago, after completing her third year of medical school, Sister Doctor (yes, let’s do this like they name the maunts in the Oz books, shall we? Sister Doctor, Sister Athletic Trainer, and Sister Engineer…) took the second big, big, big, future-determining test of her medical career.  Yikes.  Doctor-dom… stressful stuff.

Like I mentioned previously, Sister Doctor is brilliant and passionate and very good at what she does.  I was never worried about her doing well on this test.  But dang.  She was.  And I know that the last seven weeks have been torture for her as she thought and rethought and obsessed about every potential answer she may have gotten wrong to the point that she made herself frequently physically ill.

Imagine my concern when I got a phone call today, she was in tears, and she mentioned her test score.  When she gave me the number I was confused because it seemed really high to me, and that didn’t quite jive with the tears I was hearing.

But then again, God made us like teapots, and crying is a really good way to release the steam… and those tears were tears of extreme relief.  The release of seven weeks worth of incredible anxiety and stress.

Turns out, Sister Doctor didn’t just ace the test, she blew it out of the dang water.  She wrote her own ticket.  She will be a surgeon, and she will have her pick of programs.  And I can only imagine how big that relief must feel.  Big enough to result in tears, and for Sister Doctor, that is exceptionally uncommon, suggesting to me that this relief must have been truly BIG.  Monumental even.

So tonight, we celebrate!  And someday, when Sister Doctor is using her vast and impressive talents to cut, sew, and ultimately heal, the world will celebrate with all of us!

Thank goodness for that relief!!