I’m ready; I’m ready for the laughing gas/I’m ready, for what’s next. –U2 “Zoo Station”
What next? I’ve been asked many permutations of the same question. Not only what next, but, “When?” A really great friend of the family, Aldene Fricks, always wants to know what I’m going to be doing. She wants an answer. And not in a bad way, because she is genuinely worried and concerned. Truth be told, what I’m doing is a bit atypical by Midwestern standards. I’m a good German, Midwestern man. Collectively, we put our heads down and get through 50 years without blinking with the best of them. I’m not supposed to take a detour. It’s not in my DNA. This is not part of the script. Some good friends and colleagues are a little worried about what I’m doing. So am I. Sonia, however, is not. And I’m beginning to see things her way. So, to answer “what next” question directly, the most honest answer is: I don’t know, it feels great to say that, and that’s kind of the point of the sabbatical.
I nearly went with a quote from Bono in a 1992 interview with MTV. He was asked about, “The Fly get-up. What’s with that?” I loved his response. “You didn’t like me when I was me. So I found somebody new. And you love him.” In a sense, the quote would be a bit of hyperbole. In the stress of the last several years, some of the more enjoyable parts of my personality became buried. This was largely by accident. It’s not a “new” me, but rather, bringing back some parts that had disappeared for a bit too long.
I haven’t completely disowned my Midwestern roots, and gone hippie on everybody. I do have things I want to accomplish. While recuperating, I’m not going to be staying in five-star resorts, drinking margaritas on the beach. Independently wealthy, I am not. I’m only short term, independently middle class. I know and my family knows that at some point, I’m going to have to go back to work. Luckily for us, I can be deliberate this time, and try to do this correctly, so that when I do go back, I am not liable to fall to pieces like I did in Act 1.
The first thing that had to happen, and is still happening, is rest, pure and simple. Sonia has come up with various estimations on how much of a traditional work career I’ve already put in. I’m not sure about the accuracy, but I think it’s a ballpark figure to start from. More importantly than the actual number of hours, or years worked, is the fact they were tough, stressful, “high leverage” hours. Unfortunately for me, I don’t rest easily. I’m learning how to relax, and that it’s actually OK to relax. I frequently ask Sonia, “Did I do enough today?” She’s beginning to understand me, but she still shakes her head.
I’m not there, but I’m close. I’m almost sleeping 6 ½ to 7 hours and not waking up in the middle the night. I’m learning not to jam pack all of my time off with deadlines that I need to hit. I’m getting up in the morning, and except for migraines, I generally feel refreshed. I make it a point to play with and talk to our parakeet, Louie, every day. I’m trying to teach him how to talk. “Double stuffed parakeet”, “Hello Dolly”, and “Do you have bird insurance?” All of these are high on our list. Baby steps, man. Baby steps.
Related to rest, is the issue of health. I have been coping with a bunch of chronic, but thankfully only mild to moderate, health issues that I want to get on top of for the first time in years. I went to donate blood three weeks ago, and my blood pressure was low as it’s been in over five years, so that’s a plus. I’m trying like heck to get off proton pump inhibitors for my stomach issues. I think I’m close to that. I had promised my MD that I would stay on anxiety treatment for at least a solid year. Ultimately, I would like to learn to cope better so pharmacology is not my primary method for dealing with the issue. Not that I regret the decision to take a SSRI, whatsoever. If I hadn’t agreed to pharmacotherapy in the first place, last year would’ve been much worse. Of this, I’m sure. All of these are goals I think I can accomplish before the middle of the year.
The migraines present a bigger and more vexing issue. Like most people with migraines, their cause is multi-factorial. I was hoping stress and lack of sleep were by far the leading causes. As I found out in the last 7 to 8 weeks, that doesn’t seem to be the case for me. I can get rid of my migraines faster because I can sleep them off when I need to, but their frequency and intensity has not dropped. I think weather changes are by far the biggest factor for me. One of the reasons our family loved our big South Western Road Trip two years ago was that nobody had a migraine. All of us are prone to them. Apparently, the conditions in Albuquerque and Flagstaff are just about perfect for our bodies. At home, we joke about moving to New Mexico on a regular basis. I’m not so sure that any of us should be joking at this point. Great food, mountains and outdoors activities, and no headaches. “Kesselring” is not a common name out there, so we would stick out like sore thumbs. So if we do something bad, it’s going to be hard to blame it on “the other Kesselrings”. I do love me some chile sauce however.
Although this next issue is third in my progression, it is by far the most important thing on the list. Over the last 2 to 3 years, I felt like I was becoming less relevant to my own children and family. I have been repeatedly assured that this was not the case. But I missed a lot of events. And if two events were going on simultaneously, we had to have A LOT help. The on-call life got in the way of planning routine activities with my family. I was leaving for work so early and coming home so late, that it was unusual for me to even be able to help with our children’s homework. My kids were incredulous in their first week back to school after winter break. Both were having a little trouble with science and math, so they started asking questions to my wife. She told them that science was kind of in my wheelhouse, given that, you know, medicine requires an extensive background in the sciences. They were absolutely shocked. After I was able to help them, in the last month and a half I get the lion’s share of math and science questions. And it’s great.
What people don’t realize is that for the better part of 15+ years, I was at the center of attention when it came to planning anything. “Does this fit my call schedule?” I began to feel like a pain in the ass. My family won’t say it, but I know I was a pain in the ass. Everything had to go through me first; I didn’t want it that way, but in order to make sure work was covered, it HAD to be that way (and it felt awful). One thing that I am able to prioritize now is that when it comes to planning family activities, my vote is now the least important. And it feels FANTASTIC. I can fit in my stuff around the kids and Sonia’s schedule. It’s beautiful. I’m thrilled to be the last consideration.
I get to drive Andrew to school, which I had never done before. On a daily basis, I take Allison to the bus stop and pick her up from the bus stop. Andrew is on the archery team, and Sonia frequently drives a carpool between schools to take different children to archery practice. I’ve already given a couple of the archery kids new nicknames, whether they wanted them or not. Allison runs with me to three days a week. I get to help the kids with soccer. We take family hikes on the weekend to prep for hiking and camping trips this coming summer. I fold laundry, do dishes, feed the guinea pigs, and entertain the parakeet. The amount of free time that Sonia now has for other endeavors, (sewing, and committee work for the school district) is incredible.
Two years ago we took a long two week road trip visiting primarily Albuquerque and northern Arizona. We are planning two separate trips this year. The first will be a shorter one where we see southern New Mexico, Carlsbad Caverns, and hopefully hike to the highest point in Texas. The second one will be longer; we hope to go hiking and camping across similar territory to our trip two years ago. I want my children to have an appreciation for the area where my wife grew up. I want them to be able to see something distinctly different than here. We hope to do numerous long hikes, and hopefully get to the top of a peak or two. These are not going to be fancy trips. We will be tent camping most of the way. But I think our children get to SEE more this way. Sometimes I wish I could pull my kids out of school, tutor them for one year, and see as much of America we could. I’m not trying to make up for lost time. Rather, I’m trying to thank my family for hanging in there with me and supporting me, and I want them to know that I’m going do my damnedest to avoid getting out of balance like that again.
Because we have a lot of hiking to do, and I’ve always enjoyed the activity, I’m trying to get into good running shape again. And I never really lost it completely in the last two years. But my ability to get in what I would term acceptable cardiovascular training began to dwindle in the last 18 to 24 months. So my first goal is to make sure I am ready to handle all the hiking we’re going to be doing on our trips. If I get a chance, health permitting and family schedule permitting, I would like to run an ultra marathon this fall. (For those of you who don’t know, and ultra marathon is any distance beyond 26.2 miles. Conventionally, the shortest ultra is usually 50 km, which is about 31 miles.) Most of these races a run on trails because cities cannot afford to shut down the streets for this long, and the softer surfaces are more challenging for the runners, but also easier on their bodies. I’ve always enjoyed trail running. There is a freedom that I get on trails that I just can’t duplicate on the roads. Now that I have the time, it seems like the next step in the progression. I’m not promising that it’s going to happen, but I’m intrigued, and I’m training to keep that window of possibility open.
I’ve also made sure to keep a routine schedule of staying in contact with friends and work colleagues since I’ve left the office. Financially our family is stable for beyond the foreseeable future. However, I have no illusions that this is a permanent situation. If you wish to call it networking, so be it. But in the few months before I left, and on a routine basis now, I continue talking to friends and work colleagues about potential of employment in the future. I’m not asking for jobs, but rather this serves to bounce ideas off of them and to find out if things that I’m thinking about are even realistic. It gives structure to my days and weeks, and doesn’t let the productive aspect of my brain go to waste.
And now I’m writing this. I hope that this is the last directly work related entry for a little while. I have other interests and other aspects to my personality beyond medicine. It’s nice to actually think about them and articulate them for a change. Related to this, I’m hoping that I get the itch to read for pleasure in the foreseeable future. I did a lot of reading over the last decade, but most of it was work and medicine related. It doesn’t give you a good idea on what’s going on with the rest of the world, nor to explore personal interests. I tried not to have blinders on, but at times it was impossible. For the record, vaccines DO NOT CAUSE AUTISM. Can we all collectively move on and please let our pediatricians answer questions that actually matter? If this were part of some grand conspiracy, and pediatricians have been “bought off” in the process, some of that hush money would be handy right about now. That check, somehow, keeps missing my bank account.
Having choices and options is something that I’m not used to. Quite frankly, it’s still a bit terrifying. I’m learning how to adapt to the rhythm of my family’s life rather than the other way around. Again, I’m just glad my family and friends stuck with me, and gave me the benefit of the doubt for a while. I’m determined that their faith will not be in vain.
Life is not perfect, but life is good, and on the upswing. Maybe the one pie in the sky idea that I have may even come to fruition. Maybe I can turn some of this into a standup comedy act: A good comedic one-man show. (Open mic nights, beware!) Please, just leave the rotten tomatoes and fruit at home. I said I’m doing better, I didn’t say that I was goddamn invincible. I’ve got a great story about a dream of two boa constrictors that were swallowing each one of my arms whole, and then trying to shake them off in the middle of the night, while accidentally smacking Sonia across her chest, then running around our bedroom. That’s the middle of the story, now I just need to figure out a beginning and an end.