health care, higher education, medical school

“C” Equals MD, but “D” = Door

KU med

Certain jokes are thrown around in med school to help ease those things that you cannot control–like failing an exam that you studied so hard for.  “C” = MD is one such saying, and “what do they call the person who graduates lowest in his MD class?  Answer:  Doctor!”  In 2003, 15 physicians met in a little room and decided my fate in medical school. I was suspicious that they were heavily influenced by the Dean of Student Affairs–a tiny-handed, effeminate man who governed through the Marquis du Sade playbook.  Sometimes tiny gloves just mean tiny hands, but he seemed to have something to prove and worse, seemed to delight in student attrition from the program. It is not accurate to say that I failed med school. I failed one class–medical biochemistry! I missed a passing grade by 5 questions on the final.  My younger MD brother with a photographic memory would later say “had I failed one more question on my biochem final, I would have failed also.” His words meant to soothe, to ease the heartache, but I still felt hollow in the center of my chest. Heck, I still feel hollow in the center of my chest when I think of that terrible day now. Ten years later, I have a new wife, 3 sons by her, am back to being a nurse, have finished a 4.0 masters in health administration and have a perfect start in my doctorate of health care leadership and organizational behavior.  I will lead a health care organization soon. I haven’t had a grade other than an “A” in ten years–but then, nor have I had to endure a standardized multiple choice test either. I write my way to academic perfection lately.

newton house

In 2006, we bought a lovely home–a 1916 one and a half story arts & crafts style bungalow–in the original Maytag town of Newton, Iowa. How could we have known that Whirlpool would buy the plant and then shut it down when union bosses failed to concede $5 per employee, per paycheck, for their own health insurance coverage. 1,800 jobs soon left a town of 16,000 people. Then the house of cards that was Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac collapsed, mere weeks after my wife and I bought our first ‘flip’ house. Our flip house was lovely when we were done and the Altoona, IA city council said that we single-handedly took the town’s most unsightly home and made it one of the most enviable. We spent $25,000 in 17 weeks and sold it for a loss of $7,400. At least we had our pride to hang our hats on–the house was gorgeous, sandstone vinyl siding with black and white trim.

altoona house

before pic of Altoona house

In 2010, Sara and I began to think our Newton IA home had been built upon an ancient burial ground–my job was changing and not for the better and Sara was silently enduring yet another miscarriage. The Wisconsin grass seemed greener, so we packed up and moved that May. I wanted to rent in a nearby small town, but Sara insisted our kids should play with my brother’s kids on the farm. “Hey–didn’t Adam once have a mobile home parked on the farm? Wouldn’t the septic and utilities still be in place?”

a cabin

the “cabin”

 Although the impetus for the move was to escape the heartache of Newton, the prospect of a job put the move in motion. I quickly got a lesson in how poisonous some healthcare organizations could be. I was given an opportunity to bail and I did. Debt deepened. The ‘cabin’ as we not-so-affectionately referred to it was overrun by mice and even a floor-breaching “ugly cat” or o’possum. The fiberboard floor would become wet, sag, and then put life and limb in jeopardy until I fixed it. What a hateful chore that was! The pipes froze in the winter, often, and I actually set a mouse trap once and before I was out of the tiny bedroom–it snapped with a freshly-dead mouse in it! Meanwhile, it seemed that our professional indoor paint job in the Newton home did little to bait any prospective buyers. We let an associate pastor and his new wife stay there for $1 a month–just to have the utilities paid, the grass mowed, or the sidewalks shoveled. Then a land-contract buyer sought us out, a hard-luck story ensued, and we were hooked. Hey–at least I would not be hemorrhaging around $1500 per month any longer.

academic failure

In 2004, still reeling from the sting of a failed run at med school, I started down the nurse practitioner tract through the University of South Alabama.  Although my first course, pathophysiology, was an “A,” my next term included a course in nursing theory.  While I love being a nurse and the life it has given me, I loathe nursing theory.  It is an entire ‘language’ thought up by nursing academia to justify their own existence.  The argument is that nursing theory promotes the professionalism of nursing. What hogwash! I am of the opinion that this nonsense denigrates the profession. I submitted my first work for the nursing theory course and was graded 3 out of the 15 possible points.  Wow.  Here I am in a sham course, then draw an instructor who thinks she is God’s gift to technical writing…she would not budge.  I lodged a formal complaint with the university and withdrew from the program. Note to self: be something more than lukewarm about a career path before starting in that direction again.

academic success

In the summer of 2010, Sara and I and two boys were living on Adam’s farm when it was as though a switch was flipped on.  I wanted to return to school, earn my masters, and ascend the health care hierarchy.  A career nurse, I feared my knees or my back would fail me and I had better have something else to fall back on.  I looked into A.T. Still University, home of the original doctor of osteopathy program–the same program my maternal great-grandfather Franklin VanNess De Vinney graduated from in 1917.  Great grandpa De Vinney was the first physician in our family, either on mom or dad’s side.  Although A.T. Still had been weakened by a stroke in 1914, I often wonder if my great-grandfather knew the founder of the American School of Osteopathy, as it was known then.

early doctor]

I started my masters in July of 2010 with one class called U.S. Healthcare Systems.  I realized the pace was fine and thought I would be able to handle more, so I doubled up the next term.  I spanked those two courses as handily as I had the first one.  At last, I was on the right track.  Two years and one month after starting, I stood on stage in Kirksville, MO with Upsilon Phi Delta honors after earning a 4.0 Master’s in Health Administration! My wife and sons where there to witness my achievement. I remember thinking that this is how a bride must feel on her wedding day, except I was prancing around campus sporting a mortar board with my gown.  Oh, the irony, this juxtaposed with the crash-and-burn at KU.  What a tragedy that I chose that wretched, unfriendly place to attempt an MD.

Masters ceremony ATSU

ATSU Master’s Ceremony
Me, bottom right

I have roughly completed my first year of three in the doctorate in health sciences program with an emphasis in leadership and organizational behavior.  When I am done, I will be primed to head a healthcare organization.  As an ATSU alum I drew a 20% tuition discount for my doctorate whereas the U. of Phoenix wanted to charge nearly $60,000 for the doctorate in health administration.  I will pay $26,000 for this degree and with my work subsidizing the degree, the net cost to me will be a paltry $14,000! I remember drawing all kinds of criticism when I was starting medical school about how costly the tuition would be.  Usually this was mentioned by folks who hadn’t bothered to go to college at all–a point that really had me scratching my head.  Had I stayed in Argyle, WI and recycled automobile parts for the remainder of my life at $8 per hour–how expensive would that ignorance have been? Imagine the income lost, had I stayed, and compare that to the career I have provided myself and my family. Ignorance may be bliss, but it is far more expensive than a good education!

cost of ignorance

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divorce, higher education, medical school

The Practice Wife

personals

Reading the F seeking M ads one day, I came across an ad by a 6th grade social studies teacher who had placed an ad on a dare. The ad made her seem normal enough. Returning to Johnson County Community College for afternoon classes, I couldn’t shake the words from that ad out of my mind. When I returned home that evening, I began drafting my response. I was in nursing administration at a local hospital, looking for a life partner who also liked to breathe, drink water, et cetera, etc. Soon we were seeing other daily, cohabiting in the 1950’s style by maintaining two separate residences.

marathoner

Although I had always enjoyed running, Michelle soon showed me how to train for and complete a marathon. In return, I taught her how to ski and we skied in 6 countries. Our true passion, however, was making a fine art of getting into medical school. Almost two years after we met, she would have a seat in the Des Moines University class of 2005. I had been unconditionally accepted at the allopathic (MD) program at Kansas University on February 8th of 2001 and Michelle and I were notified by phone from DMU on February 22nd, 2001 that we were both accepted to DMU’s osteopathic program. But…I already had the golden ticket! I had been trying to gain a seat in KU’s program for 4 years, then suddenly I had one.

downhill skier

No way was I not going to be an MD like my little brother. Soon I was waiting for Michelle to be woman enough to say “you are my husband, we both have a ticket to DMU–you belong with me in Des Moines.” She was waiting for me to man up and do the right thing by joining her at DMU. We failed each other…and convinced ourselves that we could keep our marriage strong and study together on the weekends. How could I have known then that I married a woman like my mother’s mother La Verne–a social climber who would inevitably reject me when I got the boot from KU’s program and therefore would not become a physician?  I had been an RN for five years at KU–I knew it was a poisonous, unfriendly campus–but I wanted the MD degree anyway.  It makes me sick to my stomach to think that I missed some little cue that would have told me who she was and who she turned out to be.

Des Moines U

Michelle and I had fun.  We danced, ran, skied, and enjoyed being young and having too much money.  But that was all just a stage, a practice run at the institution that is marriage.  Michelle bailed on our marriage the moment the fun and easy part was over.  At that time of my life I was working in Des Moines on the weekends, staying at the Holiday Inn between shifts, and then returning to our marital home in eastern Iowa three hours away.  Lesson number one for thick-headed Norsemen: don’t choose a different medical school to attend than your young wife, 3 hours away.  Lesson number two for thick-headed Norsemen: don’t gut an entire home and then start the renovation over from that point–covering and uncovering the marital bed each day is a great way not to stress a marriage.  I was an idiot, and worse, I had invested in the wrong woman.

money pit      One September day in 2004, I returned home in eastern Iowa from my brother’s farm in SW Wisconsin to a manila envelope from Michelle.  She had moved out three weeks earlier and had sent me the divorce papers with a note asking me to attend to this because her clinicals demanded her time each day during normal business hours. I made a list of 12 errands to run that day, the last being to remove Michelle from my life insurance as the benefactor–keeping her in that position no longer seemed prudent.  I was standing in the doorway of the State Farm office in Maquoketa, IA making an off-handed remark to the secretary about going through a divorce when a young couple with a small child came through the door. I remarked what a big, beautiful girl she was and her father replied “yeah, you’d never know she got the start in life that she had.”  Sensing he was wanting to talk more about this, I took the bait.  We got started talking about little Lucy and Tetrology of Fallot, when her mother remarked about my ‘divorce’ comment.

divorce

“So, you’re going through a divorce, Eh? Well, I just happen to have this sister…” I cut her off.  “No, you don’t understand–I just came from the judge’s office right before coming here.  I am in NO WAY ready for this!” I protested.  Amy would not back down.  “Oh, she’s a good cook, she’s tall, comes from a good family.”  State Farm closed and pushed us out onto the sidewalk where Amy continued planning my future.  It was a heated election year and I knew 2/3rds of the registered voters in the county drank the blue Kool-Aid.  “Well, I am a Republican.  A staunch conservative, to be even more precise!”  I bellowed, hoping she would give up and walk away in disgust.  Instead, Amy’s face lit up and said “Well, so are we!  I mean, so is she!”  “Ah, crap” I thought.  Finally Amy added “wouldn’t it be nice at the end of a long day of renovating that old house if you had a friend in this area to go see a movie with?”  Bam.  She had me.  I was mighty lonely, reeling from the biggest, most personal type of rejection a human being can suffer.  “Okay, when do you plan to talk with her next?”  Amy, being Amy, said “oh, I’m gonna step around the corner and call her right now!” Many months later Sara would enlighten me to the real content of that conversation: Amy called Sara and said “I just met the father of your children.  Don’t eff this up!”

first date 2

The amazing part of this exchange is that after only about forty minutes of talking to me, Amy could discern that I was a suitable mate for her older sister.  Not just a suitable mate, but a life partner.  Wow.  That still makes me shake my head in wonder.  Later that same night I had three hours of windshield time with which to call Sara.  Although it started on an awkward note (Hi, I’m Erik–some random dude your sis was totally crunching on for you earlier at the State Farm), soon each of us loosened up and we arranged to talk again on the phone Saturday morning, Sunday, and then even Monday evening when I picked up an extra shift due to an ill call.  By the time I ever laid eyes on her, Sara and I had spent about 8 hours talking on the phone, sharing values, dreams, hopes, desires.  We agreed to meet in Davenport at the Border’s bookstore on 53rd at 5:30 p.m, 9/24/2004.  I was perusing Ann Coulter’s new book Treason when a tall drink of water with short brown hair and brown eyes came up to me and softly said “Erik?”  She bought my coffee, she insisted, because she didn’t want to feel ‘beholden’ to me at the end of the evening. I sat there, enjoying adult conversation with a kind woman with big, soulful brown eyes. It was great to not be so lonely, if only for a little while.  There were a handful of patrons sitting there when we sat down.  Three solid hours later, deep in conversation, we looked up and noticed older women quilting at every single table–as if a flash quilting mob had enveloped us.  We chuckled in wonderment at where they all had come from, us so completely unaware.

quilting bee

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